My Current Attachment Mess

This post is probably going to be a mess because basically I’m trying to work some things out mentally, and if you haven’t noticed by now, I process by writing. Stay or go, whichever.  I’ve worked to make this post more generic, because although I don’t know most of my readers personally, I do have friends that read this.  I’m sure those specific people are probably going to know immediately what this post pertains to, but I trust them and feel safe with them.  Nevertheless I have left out some things and obviously am not going to use names because, no.  Okay. Proceed.

So I’ve been struggling to understand my feelings from the last few nights, last few days, and pretty much forever even besides these.  I currently have a person in my life who I would call my “attachment figure” – let’s call her AF for short.  Now if you don’t know anything about attachment theory and you don’t know what an attachment figure is or the significance of any of this on a person’s relationships, none of the rest of this post is going to make sense to you and I’d suggest you might want to read a little about it first.  Just my recommendation.

Anyway, this person, “AF,” left to go on a short trip yesterday, and the night before that (which would have been Tuesday), I was laying in bed at bedtime, thinking about her, as usual. It was an okay day. Nothing remarkable. Work was normal. I’d been in communication with AF, and I knew (know) she loves me.  Yet my heart was just aching and aching…at some level that I can’t understand or articulate. I try to speak logically to it, as I have been trying to for years, and it Does. Not. Work.

It never works.

Let me pause and say that I have a great relationship with AF. Due mostly to her ability to love in a healthy way, and know and maintain healthy boundaries and communicate needs and etc.  She’s actually taught me a considerable amount, about these things.  My emotional and relational health has improved dramatically, as a result of my relationship with her.  So.  I’d talked to her that day.  I generally communicate with her every day in some way – text, email, or whatever. It’s more unusual if we haven’t, although things do get busy sometimes and of course I know it’s nothing personal.

Tuesday night, it hit me.  Even though it should be obvious by now.  I’m at the emotional/attachment level of an infant.  STILL.  Based on these recurring feelings, and especially based on what I’ve learned over the last year about attachment and attachment wounds, this should be the most natural conclusion in the world to come to. And it should or could have been come to much sooner than now. But it wasn’t. It didn’t. This conclusion still surprises me. It still feels weird to realize it.

The truth is, I’ve had these same feelings in relationships for years; the major player has changed, but the pattern has not.  I’ve both (intentionally) jumped, and been passed from, attachment figure to attachment figure – primarily because no one could handle being “my person” – and I didn’t know what the hell was going on myself, so I never recognized the pattern until it was too late and some little person/people/baby/babies on the inside had already bonded with the attachment figure in some way, practically by accident (…I guess).  I feel/felt helpless to stop these feelings. And believe me, if it were possible, it does seem quite desirable to stop them. I have concluded that I cannot. Although even that seems questionable; there was a time period in recent history where I’d been through some horrific “break-ups” (for lack of a better term!) between myself and the attachment figures I’d had at the time, and it seems like I went for about 3 years with no one.  No one was in that place in my heart in that way. Not that I didn’t love anyone at that point in my life – I did. But they didn’t have a place in my heart as an attachment figure, which is a profound and significant bond even if only in the heart of the attacher and not in the attachee.  The feelings do not have to be identified or reciprocated in any way by the attachment figure to still be significant to the one who has bonded. Once the attachment is there on the part of the attacher, it’s just there. It just is. It’s almost practically a sacred space. It’s almost like the psyche is seeking the original template intended for the mom-and-baby relationship. Those 3 years, when I had no one, whenever I felt scared or lost or alone or in pain, I remember wishing for someone who didn’t exist in my life… a mother, but not my own biological mother.

I should also pause and say that obviously I did not have secure attachment as a baby. I probably never have. When I was born, my mom was going through some major issues and could not really be the mom she probably wanted to be at the time. She didn’t nurse me. She didn’t have me sleep near her. I was passed around a lot. That was probably the foundation of all of this, at which point I and my psyche could have probably been salvaged, if not for all the trauma that came, on top of that. Once that started, it was game over from the very beginning.

