Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Why attachment theory

Schore writes that affect regulation is attachment, attachment is affect regulation. To create a secure attachment in the treatment relationship requires mutual regulation of affect. Regulation of affect is mostly a right brain to right brain experience, that is, it is done not through words but through a way of being (procedure, perception, affect) with another. It requires a willingness to ‘mark’ in the same affective trajectory, though not match with the same intensity, the emotional experience of the patient. We thus must be emotionally present. It is recommended that therapists be welcoming, accepting, open to the patient’s experience, and emotionally present (authentic).  A secure attachment includes trust, safety, and authenticity. From a secure base, one can explore novel, even scary, experience. Consider, of course, that a secure attachment in one self state may be insecure in a different self state.

It may be useful to know that Ainsworth described, in her Strange Situation research, three attachment patterns (one secure, and two insecure: avoidant and resistant-ambivalent-anxious) detailing the responses of 12 month olds upon being separated from mother with attempts to be comforted by the returning parent and by a stranger. Main described a fourth attachment pattern, another insecure one, called disorganized attachment. Main also devised the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) which asks the adult to describe her or his relationship with her or his own parental figures. It is the coherence of the narrative, and not the content, which deems a secure attachment in childhood. It turns out that the AAI predicts what type of attachment the infant of that adult will have! Secure attachment on the AAI predicts a secure attachment in the Strange Situation. A dismissive style on the AAI predicts an avoidantly attached infant in the Strange Situation while a preoccupied parent predicts a resistant-ambivalent infant.

More important, perhaps, than knowing attachment styles as per the Strange Situation and the Adult Attachment Interview, is recognizing patterns of how-to-be-with-another. Like any ‘non-conscious’ experience (i.e., procedural, perceptual, emotional experience), right brain phenomena may be better accessed by non-verbal right brain to right brain communications. These right brain interactions are the “something more” that Stern, et al of the Boston Change Process Study Group describe. This means that interpretation and its promised subsequent insight (both left brain, verbal phenomena) may be insufficient, perhaps even unhelpful, in addressing a procedural way of being in relationship.

A note: Here in Florida (Parkland), another mass shooting took place where a 19 year old boy killed seventeen people at Douglas High School and wounded many more. My first thought upon hearing of this tragedy was not about gun safety laws and gun accessibility, though I think about those as well, but wondering about what sort of attachments this boy had had. It seems to me that one must have been somehow dehumanized in childhood in order to be capable of so dehumanizing others enough to kill them. Can dehumanizing and a deadening inside take place from an extremely dismissing, preoccupied, frightened or frightening parent? Now, high school students across Florida, and spreading to other states, are organizing protests against gun violence, reminiscent of the 1960s when college student protested against the Viet Nam War. Both are/were fighting for their lives. While gun accessibility and safety, and mental health all need to be addressed, I was wondering if another important prevention might not be teaching parents (and students from preschool onwards) how to be emotionally present with infants and one another. Perhaps if we could nip in the bud the trauma of chronic misattuenement (relational trauma) children would grow up feeling alive with others and cherishing lives.

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