An Example of the Long Term Protective Effects of Secure Attachments

Attachment Theory Throughout Life

We hear so much about Attachment Theory with children, especially at this time of year.  “My child has started school and cries every morning when I leave him, does that mean he is insecure?”  Although we know our attachment relationships are important to us throughout our lifetimes we do still experience the notion that as adults we should be able to manage alone.  And especially that if we are ‘secure’ then we no longer need the attachment figure.  I have even heard potential clients tell me they need therapy because they miss their parents now that they live abroad.  Can I help them with this attachment issue?

Death of an Attachment Figure

Following the death of my father-in-law I was reminded of the protective capacity of a secure attachment by how well my mother-in-law managed her loss.  She talked to the ashes of her husband often, and admitted to crying when alone.  But when her family are  present she is cheerful and happy, laughing and whilst watching “The Great British Bake Off” she making negative comments about the contestant she disliked, and cheering on the youngest candidate when he did well.  I thought how great that the very happy and secure marriage of 53 years enabled her to experience a security that has helped her grieve but hold within her an internalised ‘husband’.

For her children and grandchildren she maintained the strength and security of a secure attachment figure.  Her grown children and grandchildren have looked at her, and to her, and have felt her pain and sorrow and their own as bearable because she is able to bear her own.

I commented to a colleague that this is such a great example of a really good attachment, and one that as therapist we do not get to see often because the nature of our work brings us into contact with those that are suffering rather than those that do manage well.

And then as one might expect my mother-in-law demonstrated her pain in a very subtle way.  In her 70’s she has a young disposition, she loves the cinema, especially Sci-Fi and movies such as Harry Potter.  Partly this has enabled her to share time and interest with her grandchildren, but she clearly does enjoy these movies very much.  And so following an invite to see such a movie she sent a text in reply saying that she was grateful for the invite but did not feel she was in the “right frame of mind” for the movie.  Such a delicately worded response, but it was experienced quite forcefully, and I shared it with my husband.  We talked about her possible experience of grief, so different from our own.

Gripped By Anxiety

I woke in the night with a sense of anxiety that gripped and would not ease.  As anxiety does with me I felt like something was wrong, I am in trouble maybe.  When I feel anxiety, identifying its source disperses it.  So I began exploring.  Not delivering a workshop this weekend, that sometimes brings a sense of anxiety, and no issues with other colleagues, no pressing concerns about clients, my own children managing at present.  I could not find the cause.  Then my thoughts went to my mother-in-law and the ‘punch in the stomach’ told me I’ve literally ‘hit’ the nail on the head.   I experienced a night of fitful sleep, with a crushing dread.  When my husband woke his reassuring cuddles eased my anxiety only as long as I was held.  Within moments of release I felt the creep of dread return.

We talk of how there is nothing to be done, it can’t be made better.  We can support my mother-in-law and see her often, and let her know we care.  We can support each other with our own very personal losses, but it must be gone through, no way round.

As my husband left to go to work I was left alone with my anxiety, my own loss, and my concern for my mother-in-law.  I thought about this feeling, and how the anxiety felt so different from what I’d felt up until now.  I felt shaky, worried, uncertain.  I reflected on my sense of danger, this un-named, shapeless danger.  Grief has to be experienced and I know that nothing bad will happen, I reassure myself of that repeatedly and then think, so why is this feeling remaining, refusing to ease?  It does not change into that familiar dull feeling that sits in the back of my head like a radio I can hear from a neighbours house on a summer day, present but easily ignored until a familiar song begins to play.

The Ability to Manage Our Affect is Essential for Our Loved Ones Whatever Age

My experience of my mother and father-in-law, is one where they have always kept their own problems to themselves, making themselves available fully for their children and families.  When worried about their children they are supportive.  It is clear they talk in private and it is obvious that they worry about all their children at times of trouble.  And this is a clear demonstration of how a secure attachment is dependant on the attachment figure being able to manage their own affect and be there always available to assist with the affect regulation of those that look to them as their attachment figure.  Whilst my mother-in-law was able to keep her affect from me I felt an amazing security, my loss bearable.  When she demonstrated even the merest piece of her own pain I was shaken, my sense of safety was rocked.