At any rate, all of this is tricky to think about, because it’s not purely emotional maturity in question. Emotions have something to do with it; they seem to be partially a means of expression of the root issue in this case, or maybe just a language with which the heart speaks to get the mind’s attention. But in other ways and other areas, I am quite emotionally mature; perhaps even more emotionally mature than some people, from having lived and worked through so much shit at this point in my life.  So maybe emotional maturity isn’t the right term. Or maybe it’s involved, but not the whole of it. The term “attachment level,” although I made it up, feels a little more accurate. Speaking in terms of attachment level, I appear to still be a very, very young age. Like, a baby.

It’s also tricky just because I’m a multiple. So there are possibly – probably – other inside people highly involved in this that I’m not fully aware of, so that’s why the feelings are so confusing.  Maybe it’s one of my core babies (I have several) that’s having such a powerful influence in this area.  But even in that, a tricky thing is, I chose to bond with this woman. I, Jade, chose it.  But it’s not just a guardian bond. If it was, her leaving would not bother me in the slightest. Her presence or absence would make no difference to me one way or another.  I would enjoy time with her when it occurs and then immediately emotionally disconnect with her upon leaving…if it were only me.  That is my particular way, in isolation from any other insiders. But it’s not only me. There’s some kind of baby-bond here, too, and that’s the one that hurts. That’s the one that logic cannot speak to, because logic isn’t even on the same plane. It doesn’t matter that she’s not my real mom, it doesn’t matter that even if she was not on a trip, we wouldn’t see her for the next 4 days anyway. It doesn’t matter. Knowing that her physical proximity has gone from 25ish miles to about 850 miles stirs up this heart-crushing ache. Panic. Sadness. Fear.  There’s really nothing to be done.

And putting aside all the objections for a minute – all the reasons why it can’t be done, and there are many, and they are the final word (and I know that) – if I asked this baby part what it wanted…assuming that’s even where this is coming from, and assuming I could even understand its response… If I asked what would make it satisfied, it really does want the closeness of the newborn.  It wants her – her even meaning whoever currently holds that place in the baby’s heart (which happens to be AF, right now, but it has been others, in the past). And it wants her all the time. It wants constant physical proximity – preferably (ideally) within sight, if not within tactile contact.  And if not that, then constant (or at least frequent) communication with her. I cannot guess this baby part’s age, if that’s even what this is – but it must be young enough to be in that window of time when its only security comes from closeness with the mom. There is no internal security yet. We haven’t grown any. We haven’t had time.

So, that’s what it wants. Which can’t happen. It’s like we’re designed to seek to duplicate whatever went horribly wrong, to find resolution, a re-make, a do-over. It’s like our psyches look for a way to go back and get it right this time.

But real life doesn’t work that way.

Yet it’s a drive that I cannot get rid of. I can only suppress it, which – I believe – is why I got “better” at navigating sticky relationships over the years, sticky relationships that were unwittingly of my creation. My feelings never changed, but I learned which ones were acceptable to act on or express, and which ones weren’t. I started to pick up on which types of honest communication made people feel uncomfortable or smothered or overwhelmed, and I stopped doing it. I learned to pretend indifference, or at least a much, much, much lower level of need or desire for interaction than I really felt.

Which brings a paradoxical aspect to this equation: oftentimes, because of their own personal unresolved issues, simply revealing this type of deep attachment to a person made them abandon me or withdraw from me. Which sent the message: If you want me to stay in your life, care, but do not act like you care. So I learned to do that. But the paradox was that no one I attempted any kind of relationship with ever knew which principle I was operating out of. So sometimes I acted indifferent – as I had been taught – and the person really thought I was indifferent, and still left me. It’s a no-win situation. If I act like I care, they leave. If I don’t act like I care, they leave. The bottom line is (or was, for a long time): either way, no matter what I do, people will leave. (No wonder I still feel like the best solution is to stop bonding.)

