A heart of your own? Reflections on attachment, growth, consciousness and humanity.

The immature conscience is not its own master……it does not make real moral decisions of its own, it simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line. It does not really have motives or intentions of its own. Or if it does, it wrecks them by twisting and rationalizing them to fit the intentions of another. That is not moral freedom. It makes true love impossible. For if I am to love truly and freely, I must be able to give something that is truly my own to another. If my heart does not first belong to me, how can I give it to another? It is not mine to give.”


The above quote by Thomas Merton was shared my Vapour Sage on his blog this week.  It is a powerful quote and it got me to thinking, most particularly the line about wrecking personal intentions and motivates which are twisted or rationalised to fit the intentions (or motivations?) of another.  For isn’t this what the narcissists around us want from us and isn’t it what we learn to do, if when as youngsters our own emotional and psychological reality was disallowed or blocked in some way?  We learn to twist this way and that to find the light, we lose a sense of our own particular reality, motives and intentions or learn to hide them, perhaps even become deceptive about them all in an attempt to win love, attention, respect and love.  But in the end the love we are attempting to win has nothing for us and is empty and barren, if in seeking it, we have lost connection to our own true heart and soul.

If it is true that no man is an island and I believe it is as we all need others, not to complete us but to share the journey towards authentic selfhood, is it not also true that there are also times when we have to stand alone and just be true to the authentic calling of our soul and self?  And are there not also times when we fail in this?  Times when we make choices to abandon what we feel or need to be there for others?  Are we not so often caught within dilemmas, paradoxes and dichotomies which are not necessarily all of our own instigation and making but are more like spider’s webs we get strung in or caught up in due to the inherent complexity of a life in which our own lives touch and are affected by the lives and personalities and projections of so many other souls?

And can we go gently in this?  Are we not all capable of immaturity at times?  For the young child needs an attachment or connection with others and the nature of this most earliest need for attachment has such powerful affects on how our later lives pan out.

I was grateful this week to read a blog about the journey of someone’s becoming in which she was sharing about her growing awareness of how her own attachment issues were playing out in her therapy.  She made mention of a book Attached : The New Science of Attachment… I ordered the book this week and it arrived yesterday and I am learning so much from it.  In the book they authors Amir Levine and Rachael Heller explain how it is unfair to actually blame people for being so called co-dependent when their earliest attachment experiences actually lay down wiring in the person that means they have varying physiological and emotional responses to attachment, connection with others and associated feelings which vary in difficulty and are often very complex to manage.

In the first half of the book they devote much attention to the anxious person’s attachment wound which means the person is wired to become anxious and hyper-vigilant in relationship, avidly seeking any clue or whiff of absence or disconnection in those they are seeking to bond with and then often literally turning themselves inside out to win back the love through some form of attention seeking or protest.

And the even sadder fact they explore is how people with anxious attachment history are more likely to bond with those who have an avoidant attachment style, a person who is the very anti-thesis of the person they truly need to be with but perhaps mirrors the kind of issues a parent carried which caused the anxious attachment in their child.  They explain how what an anxious person needs is not another person who is not trying to run from closeness and intimacy, but rather a person who is loving, affirming, present emotionally and secure, someone who will be able to soothe or ease the feelings and fears of the person who formed an anxious attachment style in the first place due to the very powerful deficits in early primary caregivers which left them with no secure, reliable base to refer back to and grow from.

Considering all of this complexity, it occurs to me that we so often ask so much of people. We ask of them a maturity they may not be capable of if they did not have the necessary development and thinking about in this case may we not also be asking something too much of some people if in their past they experienced very real deficits.  May it not be a lot to ask of someone with a powerful need for connection and closeness, for them to be ‘mature’ and detached and avoidant or self sufficient when really they are not?

Even as I typed that last sentence an inner voice was saying to me, Deb do you even know what you are getting at and is that idea going to pass muster with your readers?  (But then reading it back in the re-editing I know what I am really exploring here is the inner dichotomy I have set up from my own childhood, my own ‘split’ from needing and depending which was so thwarted.)  Dear readers I am sure you have your own ideas and perceptions here.  Closeness/togetherness or aloneness/separateness which would you choose?  Are you primarily anxious, avoidant, secure or that complex mix of anxious/avoidant in your own attachment style?

