Tag Archives: psychology

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.

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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.