The damn thing is, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if there were a way that AF could meet this need – without compromising her or my emotional health – she would do it. She wants me to be whole. She wants me to be free from all this entangling, strangling, painful, confusing shit. She wants that for me. And if she could meet this need, I believe she would. Which is weird, this knowing. It’s very different than anything I’ve encountered previously. I’m used to people who just aren’t willing to take the time and I’m used to people who will give to a certain point but no further (and measuring the amount of their giving the entire time), and people who are looking for and expecting to see the end of my need; that’s quite enough, you’ve reached the limit, now you need to be done. Stop asking for things. You have reached your maximum amount of allowed need.  And to be fair, the majority of these people just don’t have enough of their own emotional resources to share. AF is different. I’ve never experienced any person in my life who has happily and consistently been willing to respond when I ask for something. And she responds lovingly, even if the answer is “no,” which it rarely is – but it’s not rarely no because she’s operating out of a pleasing or codependent mentality, but because she is genuinely kind and willing to do what she’s reasonably capable of doing, and she has healthy and firm boundaries that allow her to.

But anyway, despite these things, what it all boils down to is: even if. Even if there were some way. Even if she just up and decided one morning that she wanted to adopt me. Let’s just go with this outrageous scenario for a minute, and keep in mind that I know it’s outrageous. I know it can’t and won’t ever happen. But let’s just go with it for a minute. Let’s suppose she for whatever reason (see also: temporary insanity) decided she was going to take on this role and attempt to replace what was missing, for the sake of resolution for me…to see if it would work, to see if healing could actually happen in this do-over format. Let’s get even more outrageous and suppose that she put her life on hold (um, no) and even decided to accommodate this damaged mom-baby bond and she let me be with her night and day to see what would happen, if it would make any difference.

What I think is this:  It wouldn’t help.

Of course, this is purely my opinion (and for the record, the opinion of others that have seen and dealt with this before), but I don’t think it would. I think it would definitely make the baby parts (?!) feel better, at least in the interim, but I don’t think it would do anything in respect to a long-term, conclusive healing experience. The damage is too explicit, too long-term, too chronic. If it would do anything definitive at all, it would take too much time, a do-over would. Time that…I think…would probably not ultimately end in resolution, anyway. So I’m still left casting around for other answers.

And still, whoever it is, whatever it is that’s wounded, is oriented toward her. Night and day. Whether she is near or far, in communication, or not. It can’t not be; I’ve tried. I’ve tried to squish it and I can’t. So I just pray somehow, some way, it can find the resolution it needs, because I don’t know what that is.  Like I said, I’m mostly writing this because a) I’m trying to work things out, mentally, and b) maybe someone else can relate. Cheers. ~J8


5 thoughts on “My Current Attachment Mess”

  • 1
    Sam Ruck on December 5, 2014 Reply

    Hi J8,

    If you read about adult attachment, they start hedging what they are willing to declare (they are pretty explicit when it comes to childhood attachment). But most experts will still state that you never outgrow the need for an attachment figure and romantic couples show many attachment actions that mimic childhood attachment manifestations.

    The last girl to come outside in my wife’s network is consumed with being physically attached to me. She wants to sit all day every day with me on the couch with my arms around her.

    Now, if you want to delete this, that’s ok with me because I’m going to be a little explicit, but as I’ve watched this last girl and how she interacts with me, it seems like her hyperactive attachment drive VERY closely mimics my sexual drive: that drive to be physically connected to someone. I mean, she will climb up on my waist when I’m standing and wrap her arms and legs around me just like you’ll see in the movies and yet she is being completely platonic in her expression that would be highly sexual if she were emotionally an adult. And she does other things like that. Sadly she was the one who experienced the worst of the sexual abuse, and yet it kind of makes sense that the part of my wife that was ‘sent out’ to be with their abuser was the part that naturally controls the sexual desire to be connected.

    I know you aren’t married, and so I’m sorry if this was tmi, but I believe attachment theory is pretty clear you will never really outgrow your attachment needs. I certainly haven’t and I’m 47 and never was abused. I still have a burning desire to feel my wife’s skin on my skin whether or not it’s in a sexual context. Google platonic ‘skin hunger’.

    I’m not saying nothing you are feeling has to do with the abuse, but lots of what you are experiencing is simply a natural part of being human and desiring to be physically and emotionally connected to another whether or not it includes sex. Don’t beat yourself up for being human.

