“You think, because one and one make two, that you understand two. But, to truly comprehend the nature of two, you must first understand . . . And”. Rumi.
The “And” in Rumi’s deeply moving quote, understood from an attachment perspective and written about in Raising a Secure Child, is resonance. That place where you are attuned to an important other, understood, and completely accepted in all that you are and are not. It is the interwoven fabric, learned and reinforced in early relationship, that provides the foundation of secure or insecure attachment across the lifespan.
To be truly attuned and to engage in (or provide) the experience of resonance one must have (among other capacities) the capacity for empathy (the felt sense of the others experience), self-regulation (ability to calm ones brain and body), self-awareness (ability to identify feelings, self- reflect and perspective take), and an understanding of reciprocity (mutual exchange as one grows both emotionally and chronologically) in relationship.
The most fortunate among us have this experience early in life and carry it forward with them (as security in self and other) from infanthood to adulthood. It is experienced as a deep knowing (accumulated overtime and resting at ones very core) that they matter unconditionally. It is estimated that 60% of all children in the United States are securely attached and in theory have the felt sense of mattering that overtime provides the foundation for their autonomy and belonging /relatedness in the larger world.
When working with parents and children or couples, understanding the individual’s attachment experience (the “And” of their early history) is of primary importance. This is the place we look to learn how one’s belief (their neurobiological blueprint) regarding what can be expected, and how to get needs met in relationship. Attachment research (a field 60 plus years in the making) tells us that by 12 to 18 months of age a child has had thousands of experiences in which their brain and body have responded to the caregiver’s ability to meet or not meet, their needs. It is the response (reinforced many times over through brain firing and wiring) that create the blueprint and become the neurobiological foundation of automatic behavior. That which shows up as belief and behavior and the outermost place we focus in treatment, while understanding that it is the neurobiological response (the neural pathway or pathways hidden from view) that we are working to reconstruct.
Research further tells us that by age 5 (due to the exponential growth of the brain and its rapid firing and wiring) patterns (beliefs, behaviors, neurobiology on autopilot) are fairly cemented. As you can imagine, by the time individuals come to treatment many patterns are set in place. This said, the most hopeful information that research provides us is the validated understanding that through repeated (corrective attachment experiences) new patterns (again showing up as beliefs and behaviors) occur. This is the most beautiful and hope filled aspect of “And”. The you and me in relationship.
There are many reasons treatment is sought. Because the work (my passion ) is in the areas of attachment including trauma, and loss, the individuals and families I get to work with may include; parents who are struggling to understand their child’s behavior, the foster, foster -adopt, or adoptive parent trying to understand and make change for their child and family, the child or teen brought to treatment due to a variety of emotional or behavioral needs, and /or the adult (of any age) seeking to regain self after loss of relationship.
It is understood, again from an attachment perspective, that it is within the safety of relationship that change is created. In supporting and increasing comfort with resonance many shifts in behavior, belief, and the neurobiological (automatic response) began to occur. This doesn’t happen quickly and is dependent on many factors. One of the largest, as noted above, is the capacity or capacities of the participants for trusting that safe relationship can exist. Again, these include, but are not limited to, empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and ability to consider, reflect, and allow the other (and oneself) to need. In example, is the parent able to reflect on his or her part in the parent -child dance? Is the foster or adoptive parent able to take the needed reflective step back and make space to understand their child’s and their own neurobiological hardwiring and how they may be interacting? Does the child or teen have a supportive other who will engage in this process of understanding each of their histories and how to make change? Will the adult, seeking answers about self, be able to revisit history to gain an improved understanding of their early experiences and learning? Will each be able to engage in the corrective experiences that make new possibilities become realities?
The hope is the capacity does exist (within the individuals and families seeking treatment) or can be provided through the safety of the therapeutic relationship. In my experience it most often does exist in a deeper place that comes to light through nurturing in safe relationship. This along with avenues to understanding how one’s particular way of being (their own attachment style) came to be, identifying and normalizing emotion, solid and safe affect management skills, along with supportive planning is the known roadmap to what John Bowlby (who from his groundbreaking work, beginning in1958, has become known as the father of attachment) termed earned security. This means, the development of a more secure attachment style can be achieved through new relationship at any stage of development.
It is important to note that security exist along a continuum in secure individuals. For the 40% that are not identified as securely attached, it is important to recognize this does not mean pathology exist. It does not mean this at all. It means one has an attachment style (based on experiences particularly in early life) that in essence mean one is more or less comfortable with one of the primary components of attachment. A simplistic way to think about this is the truth that ~ a securely attached person can rely on self and also request help when needed. In essence balancing and offering the major components (autonomy and relatedness /belonging) most often in their day-to-day life and relationships.
Most of us benefit from understanding ourselves in regard to our own attachment style. For information purposes only, it is indicated that one’s true attachment style is most identifiable when under stress. Developmental Psychologist Mary Ainsworth, in the 1960’s and 70’s, lay the foundation for this understanding in her work with children and their parents. The three primary attachment styles (ways of being and relating) include, Secure, Avoidant, and Anxious. In simplistic terms, a Secure individual balances autonomy and relatedness. An avoidant individual tends to dismiss, to varying degrees, relationship or reliance on others and relies more on self. An anxious individual is considered more preoccupied with relationship and tends to rely more on others and less on self. Again, these exist along a continuum varying from person to person and unless in extreme form (causing disruption in functioning) are not considered pathological.
A fourth style known as disorganized attachment, was identified by Developmental Psychologist (and previous student of Mary Ainsworth) Mary Main in the 1980’s in her work which furthered understanding of patterns across the lifespan. It is understood that disorganized attachment holds, at its core, unresolved relational or trauma experiences which cause non predictability and inconsistency. This style can be troublesome both for the individual and those in relationship with this individual. Treatment is indicated to work toward trauma resolution. This said, it is important to recognize not every person who experiences trauma will become disorganized in terms of attachment. The protective factor is relationship, along with temperament, cognitive ability, and /or supportive resources.
Overall, it is the “And” the supportive connection that truly sees and accepts all of who we are that is the primary protective factor. This is true in both foundationally providing security and creating safety for those working toward earned security.
As always, my hope is you find something that resonates here. Resources for further reading and/or support follow.
My deepest care to each of you, LaDonna
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Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational. It is not intended to provide advice, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis. Content is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, or to engage in an informed treatment relationship within this format. If you or a loved one need support; it is important that you access this care from your own (specifically assigned) health care provider.
Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the Perspective on Trauma blog. As noted; it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. In the event; support is needed it is your responsibility to seek care from your own health-care provider.
Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)
Photo: Image found on Pixabay
Web Based Resources:
Books and Literature:
Bowlby, John: (1998) A Secure Base: Parent-Child attachment and healthy human development. London: Basic Books
Copper, Hoffman, Powell: (2017) Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom. New York: Guilford Press
Copper, Hoffman, Powell: (2005) The Circle of Security Intervention: Enhancing Attachment in Early Parent-Child Relationships Illustrated Edition. New York: Guilford Press
Siegel, D.J. (2012). The Developing Mind. How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. 2nd Ed. New York: Guilford Press