Attachment wounding : what I have learned to date

Ideally as a child we seek safety, protection, holding and empathy in the minds and hearts of our caregivers, but what if they are just not capable of this? The Radio National show I shared about last week in my blog on emotionally immature or neglecting parents made it clear to me that when our parents or caregivers are incapable we develop a deep void of emotional loneliness inside of us. As a result our capacity to know about our needs is limited, our ability to trust can be shattered or non existent, and feelings of unsafety, anxiety or insecurity and lack of resources to deal with these feelings resulting may lead us to become reactive amongst other difficulties. In addition, not knowing about what happened to us and it falling all to an unconscious level where the trauma, injuries, absence, abuse or neglect just besieges us over and over with confusing and painful symptoms is so tough.. Some of us never get to make sense of it all, remaining confused for the rest of our lives, suffering the pain of avoidant or anxious attachment patterns and yet still needing to be intimate and connect (if our inner or outer critic defences do not act to sever all outer ‘linkages’ as Elain Aron calls them) and having those frustrated needs play out in all kinds of damaging ways.

The hole in the soul is something I used to hear about in nearly every single AA meeting, it was not until my marriage ended in 2004 and came across a book by Susan Anderson on abandonment by divine coincidence in a Sydney bookstore on a visit there that I began to understand where a lot of my own rage and internalised blame and negative inner voices came from. Reading this book still did not stop me from mopping up shit in the next relationship with an adult child of an abusive alcoholic where he consistently devalued me and made it seem I was the one to blame for everything. It did not lead me to take back my power either at that point.. Therapy would be necessary for that.

In 2011 my ex partner’s final parting shot was about how screwed up,flighty and insecure I was and how wonderful he had been to stay with me so long. True that I had insecure attachment but then so did he but it seemed easier for him to blame in on a succession of ‘failed’ or ‘psychotic’ partners he got to displace his own shadow upon and then criticize, shame, reject and devalue.

No wonder I was angry at the end of it but his words and anger and judgements sadly did lodge deep inside me and still turned me against myself.. For a long time I believed I was at fault and do not get me wrong I was not innocent and blameless either, I chose to keep going back to be treated this way, as now I see I honestly thought I did not deserve better. Being empathic of his own damaged childhood I had been willing to cut him some slack and keep trying harder, even losing touch with my own feelings at times, but in the end he was never really ever interested in facing that deep pain in therapy he just would rather have continued getting angry at the world and his children and past partners and blamed it all upon us instead. Coming out of it I was so sad but what I really needed to get was angry about it all in a healthy well directed way.

There is another book I was thankfully also given by another sober AA member when I was on the run overseas for one of my failed attempts at ‘getting away’ from family and the site of my own past trauma. It was called Of Course You’re Angry : A Guide to Dealing With the Emotions of Chemical Dependence. This book deals with the thoughts and interpretations we can make out of a sense of lovelessness or out of misunderstanding the motives and feelings of others fuelled by past wounds that may have been huge for us of not be nourished, cared for, help tenderly or protected, nor given the tools to fight as well as self assert in this world in a healthy way for our needs. This book offered me a lot more than being told by an older sober member that anger was bad. What is true is that in recovery we have to see where our anger and deepening resentments over past things fuel more painful feelings and unproductive reactions.. Anger is actually usually a sign with important information for us around our feelings, needs and boundaries but we can also not make others responsible for it, if we really want to recover emotionally.

It is interesting as at the moment I am watching the final season of Nashville in which the character Juliet, herself an adult child of an addicted mother with abandonment wounds is being helped by a self help teacher to hold her breath and count to ten when triggered in anger in order to bypass the tangled web of painful anger and hurtful thinking and get in touch with underlying feelings, (it is understood in Al Anon that anger can very often be an expression of childhood abandonment grief.) These feelings always exist somewhere deep inside of us, they are often a result of what Complex PTSD therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange. When we react out of these we are not in the rational grounded present at all but being pulled back into old stuff. To devalue that ‘stuff’ as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or meaningless misses the point, it truly is our compost from which we can grow new seeds of a healthier self.

Writing this calls to mind why that conversation I had the other day with someone who was displacing a lot of his own anger and resentment all over the place triggered me so much in my body coming out of contact.. it was hard to stay impartial during that call.. and who knows what of my own pain was triggered. Before the conversation went down his negative pathway I had felt peaceful and okay, coming out of it my body was pulled all over the place for over 40 minutes, I did not manage to get my dishes done until 9.30 pm

The truth is, if we have significant attachment wounding that still lives inside of us, it is not something we ever do not have only a wound or wounding we can learn to understand and find ways to deal with (or not.) and heal over time. Some of us own it, (overly) allowing it to fuel not only a negative self concept (the undervalued self) but hostile or difficult thinking patterns projected inwards by the inner critic that shames and devalues us. Others of us will not own that it is our wound and then tend to project it and see it out there (and I have a feeling this may lead to conspiracy theories) where it then becomes a virulent outer critic they turn upon others whenever a resonance with a core wound is triggered.

When we are reacting from that place (of the abandonment melange) all clarity and objectivity goes out the window and our judgments can run askew and then fuel more painful feelings that we may start to identify with or project onto others.. something therapist Sheri Van Dyken deals with in her excellent little book Calming the Emotional Storm.

The primary work in recovery then becomes the naming and owning of my particular attachment or abandonment wounds and then the complex and tangled work of disconnecting our core self from over identification with the wounded self, as well as gaining insight into the the ongoing acting out of what Freud called the repetition compulsion in relationships.

This processing takes time, wisdom, attunement, the playing out of and repetition of the patterns and cycles involved with it over and over until, over time we ascend on a spiral and come to gain increased clarity, understanding, objective distance and insight into the cycle. . It involves no longer identifying our true selves as a victim (in the present time) and continuing to form trauma bonds with others as the ‘perpetrator’ or ones to be blamed for causing our suffering now.

Even if in the past real wounding did in truth lead to the fact of these painful wounds taking up deep residence inside of my consciousness we can still, with enough inner work learn how we continue to become caught up in that painful old cycle that goes ceaselessly round and round in negative and toxic re-traumatizing feedback loops…and then let go of repeating the pattern.

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves”

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