Monthly Archives: February 2016

Our eternal quest

We are on an eternal quest for conflict resolution in the attachment experience. We seek to achieve a balance between the urge, which is aggression, and the feeling, which is anxiety, in order to restore a sense of safety. Our struggle to achieve balance creates conflict. The resolution of that conflict brings us into balance.

In our struggle to move from conflict into balance, it is obvious that the conflict process includes the capacity for violent solutions on one hand, and on the other, the capacity for giving up entirely on the possibility of attachment. (The work of Spitz in the early forties, the work by Bowlby, and many theories since, have borne this out.)

Finding a balance

When we go back to the development of Attachment Theory, we find that the theory was based primarily on the idea of safety – a safe or secure base – where an infant could find a balance between being connected to a parent in a way that was soothing, while at the same time being separate from the parent in a way that was soothing, as well. The secure base of attachment is the basic biological state.

Attachment is often perceived only as an explanation of the dynamics of connection, since humans always have the need to be attached. But, just as much as we have a need to be connected, we have a competing need for separation, and the two needs never go away.

In these two disparate experiences there is always a bargain, always a balance, always a separation, and thus the conflict that exists in attachment is a natural part of our being in the world.

Interactive Mindfulness and Change

As we grow and change we will encounter conflict in our close relationships. The practice of Interactive Mindfulness allows us to manage conflict with our children and others while we respect their unique process. In the moment it is at least possible to celebrate that we are connected, even if it seems we can celebrate nothing else. Practicing Interactive Mindfulness ensures a caring transfer of information that helps to build a structure from which we can explore our curiosity about each other.

Interactive Mindfulness helps us recognize that attachment is a basic human need that shapes our behaviour. Without judging our children’s actions we are able to interact with them with the awareness that all of our behaviour and theirs means something, although we might not know what the meaning is.

Although we are in a continual process of change, paradoxically, it is our stable sense of self that allows us to grow and change. At some point we may become comfortable living in the now, and accept that there is no “there”. Notwithstanding that the relationships within our family are developmental and will never stay the same, at least, in the present moment as we practice Interactive Mindfulness, our relationships can move into balance.

Separation

At birth as the baby is separated from mother, the cord is cut and the placenta is retrieved from the womb. Severing the umbilicus from the placenta is a physical event that occurs in a moment in time. We might think of that experience as separation.

However, separation in attachment is not separation in the usual sense.

Using an attachment lens we are able to see that when the cord is cut, mother’s first urge is to hold the baby.

When the physical separation occurs, the psychological separation must be soothed, and that is the role of attachment. The intention in mother’s immediate urge is to draw the baby to her breast and keep the infant safe. The safe or ‘secure’ base is a living concept. Separation and the latching experience brings to mind midwives, and the ancient traditions of birthing. As the baby is guided to latch onto the breast for sustenance, both mother and baby are soothed. Indeed the infant has been brought to a safe base.

Bowlby’s great gift is that he gave us to understand that mother and baby need to attach soon after birth, and that attachment is a psychological event that is demonstrated physically. Or, in this way, attachment is a physical act with a psychological representation.

This insight allows us to recognize that during pregnancy mother/embryo is a single system, which becomes two systems that interact in order to attach at separation. Through observation, Bowlby discerned that at the point of birth and first attachment the infant’s brain begins to grow.

There are implications for brain growth from the cradle onward when interactions between mother and infant do or do not exist within a safe and secure base in any or all of the physical, emotional, psychological, developmental, and neurological realms.

A moment of clarity occurs when we make sense of something we haven’t understood before, like the picture Bowlby shaped as he began to notice how the brain grows through the process of attachment. It is obvious after the fact, but it is not obvious until it is obvious, much like all simple ideas that are not simple at all.

Proximity

We are group animals. Our need for connection overrides all of our other needs.

Whenever we engage in therapeutic practice, or any other healing event, we first need relationship. Our relationship reflects how close we are.

This closeness is a generic term.  Essentially all aesthetic experiences offer proximity, whether virtual or actual. As an example, we are physically close with strangers in a movie theatre, all of us observing life on the screen as the actors pull each of us into their experience. Through the sharing of an aesthetic experience the distance between us disappears, even though sometimes we are on different continents.

Inside our families, having a central awareness of proximity allows each of us to tolerate what it means to live together, despite the pain of our competing needs. The pain and conflict of our proximity brings us back to the beginning of attachment, which paradoxically, is separation.