I have been reading and thinking a lot about attachment wounds and how we choose to live our reality while coping with those. You could say all my blogs have been about it. It is essentially the definition of human life.
“With our thoughts, we create the world. Before that, the world created our thoughts. ” By Gabor Mate, a physician known for believing there is a psychological origin to many biological illnesses. When things happen emotionally it also affects the immune system. For example, when we repress anger or many other emotions, we also repress the immune system whereas healthy emotions, negative or positive, if handled they protect us. Western science separates mind and body, whereas he argues they are not separable just different manifestations of the same process. They are working together to keep overall homeostasis. His perception of psychological issues matches that of my understanding regarding attachment wounds. They arise from coping mechanisms in reaction to things that happened to our narcissistic self, then as we mature physically and our environment changes, they become maladaptive. For example, he believes ADHD is a coping mechanism to dissociate from the present by the mind to deal with stress experienced from a caregiver(i.e. frustrations during the attachment process). Over time, it becomes automated self-regulation and people with ADHD cannot learn to concentrate even if they want to.
In the beginning, our thoughts were inseparable from us when we were still babies, believing everything, every emotion, every action by those around others was about us. As Jett Psaris and Marlena Lyons discussed that children feel the mother’s pain when they are narcissistic during development and cannot separate themselves from others, so everything, good or negative emotions are about them. That brought back memories about how I felt rejected when my mother became impatient with me when I tried to be helpful as a child. I can’t fault her for it, she couldn’t possibly be present for every single attachment needs I had, which was probably constant. Her pain was manifested in me as a feeling of inadequacy. When I thought about that, I mourned her again. This ongoing mourning will last the remainder of my life, probably anyone’s life who didn’t have the misfortune of dying ahead of our mothers. Whether we are angry, disappointed, love or hate our moms, we all mourn them in our own ways.
Much discussion on attachment wounds indicate they show up in children as failures to self regulate negative emotions. First, the association of self with negative emotions create discomfort, then we find whatever we knew or biological was predisposed to do to quell the discomfort. Often, we were likely to copy the strategies our parents seemed to use to cope with the very negative emotions we associated with ourselves. It could have been yelling or grumpiness or finding distractions. The presence of negative emotions is at the root of the issue. Often before we can get to the root of that, we might have to first deal with the coping mechanisms which interrupt our daily functioning, from physical manifestations in OCD to unstopped emotional anxiety. (I wonder also if there is a particular need to dissipate the anxiety that is associated with the modern and sedentary life on top of the emotional distress absorbed from parents). Children, who used to be responsible for more family duties much earlier, now have much more time to focus and ruminate on their development. They don’t feel useful and have no purpose for at least 22 years of their lives. They have to sit with their anxiety that probably came with the territory. Without changing modern life structure(i.e. it is not agricultural, not even industrial but mostly professional/white-collar, and increasingly home-bound), then should we as parents let them have their own pursuit earlier and take responsibility for their own survival, even if not financial at least emotional?
All this talk about attachment wounds can make childhood seem hopelessly perilous. I don’t hold such a grim view. I believe we will always have traumas/disconnects with our parents no matter how loving or knowledgeable they might be. We are simply different people who don’t speak the same language, adults rarely do with each other even within the same family. The goal is not to have the perfect attachment. The objective is to stay in touch with our own essence through a body/emotion/mind balance that we develop slowly over time. One of my fellow therapists believes that essence is something we are born with as babies. That is very possible. The human mission becomes one of regaining that innocence once our body and mind are fully formed. How do we use our human functions to enrich that essence without obstructing it from ourselves? As Picasso said, it took him over 80 years to learn how to draw again as a child.
Many of us fail in this mission. The struggle leaves many of us with anxiety that we only know how to cope with external remedies such as drugs or money. Often, in the long run, whatever coping mechanisms have chosen will use our body to tell us something is wrong. These somatic symptoms often can be complex ways our body is talking to us. Our bodies remember and know many things before our intellect could process(as is dictated by our developmental stage). It follows then the process of transformation we need to reconnect with our essence is not an intellectual process. It requires a deeper level of action. Insights are helpful, but our body/emotion/mind and core must all arrive at the same point. Transformation for some is an event(most likely painful), and for others, it is a process.
Bill Wilson founder of AA ” Bill is quoted as saying “It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace possible.” He said that as part of a long answer regarding the use of Hallucinogens in stimulating changes in people’s psyche. I don’t know enough about hallucinogens to comment much but admit it is intriguing that they might play some limited roles. Was Bill saying, in order to reach our essence we must blunt the effect of our ego, either through spiritual awakening or something process similar aided possibly by certain drugs?
Talking about ego, I feel I have been going through a slow deflation of it for myself. Or perhaps it is a temporary one. Either way, I have been feeling resigned, empowered, joyful and sad at the same time. This comes as a part of my mourning for the loss of various elements in my life. One part of the mourning the transfer of focus from myself to my child. This, of course, has been going on since she was born. However, I never properly acknowledged it and processed it within myself. While parenting has its joys, it certainly also has its demands. It is thus wise to properly say goodbye to when I had all the time in the world to myself. In essence, I am going from narcissistic self to one more about others. This is a transition all parents must make in order to be with their children without losing themselves. I know it sounds ironic that mourning the loss of focus on oneself prevents losing oneself. This is similar logic to how being more securely attached fosters autonomy in children. Because I am strong enough to temporarily defocus from myself, I am more cognizant of who I am in this process. I am telling myself, I am mature enough for it to be not about me most of the time. The ability to coexist with the joy of raising a new generation and the pain of losing a portion of self is, I believe, crucial for surviving the human condition. It is the condition that gives us the ability to have multiple desires but forces us to choose which ones to fulfill. Living with pain and joy at the same time is a human condition.
Accepting that I could never be the perfect parent that fulfills every attachment needs for my child, I am nonetheless confident that my relationship with her will empower her more than anything I deliberately teach or do for her. Just like in therapy, the therapeutic relationship(which you could conceive as a form of reparenting) is about our presence/emotion more than it is about our technique or insights we provide, as numerous studies attested to. So while I will continue to pass on knowledge and insight, I won’t get too hung up on the result; The modeling with calm, diligence, and intelligence is more powerful.
As my daughter grows up, I know she will encounter countless challenges that she won’t have the answers to. She might not even survive all of them, which goes the same for all of us. Particularly when she has not yet found her true self, and while in the process of accumulating knowledge for her brains, she could lose touch with her body’s vital signals for happiness. That will put put her in many precarious positions physically or emotionally. I can’t always protect her. All I hope is that, when she is in agony, whatever I have done with my life can convey to her adult self, that she must believe in her unique value in this human form. She might be lost for a long time but she will get there.
Pain and joy will always coexist in this journey to integrate our human mind with the spirit and body we are born with. That will be a human condition that we all have to live with all of our life. My darling, do not resist, roll with it. The coping mechanism I prescribe: love and compassion for your fellow beings, and first and foremost, for yourself.