Disorganised Attachment

In our attempts as a baby and young child to bond with our caregivers (and most especially our mothers) we meet all kinds of reactions.  These reaction are dependent upon our mothers’ capacity to nurture, mirror, bond, accept and respond to the very real needs we have for attention, understanding, comfort, connection, closeness and empathy.

Some mothers can respond at certain times.  At others they may be absent, dismissive, abusive or rejecting.  They may have lacked a foundation of healthy mothering to draw from and having a child may bring up all kinds of conflicting feelings which affect their ability to respond, care for and bond with their child.

If we had a mother who was going through something big emotionally when we were young this is also going to affect her ability to respond to us.   If there was family trauma, illness or addiction these also limit her ability to be there for us and provide us with a secure foundation.

It becomes confusing for the child to meet with these different and confusing responses of the mother.  We develop what is known as a disorganised attachment style. We never know what we can count on. Will mother understand?  Will she fly into a rage?  Will she comfort me? Tell me to get lost?

Due to these kinds of experiences, children raised with disorganised attachment learn to care take and meet the parent’s needs.  They develop a finely attuned radar.  They may have difficulty trusting and relaxing.  There is a need to be on hyper alert (especially if mood swings due to hormonal issues, depression, illness or breakdown were part of the picture.)

Lack of what is known as a good enough holding environment is the basis for the development of anxiety conditions in later life.  (see The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmine Lee Cori, p. 65)

Difficulties with intimacy result and the brain itself is affected in its development (op cit., p. 53)   We develop an attachment trauma which will affect our ability to attach, connect and bond in later life and we don’t get to fully develop a feeling of safety in the world.

Later in life pain in relationships will drive us towards healing and understanding how we didn’t get to develop a very secure foundation in early life.  As we explore our childhood history through therapy, recovery or reading and journaling we may become aware of some of the ways we felt insecure and abandoned by our mothers or caregiver’s emotional absence and inconsistency and how these issues replay in our later relationships.  We may become more aware of why we feel such strong feelings of push-pull and confusion with complex issues of intimacy, dependence and independence when relating to our inconsistent mothers and replaying such issues in later life.  We may develop addictions as it has been understood by psychologists such as J. Flores that addiction is an attachment disorder. (See Addiction as an Attachment Disorder)

One of the problems of developing this kind of attachment trauma is also that we expect the worst in relationships and begin to project the expectation of abandonment.  In avoidant attachment patterns we turn away from and repress our need to attach and connect.

Healing involves connecting with and understanding our Inner Child of the past and learning to soothe her when she is in distress.  It involves looking for relationships with emotionally available people, learning about the feelings and needs we may have had to address and taking steps in the present to get them met in healthy ways.  It often involves developing a relationship with a therapist in which we can explore our wounds, someone who doesn’t have the same pattern as our mother did because carrying that blueprint we may attract those who cannot be there consistently.  This has most especially been my experience.

And it involves recognising that our attempts to bond and connect wont always end in disaster or rejection.  As we learn to listen well to our own insides we will find those who are loving and supportive and as consistent as they possibly can be.  And we will learn to comfort ourselves when people fail us, as they often do being human.

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