As I realise this, the anxiety eases and I rest, thoughtful and sad, and so appreciative of the secure world they had made for us, and more aware of her need for us to be the attachment figures for her now that her own loving secure husband is no longer here to support and love her.

Image source:

Do Camera’s Separate Us From Others?

helmet

This morning as I walked the dogs at my local park I was passed by a cyclist with a camera on his helmet.  Instantly I felt a number of things.  Firstly I felt “that’s good, you’re protected”, then I thought “protected from whom, me?” And then I thought “That implies you’re the good guy and I am the bad guy, you feel superior to me, you don’t even know me,” and lastly “you feel threatened all the time and the camera gives you a sense of control, I don’t want to make you feel bad I will give you space.”  Normally being a northerner I would call “morning.”  I did not.  I was aware that the camera had separated us.

We are the most surveilled nation in the world. The CCTV cameras that surround us are there to assist when things go wrong, when a crime has been committed, they are they to ‘catch’ the bad guys.  But many of us have switched off from even acknowledging they are there, we no longer take note of the many cameras along our journey, until we see the footage from a surveillance camera on the news following the report of a disappearance.

When I think about the experiences and thoughts of those that would put a camera on their helmet it is possible having the camera is like the bark of a dog, it says “don’t mess with me”, in this case, because you may be being filmed, and everyone will know, and see what you do.

But with CCTV we are the ones being ‘protected’ by the cameras, and some of us have a “hey ho, I won’t do anything wrong so I don’t care, I have nothing to hide” attitude.  Some feel safer because there are cameras along their route.

But as I felt when passed by the cyclist, do we also get a sense of being watched because someone thinks we may be the bad guys, those watching are the good guys, and we are threatened with the thought that “if you do anything wrong everyone will see”.

Of course it’s not me that is the bad guy, but then who?  Him, the guy walking next to me? Her with the pushchair?  There must be a significant threat or why would they spend so much money on installing so many cameras?  So instead of feeling safe, we wonder who amongst us are NOT the good guys.  We daren’t talk to him, or her, just in case.

This is how, just as I didn’t speak to the cyclist this morning, cameras make us feel less safe and Continue reading

“Too Lenient Sentence for Child Abuse – Train Don’t Blame”

A 44 year old teacher, from Kent, received an 18-month suspended sentence for two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust, an abuse which continued for 18 months. In addition he was placed on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely and barred from working with children, also indefinitely.

The Attorney General’s Office said it could not be referred to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentences scheme as this case does not come under its remit. Understandably there have been many complaints including Marilyn Hawes, a former teacher and founder of the charity ‘Enough Abuse UK’, which provides support for abuse victims.

Those complaining about the outcome are particularly astounded by the comments of Judge Joanna Greenberg QC, who said the victim had become obsessed with the teacher, that the victim had stalked the teacher rather than the other way around and that he was “emotionally fragile” because of complications with his wife’s pregnancy. The QC went on to say “if grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, (and) you gave in to temptation.”

These remarks are inappropriate and demonstrate the need for Judges to be given further and continuous training in the areas of abuse, trust, power and control amongst others.

The description of the 16 year old as “intelligent and manipulative” as though her “intelligence” is a dangerous weapon that adults may not be able to defend themselves against continues to place women, and vulnerable young people in a position of aggressor rather than victim. These kinds of comments demonstrate the lack of training as our society increases its understanding of how control and power is used.

Specifically it needs to be highlighted that any adult in a position of trust must also have continual training about the huge responsibility they undertake, and the way young minds can strive, in all innocence to find their place in the world as an adult.