    Sam

  • 2
    talktoj8 on December 5, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for your feedback, Sam. It’s not tmi. Trust me, as a person who has been extensively s*xually ab*sed there’s nothing you can say that would shock or harm me. Sad but true. I’d never delete anyone’s comments unless they were abusive; everyone’s insight is valuable.

    I agree there is probably some correlation in the sex drive of a more emotionally mature person. Perhaps if/when people get attachment needs satisfied in our young lives – whether chronologically or later in parts – the healthy growth and adjustment of those needs blooms into a person’s sexuality. I don’t know. I’m not sure how they mix, or if they do, or much of anything at this point. As a guardian I rarely experience skin hunger myself (I frequently have thoughts – esp surrounding current day events – along the lines of “If no one ever touched me again it would be too soon”) but at the same time, I DO feel skin hunger from other parts. It’s strange to feel feelings that I know aren’t mine, but yet I am still experiencing them. Our system is overlapping more these days. In theory this is good. In practice it is confusing and strange.

    One of the saddest experiences surrounding my system’s attachment issues was being in a situation years ago with a married lady who – whether she understood the real root issues or not – knew (could see) how much emotional pain I was in at the time, and she would regularly hold me. Completely platonic, mother-y (or maybe sister-y as she was closer to my age), non-sexual, never inappropriate, nothing but safe touch. It was one of the only times in my life I was able to cry – when she was holding me really tight. And her husband, who was abusive and an all-around a-hole, several times upon coming in and seeing us, called us lesbians. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian, but I happen to be straight, and he happened to be using it in a way that shamed both of us. And that made me avoid that kind of touch for YEARS after that. Anyway. Rabbit trail. Thanks for your comment.

  • 3
    Faye Russell on July 7, 2015 Reply

    I struggle with attachment issues & have been telling myself that my needs have to be met my Jesus, but I am learning that even though that is true , that satisfies my function , logical part of my mind & doesn’t get down to the wounded parts of my heart. I just continue to ask those parts to come out of the shadows & spend time with me letting me know how they they feel & help them feel safe & protected. I experience anger & bitterness when the people I attach to withdraw, probably because they don’t have the capacity to spend time with me. I have 4 friends who are SRA survivors & 3 of them stopped getting help & are functioning the best they can, but all four are very withdrawn from me & don’t want to talk to me about the healing I am experiencing. I respect that,but really miss our friendship & & being able to spend time together. It really hurts, but I want to honor their boundaries & where they are. Attachment issues are really painful, but I am continuing to move forward & pay attention to not share when them. I think I overwhelm people because I am very transparent & open. I need more wisdom & discernment about when & with whom to share. Really hard for me. I don’t share details of abuse, just how I am healing, but don’t share that anymore unless I have permission or it is someone who is healing also. Do you have any insight for me?

    Faye

  • 4
    kk on July 31, 2015 Reply

    For some reason, I seem to only have an attachment problem when I am in therapy. I think maybe because we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough around our real network of people. I always have parts who put the therapist in the role of mom. It makes me very uncomfortable, but I can’t deny it because it makes our system so crazy that it can’t be hidden. Every time my therapist goes out of town we worry about whether she will come back. We get suicidal or do/feel self-harm if there is any perceived threat that she is going to leave us.

    For us, I don’t think the parts who really struggle with therapist attachment will ever be healed from it, but I do hope that if we ever integrate it will blend into other parts who don’t have this issue and will somehow balance out so we do not feel so crazy.

    Therapy seems like it would be a walk in the park if I didn’t have these attachment issues.

    I think people who don’t have this inside them must have the easiest life.

  • 5
    Carrie on January 18, 2016 Reply

    Hi J8,

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to have stumbled upon your blog. I feel like I have encountered close to a kindred spirit. I haven’t read all of your postings yet – I want to take my time doing so. I really appreciate your boldness and candour. I have been very effected by your writing and your writing has catalized a lot of new insights. It’s rare to find writings that convey the extent of the despair felt when an AF goes away, or when contact with someone cherished ceases, even for a short period of time.

    I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of your stuff.

    Carrie

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