In my own case I relate very strongly to the anxious end of the spectrum and then there are times due to high sensitivity and fear of being engulfed that I become avoidant and seem to need a lot of time alone.  But I am also aware that just because I do often crave time alone that does not necessarily make me an ‘avoidant personality’ although it ma indicate that that is the primary way I survived in the past and I do believe there is a time when we need to anchor within and make an attachment and deeper connection with our own inner truth and heart alone, away from the clamour and noise of stronger more assertive, overpowering outer voices.

But even as I write this I do know that some of my sweetest moments have been when I have been able to have and be my true self in connection and relationship with others.   So much of my own past forced me out and alone into the stratosphere of intense aloneness within which the only warmth and comfort I truly felt came from booze and that was only short lived, for after the drunks I would fall back into and awaken in the coldness but burning, burning, burning with the most awful aloneness and shame.

These past memories can come to mind most particularly on Saturday mornings as in active addiction I did most of my drinking on Friday nights, which was the end of the work week which opened up a void of a weekend in a life in which I had little emotional connection with anyone.  Addiction became the place to hide from the deep aloneness I felt in facing that void, the void that if I felt it without numbing may have led me to find better ways to connect than through reaching for a substance.  However by that stage I had already known so many torn threads of attachments that could not last or stand the searing heat of my own anxious avoidant reactions of panic and dread in relationships, reactions which now make so much sense after reading certain chapters in Levine and Heller’s book.

It seems to me that growing to emotional maturity on some paradoxical level means we must face and experience our immaturity and know it not as a deficit or a demon or a sign of something bad, ill of mistaken but rather a primary expression of what it means for us to be a human animal, one who hungers, needs and is primarily social hard wired for intimacy and connection at very deep physiological levels.  Surely maturity can only truly develop when we can encompass the very real truth of these needs often through emptiness, loss or absence of connection and the pain, emptiness or suffering this can cause.

Certainly we can direct all our rationality towards the will be the immune from such needs or challenges but on some level to do so seems a spiritual bypass of sorts asking of us not to be wounded human animals whose most basic needs were thwarted and so left scars and wounds, scars and wounds we struggle with on the hard path of growing consciousness.

To my mind the greatest maturity lies within our capacity for empathy.  It lies within our ability to question and hold fast with ourselves and others as we explore our own pasts, connections, deficits and wounds to arrive at deeper understanding of how difficult maturing and growing can be and how fraught at times with complexity.  For no, no man is an island, we form in relationship, we wound in relationship and we grow in relationships, not only to and with others but to and with our deeper selves as we develop the capacity to stay with our feelings and pain, as we struggle with our wounds, blessings, complexes and complexities on the path of recovery.

This, the most important work we can do as humans involves doesn’t it, the growing in consciousness of the vast wilderness spaces of our individual hearts and souls which are never truly as separate in truth from the deeper heart and soul of others and humanity.

5 thoughts on “A heart of your own? Reflections on attachment, growth, consciousness and humanity.

  1. Brilliant, In my opinion, being aware and honest about our emotional proclivities, we can be our truest selves and recognize those times when we’re beginning to exhibit or feel those pangs from our past leading to a familiar pattern. Name it, embrace it and allow it to pass. Thank you, Deb, this is a perfect follow up to my post.

  2. Deb, this passes muster.

    You basically just described exactly what I am struggling with right now. I am not familiar with attachment issues. Well, I was not familiar with them prior to reading this post. Now that I read this post, I realize that I have attachment issues. And I also realize that I’ve just embarked on a relationship with a person who is the exact opposite. It really is quite amazing that I just read this at this time in my life

  3. Hi Jami im so glad it made sense of the dynamuc for you. ..we tend to attract a certain type..getting a handle on it means we can change the pattern..im only part way through the book but it exolains the pursuit avoidance dynamic well. Anxious attachment is very stressful and so often leads to heartache..love D x

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