It is wholly appropriate that this young person use her “intelligence” to experiment with “being a woman”, with her “desirability” to men and women, and with her “power” in a world where she is struggling to manage a place between child and adult, and where parents and teachers exert appropriate control at a time when she wishes to break free.

It is NOT however appropriate that the teacher is not aware of how the adolescent mind works, how important it is for this young person to be able to flex those muscles in a safe environment where she can be seen and kept safe, so that she learns to see men (and adults) as strong, safe individuals worthy of her in adulthood.

Teachers have a duty of care to their pupils, it would have been useful if this teacher could have seen his own vulnerability in this situation and taken steps to help him through a very difficult situation. Perhaps the school needs to address the environment in which teachers work, ensuring they have their own “safe space” to discuss difficult issues and find support to help them through thorny situations.

I do not doubt that there are many teachers facing this situation everywhere. Until the staff room becomes this “safe space” perhaps consideration could be given to the creation of a helpline number those that work with vulnerable young people can ring, that is anonymous, that would help them to think through ways to handle these difficult situations.

Scotland is proof that voters apathy does not exist.

The 85% turnout of voters in Scotland yesterday is something to be really proud of, but it is also proof that there is no such thing as ‘voter apathy’.

Whenever we have an election, local or general there is masses of discussion about getting the voters out to vote.  Such talk about people taking their right to vote for granted.  Talk of how hard it was to get the right, reminders of how many countries don’t have a free vote, and the voters here are in danger of being guilt-tripped into making their way to a polling station to put a cross in a square that they have no belief in, and commitment to.

On ‘Question Time’ there has been endless comment about how people can’t choose between the parties because they can’t see enough distance between the parties on offer, they are all the same, or the voters have lost faith in the system, fully expecting the government of the day to back track on its manifesto within a year of getting into power.

Although these reasons may all be true, I do not believe this is the main reason people do not leave their homes, or pop into a polling station on the way back from work, or the gym, or the supermarket.  As Scotland has shown us, when there is something of importance, when there is something that fires the blood, people will go and vote.  But in England in these times what do we have to gain, what do we have to lose.  Our standard of living has improved dramatically in the last 50 years.  I believe the reason for the so called apathy, is really our level of contentment.  Rather than ‘what’s the point’ I think people think their lives are kind of ok.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying there are not a million and one issues to be considered, and I am not saying we do not have people who are in desperate need of help and the governments attention.  But really we are like the frog in the saucepan of water.  As the water goes from freezing to boiling there is a time when the water matches the temperature of the frog and he cannot feel the water at all.  For the majority of us life is truly bearable and so we are not motivated to act, since the second world war our standard of living has improved year on year, and the number  that remember how uncomfortable the water felt when it was really cold are thinning out.   Those amongst us who do suffer feel disenfranchised but are the minority, the majority of us are in the tepid water.

What we have to be careful of is that we don’t wait until the water is so hot we can no longer jump out of the pan to save our lives.

No Fun In Rushing To Love

have relationships where we see someone across a crowded bar, smile a bit, walk past a bit, talk it over with our friends a bit, and then pluck up the courage to go over and ask the lucky recipient of our attentions if they want a drink. A few drinks and/or shots later we go back to theirs or they come back to ours and after another drink its bed. If all goes well within a couple of days we are ‘an item’. Within weeks we can’t bear to be apart a moment longer and move in together, well it’s not marriage or anything is it?

Out needs met instantly, our desires sated before we even realised we had them. We have gained so much haven’t we. But what have we lost. I think we have lost so much, we have lost the joy of building a relationship.

This does not allow for a period of time for a relationship to develop without the pressure of ‘making’ a relationship. Time to play. It’s like going from the playground to the boardroom without the vital growing, failing, and developing that we need to be successful and happy.

I don’t believe it is romantic bunkum to have the time to seek a glimpse, to feel your heart race as you catch sight of the other, experience the rise in temperature as they notice you. The growing craving of the other, the endless talking about the object of your attention to friends and the mooning and dreaming of what it might be like to spend time together, to do everyday things together, to laugh, to touch, and to wake together.

