Hopefully this will be the final post in this series, because WOW LONG AND OVERWHELMING THREADS OF CEREBRAL INFORMATION. STOP IT, JADE. STICK TO BUTTERFLIES AND RAINBOWS AND HOW WONDERFUL WE ARE. Okay, okay. I’ll try. 🙂
Before I get into the last part of the interplay of trauma, dissociation, and disorganized attachment, I want to give you a personal glimpse into what someone with disorganized attachment may feel or think as a grown adult. I honestly don’t know where to put these thoughts, since they don’t really fit in anywhere else, but I think practical examples from real life can be helpful to convey abstract ideas into solid, understandable experiences.
As an adult, I can testify to the enduring nature of the pattern that emerged from my earliest experiences, but it has taken many years of heartache, heartbreak, woundedness, confusion, and loss to even understand what the pattern was and is, and how it has and does play out in my daily life.
It now makes sense to me why, when I feel needy or lost or afraid or in pain, and my heart innately begins orienting itself toward those that I love, the very next experience I have is an overpowering internal voice that snarls at my silent desperation: JUST BE QUIET. NOBODY CARES. NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR IT. This is an attachment injury.
It now makes sense to me why, despite feeling absolutely driven by an unstoppable force to seek out my loved ones when I am physically or emotionally hurting, as soon as I see them, I am inexplicably terrified of them and feel equally driven to run away and escape. This is an attachment injury.
It now makes sense to me why, no matter how much love and trust I might feel for someone, when I feel needy and desiring of their presence – or simple contact with them – in order to feel comfort and security, the depths of my love and trust are equaled by a fear of them that I can’t explain. I am terrified of letting them see my need for them. Deep down I believe – in that place where beliefs are implicit, not logical –that exposing my need to an attachment figure will incite their wrath. It will bring rejection. It will precipitate abandonment. Deep down I believe that the one I desire is also the one that might (emotionally/relationally) kill me. But I need them. But I am terrified of them. But I need them. And the loop is unbreakable. This is “fright with no solution.” This has left me, over the years, trying to figure out the paradox of how to act need-less to keep people from abandoning me. Imagine how confusing that would be for a small child. Need something, or be vulnerable, and you will be rejected and abandoned. Therefore, I concluded that acting need-less was the very (only) way to express need. In turn, how confusing for those around me. How many missed connections were the result of this confusion? My need for them being expressed as having no need for them, because that was my understanding of what others wanted from me, in exchange for a connection. This was a no-win situation. This is an attachment injury.
It now makes sense to me why I fear my loved ones’ reaction when I simply contact them at all for anything. I expect my existence to anger them. I expect people to be annoyed by my presence. I expect people to dislike hearing from me or interacting with me unless I am actually doing something that directly benefits them. This is an attachment injury.
Those are just a few examples that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there are more. And, being in the disorganized attachment category, true to form, my responses to these deep wounds when dredged up by present-day situations, are varied, random, and unpredictable, effectively keeping those around me in a corresponding state of confusion as to what I truly want and how to best respond to my incompatible goals that occasionally might look like attempts to connect. Sometimes I seem perfectly normal, and confident, and secure. But actually, that’s an act I have perfected over the years, and it really just covers over a LOT of shame, insecurity, immaturity, and neediness. You’ll just have to trust me on that one. The reality is that most of the time I experience one, two, three, or all four of the internal ambushes described in the prior three paragraphs in my interactions with people that I love.
Do people I love know this? I’m not sure…you’d have to ask them. 😀 I don’t know that I necessarily DO anything indicative of these issues that anyone would notice except for the very intuitive person. What usually happens is this: on my own, outside their presence, I feel pain of some kind. I desire closeness OR simply contact with one of my friends or loved ones, in response to that pain. I feel guilt, shame, and fear regarding that desire, because I am convinced that 1) my needs are abhorrent and will drive everyone away; 2) I do not deserve to feel anything, nor have my feelings acknowledged as legitimate; 3) if I AM going to feel things, I “should” be “strong” enough to deal with them alone, 4) if I were a “good” person, I would not be feeling so crazy, 5) reaching out when I am distressed will anger or disappoint my loved one, who will be tired of me and my problems, or perhaps not even matter enough to the person I’m reaching out to, for them to respond.
I may overcome the anxiety and contact one of them anyway, with or without really telling them the reason why I’m contacting them or anything else that might be relevant. It may be a simple “hi” and their response (that proves to me that they are still there and still responsive to me) comforts me. Or they may respond in a kind and polite way stating they are busy and will talk to me later – which may or may not (depending on the situation) be satisfactory, OR may or may not be upsetting to me. Or they may not answer. I may or may not freak out at the lack of answer. Lack of answer may further trigger my wounds and fears and I may search for a different solution (contact a different friend, binge on ice cream and pizza, distract myself in some other slightly healthier way, have a full-blown emotional breakdown, sink into a dissociative trance….all possibilities, with none any more likely than any other at any given time).
