Attachment Informed Therapy
What is "Attachment"?
Attachment is an internal map of our sense of relational safety. It reflects our reception to unconscious cues that people are safe or unsafe. Following this map, we unconsciously behave in a way that will bring us closer to safety.
Why does it matter?
Our attachment styles are often the root of our pathology and/or our resilience. Not only are we dependent on others to keep us alive and functioning for nearly the first two decades of our lives, we are also an interdependent species. What this means is that we need each other to survive. This is reflected in our neurobiological wiring to be connected to one another.
Within our brains are mirror neurons, which allow us to empathize, attune to others, socially conform, and otherwise "read the room". Mirror neurons are in action when you walk into a room full of laughter and begin laughing, despite not knowing the joke. Being pack animals, this ability to connect with others and fit in is paramount to our survival. If we fail, we risk being exiled from the pack. From a historical and neurobiological perspective, exile for an interdependent species could mean death.
When we are little and unable to defend ourselves, we are fully reliant on others to meet all of our needs and to keep us safe. This is quite a task, given that babies and littles are massive drains on communal resources. To counter this, we have been designed to elicit caregiving behaviors from those around us. This is why babies and littles are just so cute, as well as why there is a massive Oxytocin (love hormone) dump during birth and breastfeeding.
The degree of success between the behavior of babies and littles to elicit caregiving responses from the grown ups around them, and the grown ups ability to effectively understand the needs communicated and respond to it is called attunement. Consistent misattunement, the inability to communicate or meet these needs, begins the process of wiring a brain for protection, rather than connection. Overtime, developing brains have a hard time discerning when they're actually safe or not safe.
How would I know if I've experienced misattunement?
Everyone has experienced misattunement at some point or another. But when we're misattuned to more than we're attuned to, then our nervous system's fight, flight, freeze response can go in hyperdrive and end up being too sensitive to some stimuli, and not sensitive enough to others.
Common symptoms of this include:
Getting into relationships intensely and quickly, and then getting out of them just as intensely and quickly
Constantly feelings less than, different, or like you don't belong
Managing the sense of simultaneously being too much, and yet not enough
Feeling as though you're too needy, or it's not okay to ask for what you need
Binging behaviors and disordered eating
Sex and love addiction, as well as other process disorders
Asthma, GI issues, or other physiological complaints
Are you saying my parents are bad people?
Attachment trauma is not synonymous with bad parenting. Rather, it's a reflection of what was needed, what was provided, and whether or not these match. While malicious neglect absolutely is an attachment trauma, there are attachment traumas that are sustained in the presence of loving parents.
Common examples of this include:
Untreated post partum depression
Birth trauma, especially when resulting in NICU stays
Unnecessary birth intervention
Too many children in the home
Stressful situations that compete for caregiver attention
Unstable living conditions
Too much unpredictability
From these situations, we innately learn that it's not safe or okay to have needs, that it's better to avoid intimacy, or that pain and abandonment are inevitable. When these become our truths, we behave in ways that reinforce them. We may people please until the anger of not being seen or heard causes us to blow up. We may socially withdraw to mitigate the terror of being emotionally vulnerable. Sometimes we even act in ways that cause people to leave us so that we can avoid the painful ambiguity of not knowing when they'll leave.
What is therapy gonna do about it?
Attachment wounds exist on a part of the brain that cannot be accessed through traditional treatment models, like talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Because the injury is to the nonverbal part of the brain that is reliant on human connection, the clinical intervention then becomes the ability of the clinician to co-regulate, read nonverbal cues, and create a container where individuals feel safe and in control while experiencing their discomfort. These experiences are critical in strengthening neurological pathways to internal safety and recalibrating the brain to accurately assess when we are safe or not safe. From there, we can access our intuition to engage in behaviors that are conducive to the life we want to live without the unconscious cues that we're at risk for exile.