The next stage weeks after the first, the time spent together, learning about each other, hearing each others thoughts and dreams, and more importantly allowing a time for projection. Projection is the normal, healthy part of human relationship where we imagine the other to be perfect. This other would be clever, and funny and support us in just the right way, we imagine they would be romantic, or strong, or kind, or cool, or classy, or moody and mysterious, or all the above. Our friends say we are blinded by love, we see with rose tinted spectacles as they see our other as gawky, clumsy and ordinary. And then the slow coming to terms with the disappointment. They didn’t say the right thing, or they are sullen and a little more desperate, or ego-centric than you imagined or hoped. As the projection decreased we may feel they are not the person we first thought, or that they are being different than they were. It is at this stage the relationship may end with the sadness followed by the freedom to be off to project on another. Or the disappointment of a more real other comes with a growing appreciation for other traits, other gifts they have that they bring to the growing relationship.

And then that first sensation of their breath on your neck, or the first tentative touch, and the aching for the next, and the next.

Over time the relationship takes it slow journey towards intimacy, both physical and emotional, and with it grows a caring for the other, a real deep caring and a sense of being a couple, together with an understanding of each other that separates us from the rest of the world, us vs them, vital for the tough road ahead. Eventually the idea of building a life together with all the struggles and pitfalls is something that can be considered, thought about, talked over, and endless fantasised about.

I fear that this the crucial part of playing, of imagining of fantasising is lost to all but our young teenagers who are unable to fulfil their desires in the way we empowered, capable, independent others can.

And so we go from playground to boardroom, when we fall we feel it is unfair, we fear the next fall and the next for now we should be able to do this thing called relationship. When we feel misunderstood now we seek the comfort of another relationship and we are off to the bar as our other works late, or as they sleep we reach for the laptop, instant access to more others than we could ever hope for.

No fun in rushing to love

have relationships where we see someone across a crowded bar, smile a bit, walk past a bit, talk it over with our friends a bit, and then pluck up the courage to go over and ask the lucky recipient of our attentions if they want a drink. A few drinks and/or shots later we go back to theirs or they come back to ours and after another drink its bed. If all goes well within a couple of days we are ‘an item’. Within weeks we can’t bear to be apart a moment longer and move in together, well it’s not marriage or anything is it?

Out needs met instantly, our desires sated before we even realised we had them. We have gained so much haven’t we. But what have we lost. I think we have lost so much, we have lost the joy of building a relationship.

This does not allow for a period of time for a relationship to develop without the pressure of ‘making’ a relationship. Time to play. It’s like going from the playground to the boardroom without the vital growing, failing, and developing that we need to be successful and happy.

I don’t believe it is romantic bunkum to have the time to seek a glimpse, to feel your heart race as you catch sight of the other, experience the rise in temperature as they notice you. The growing craving of the other, the endless talking about the object of your attention to friends and the mooning and dreaming of what it might be like to spend time together, to do everyday things together, to laugh, to touch, and to wake together.

The next stage weeks after the first, the time spent together, learning about each other, hearing each others thoughts and dreams, and more importantly allowing a time for projection. Projection is the normal, healthy part of human relationship where we imagine the other to be perfect. This other would be clever, and funny and support us in just the right way, we imagine they would be romantic, or strong, or kind, or cool, or classy, or moody and mysterious, or all the above. Our friends say we are blinded by love, we see with rose tinted spectacles as they see our other as gawky, clumsy and ordinary. And then the slow coming to terms with the disappointment. They didn’t say the right thing, or they are sullen and a little more desperate, or ego-centric than you imagined or hoped. As the projection decreased we may feel they are not the person we first thought, or that they are being different than they were. It is at this stage the relationship may end with the sadness followed by the freedom to be off to project on another. Or the disappointment of a more real other comes with a growing appreciation for other traits, other gifts they have that they bring to the growing relationship.