In person, I may seem emotional and might speak of things that make me seem emotionally needy, and solicit a caregiving response from someone I love. But when they approach with a caregiving behavior, their proximity may terrify me and prompt me to distance myself from them again (either literally or just relationally by being defensive or shutting down), sending a confusing mixed message to people of “I need you, but stay away from me.” I have a feeling I’ve probably done this more than once. I am not sure how it looks from the other person’s perspective. If I find out, I’ll let you know. 😉 At the least, it’s probably as confusing for them, as it is frightening for me.
Disorganized Attachment: Beyond Infancy
The last aspect of this whole discussion of this article is, the question of: what happens then? Scientific hypothesis is the question of “If, then?”, or, “If so and so is true, then what does that essentially mean?” Or, in some cases, “What happens next?”
With a child who is, from infancy, becoming disorganized in attachment, due to a parent who most likely has some unresolved trauma-issues of their own which are causing them to respond inconsistently and/or frighteningly to the child, many children (over 80% is the cited statistic) go one of two ways. Depending on their personality and the complex interplay of their personality and their parents’, as well as family positioning and blah blah blah, children often shift from a disorganized attachment style in infancy to a type of behavior toward parents that many clinicians would label “controlling.” There are 2 paths that can be taken under this label: what has been called “punitive-dominant,” or “caregiving.” They are both categorized as controlling behavior because either method is a way for a child to exert control on the primary attachment figure’s attention and behavior, in a way that is usually considered more appropriate for a parent in reference to a child.
The children who resort to the caregiving strategy of controlling behavior have apparently bypassed their attachment system and activated their caregiving system instead, in a curious inversion of parent-child relational interaction. The children who resort to the punitive-dominant strategy of controlling behavior seem to have activated yet another innate motivational system to substitute for the normal attachment system – namely, the system that prioritizes defining the dominant and submissive roles within the social group of most species.
This was a huge Eureka! moment for me, as far as explaining relational interactions in my personal life. The knowledge that control-seeking behavior is almost always based on fear makes perfect sense in correlation to the knowledge that children with disorganized attachment often resort (when older) to a type of bid for control. The trickier thing is figuring out what to do about it. How to respond? Nobody likes to feel controlled. Nobody likes to feel manipulated. Parents aren’t exempt from such dislikes, and indeed, if those parents have a history of woundedness (the likelihood of which is high if their children are disorganized in attachment and trying to cope by choosing a controlling strategy), the parents are also likely to find children’s attempts to control them to be further triggering, which links back to their trauma history and serves to reactivate the parents’ attachment system. And here is yet another loop.
So…what to do?
Honestly, I’m sorry for being anti-climatic, but I have no idea. I am seeking wisdom from God on this one. The obvious solution on a broader scale is for parents to work diligently to heal, themselves, and then bring that healing into their relationships with their children. Somehow, the fear and/or anger in both parties needs to be resolved, but the exact way to go about that is hard to say. As far as on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis…I have not the first clue. I can tell you that prioritizing the relationship over the behavior is always the right choice. Children who are raised to do what others want, out of fear (of what will happen if they don’t), are not equipped to live from their hearts and connect to others out of love. Whatever motivation is used with the child by the parent will become the child’s inner motivation as an adult. (I can also testify to this – I was raised to fear punishment if I did not comply, but I never learned how to be motivated by love or joy…which is something I still can’t even wrap my head around, much less do.) I also know that all of this is SO MUCH easier said than done. I can point you to some outstanding books that will turn your parenting paradigm on its ear (be advised these are Christian books), if you’re brave enough to consider them. But even if – and once – this information is taken in, all of these changes will take time. But I do want to encourage you that nothing is ever final, at least until one leaves this world for the next. Even if damage has been done, it can be healed. The effects can be reversed. I am learning, changing, and growing by massive leaps and bounds. Freedom is possible – for everyone involved.
Please do me a favor and insert a well-rounded and completely satisfactory conclusion here, because my fingers are tired of typing now and I should probably go do my real job for awhile. Or at least, make an appearance. 🙂 Also, for more reading and a well done piece on all this attachment stuff, go visit Attachment Girl at Tales Of A Boundary Ninja and show her some love. I wanted to link to her but now I really need to be done with these posts and I don’t really have time to go back and find a smoother placement for the link. Cheers! ~J8