The Science of Attachment

I’m starting to put together some useful information.  The other day I happened upon this article on the effects of attachment on right brain development. I have to say, I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it, but my mind kicked into over drive by about the tenth page.  I mean, after I deciphered the actual meaning of the text in regular English. 😉

The author states the following, and I can’t seem to get past this point: “Emotions are the highest order direct expression of bioregulation in complex organisms (Damasio, 1998), and attachment can thus be defined as the dyadic regulation of emotion (Sroufe, 1996).”

In English: emotions are the way we directly experience and express the literal state of our brains and bodies, even speaking on a neurological and physiological level. They express the type of brain chemicals’ reactions happening in that moment, for whatever reason.  Happiness, or peace, or calmness, or contentment (or whatever your preferred word for homeostasis) indicates that everything is in a state of satisfactory bioregulation. And conversely, unpleasant emotions indicate that bioregulation is not currently happening and investigation may be needed, as to why.

And the second half of this:  “attachment can thus be defined as the dyadic regulation of emotion.” Holy crap, you all.  I’m not trying to discount the figurative or metaphorical aspect of attachment and love, but this is USEFUL information.

I know for me, I’ve wondered more than once – when I’m in pain and feeling the primal desire for my attachment figure – what, exactly, I want them to do even if they were here. What do I want from them? Like a dog chasing a car…what would they do if they actually caught one?

Emotional regulation.  This is the scientific drive behind attachment.

Emotional regulation.

Our moms (or caregivers) are supposed to teach us how to regulate our emotions (aka brain and body states) when we’re babies. They do it “for” us when we’re infants, by taking the responsibility on themselves to soothe us when we’re overwhelmed. Gradually we learn to soothe ourselves, but usually within the context of that attachment relationship, and with lots of help and feedback from the caregiver for quite a few years even after babyhood. At some point we don’t need them as much; if they have done their jobs, we learn healthy ways of regulating our own emotions without depending on others’ feedback as much as we used to. What feedback we do need, we get from our friends and (later) spouses, if relevant.

It’s not that I’ve never heard of the idea of emotional regulation. I’ve just never heard the entire focus of attachment pinned on it from a neurobiological standpoint. And it makes sense to me. Attachment is fueled by the need and desire for emotional regulation, but that’s also where so many things can go haywire. Addictions are, at their most basic level, attempts to use inanimate things to help us regulate our emotions (aka brain and body states). So many unhealthy habits that may not qualify as actual addictions are our attempts to regulate our emotions without relying on real people.  (I started picking up on this idea from this article which I read earlier this year about reversing hard core drug addictions in rats.)

For some reason this all feels like really important information to me, given the following:

I do not know how to regulate my emotions without dissociating.

This is no big surprise, given the SRA history.

But it feels like a starting point for me to understand what it is that I want, what I need, and what I’m looking for when that attachment pain hits me, because before now, I honestly didn’t know.

The main thing that concerns me – particularly in the case of having DID with lots of littles and baby parts – is the author’s proposal that “the maturation of these adaptive right brain regulatory capacities is experience dependent, and that this experience is embedded in the attachment relationship between the infant and the primary caregiver.” Which is something of a problem. You can’t re-do the growing up years, at least to the best of my knowledge. Is healing from these deficits experience dependent, then?  And with whom do you have these experiences, and how?

If you know, I’d be interested in hearing. For now, I’m still pondering all of these things.  Just thought I would share. Cheers. ~J8

2 thoughts on “The Science of Attachment”

  • 1
    Jean on August 4, 2015 Reply

    I don’t have the reference, but this experiment is interesting. They traumatized a bunch of dogs and then assigned them to pple who were instructed to treat them with different kinds of behavior, imitating schools of therapy as much as possible. They found that the approach did not matter — what did matter was the relationship with the dog-therapist. Now the dogs were grown when they were mistreated, so they just had PTSD, not complex PTSD. Still, it’s suggestive.

    I focused on this “attachment can thus be defined as the dyadic regulation of emotion.” As a mother, I remember it being a dance with the baby. When I soothed the baby, I felt very content. When the baby was out of sorts, I got anxious and irritable. A healthy mother likes feeling content, so she learns to be an expert at soothing the baby and figuring out what it needs. And babies do things that engage the mother or calm the mother, first instinctually and then on purpose. When the baby sees the mother melt when it smiles, it smiles more often to get the good feeling that comes from being with an adoring mother. It’s reciprical!

    My guess is you can have these experiences with a therapist who is competent and a good match for you. And that the affect regulation starts with the adult alters and goes down through the system to the little ones. At least I think that is how it works.

    • 2
      Jade on August 4, 2015 Reply

      Very interesting… the hard part about these experiments is there’s no way to do them ethically. I shudder to think what trauma they inflicted on the dogs. I agree about the mothering. My mom basically didn’t want me (I was an “oops”) and had too much else going on when I was born. I think I got passed around a bit.

      I think the “Eureka!” for me was that I cannot regulate my emotions without dissociating from them. STILL! OMG. I appear on the outside to be a marginally healthy and well-adjusted person (all things considered), but when I get hit with pain or fear or sadness or rage, I just shut down. That’s how I “deal” with it. Nice huh? I’m not as mature as I thought. It’s SUCH a hard habit to break. But now I at least have a direction to go in. Now I can stop and say “What do I need right now, to get back to peace?” I may not know the answer, but it’s a start. 🙂

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