And then that first sensation of their breath on your neck, or the first tentative touch, and the aching for the next, and the next.

Over time the relationship takes it slow journey towards intimacy, both physical and emotional, and with it grows a caring for the other, a real deep caring and a sense of being a couple, together with an understanding of each other that separates us from the rest of the world, us vs them, vital for the tough road ahead. Eventually the idea of building a life together with all the struggles and pitfalls is something that can be considered, thought about, talked over, and endless fantasised about.

I fear that this the crucial part of playing, of imagining of fantasising is lost to all but our young teenagers who are unable to fulfil their desires in the way we empowered, capable, independent others can.

And so we go from playground to boardroom, when we fall we feel it is unfair, we fear the next fall and the next for now we should be able to do this thing called relationship. When we feel misunderstood now we seek the comfort of another relationship and we are off to the bar as our other works late, or as they sleep we reach for the laptop, instant access to more others than we could ever hope for.

We should fear ourselves, for we watch as Rome burns!

We have to be terrified – fearing the loss of our own safety, and in fear of imminent danger before we react with a desire for change. But we are the dangerous ones.

We are shocked by the recent events in India, a girl travelling home on a bus was gang raped so violently, her death resulted from her injuries. Following on from the story of the same happening to a 13 year old girl. There was an outcry in India, but not from fathers, brothers, uncles, or boyfriends. Sadly not, the outcry came from the women who are no longer able to convince themselves that the victims in some way did not ‘keep themselves safe’. That the victims ‘did something stupid’. These women could no longer convince themselves they would be safe, because they would behave as had the victims, and therefore they would be safe where these victims were not.
As the women in India could no longer do that they too felt the vulnerability of being an unprotected woman in a land where women are truly not safe and society, men, and women, stand by whilst women in large numbers experience violence of this nature. For these women in India they could not avoid the vulnerable part of themselves as easily as could the men, who do not experience the same imminent danger.

As the world is in the grip of financial problems the security felt by numbers of individuals is rocked, anxieties are raised. Poor people who expect to be poor, who acknowledge their place and accept that place are secure. But now people who expected to have some financial security are afraid for their economic security. They are anxious and worse than that, they feel powerless. It is these people who pose a danger. Please understand I am not suggesting it is these individuals who are committing rapes, or violent acts. It is these people, the majority of us, that will turn away and do nothing. Why?

Now more than ever we are all in danger of violence. Without care, experiences of violence of all kinds will increase, as always the vulnerable in our society will be the first to experience it. Violence on busses going to school, cuts in health care, disability living allowance, housing, job seekers allowance. All of these are increase our vulnerability and leave individuals feeling isolated and uncared for by our society. And we will turn away as they become the victims. Why?

We, in the financial life boats with a drowning sense of agency in the world, who worry that we are losing control of the security in which we hold our families are fearful, and it is that fear that we cannot bear. Our only path is to not bear it, to deny it, to split it off from ourselves.

When we allow rape, and violence, in our societies we allow parts of ourselves to be split off, to roam free, without a restraining guide. The part of us that is desperately in need of power and control goes off onto the busses in our towns.

Sitting alongside the powerful disowned part of us is another part, the victim. The part that is vulnerable and afraid, that is unprotected and frightened. As we fear being the victim more than we fear the powerful controlling part of us we turn from victims and do not want to see that vulnerability. If we let in the vulnerable part we fear we will be weakened, so we do not let it in. Whilst we fear our own vulnerability more than we fear the part of us that needs to be in control, that needs to feel powerful, we will turn away from the victim and ignore the destruction of ourselves that the perpetrator represents.

We need to be brave and take all our parts to ourselves. Think about our vulnerability – give it air to breathe, and let it know we see it, as the women in India now have no alternative but to do. Only then will be brave enough to take to ourselves the parts of us that need to control.