At the heart of many of our patterns of stuckness is a foundational anxiety that can, in part, be traced to problems in early attachment. So, what is attachment?
Essential to being and becoming the person that we were given to be is healthy attachment to a primary caregiver. If that did not occur, if that early and essential relational dance was inadequate or otherwise wounding, then, this wound will need tending. If we want to relax into the world and be who we are here to be, then that hole, those wounds must, through various healing practices be filled or healed. And, with right intention, good help, and yes, hard work, these holes can be filled, those wounds transformed – I speak from personal experience with the holes in my own early attachment dance (no offense intended mom, really!).
From the moment that we are born, a robust and natural wisdom/intelligence pours through us, fills us, directs us to find what we need. This intelligence recognizes and seeks out the eyes of another human being. We seek in those eyes, a proper greeting, recognition, reassuring and reliable positive regard. Aristotle was not wrong when he said that “the eyes are the window to the soul.”
When we have secured that proper greeting and are, for the moment, all filled up, we want to be able to turn away and go our own way…until we, again, feel the scary edges of our separateness, our quasi and not so quasi aloneness. Then, with a cry, we want the eyes of the other to return. We want to be able to access the eyes of the other at a moment’s notice. When we secure the gaze of the other, we want to find in that gaze, that same warm welcome, calm and curious, there to help, support, or simply witness,. Then, when we are all filled up again, off we go.
When we are reliably able to access this kind of presence, we say that we are headed towards secure attachment. Our primary care-givers have given us good reason to trust in the goodness of humankind and the world. From a spiritual point of view, and, because our caregivers have acted as emissaries for this truth, we are guided, consciously or unconsciously by a knowledge that peace, freedom, and basic goodness are the basis of our world. With this kind of modeling, our nervous system will have known a world that responds in a natural, reliable, and dynamic way to the organic rhythms of our movements towards and away from connection (or in a spiritual way, towards and away from union). And this dance, allowed to evolve naturally, will lead to a psychological self-relational and self-other relational structure that is calm, creative, courageous, connected, compassionate, and deeply curious (a number of the C’s of Self).
For many if not most of us, our primary caregivers, had gaps, some of them very serious, in their ability to be the self-led* presence that we all need. If our parents have had some history of either capital “T” or even small “t” trauma and they have not enjoyed serious healing of those traumas, it is likely that their ability to be present to us will be impaired. Also, we live in a society that is, to a great degree, ruled by fear. Families are, for the most part, isolated within communities that are not organized around taking care of one another. Even when our primary caregivers have no clear history of trauma, our society introduces many noxious and disruptive elements into the lives of families. This too will disrupt our capacity to be present to our children. We will find ourselves constantly wrestling with fears inserted into our lives by a society that is, to a great extent, lost.
Disruptions to healthy attachment create foundational instability at the core of our being. This instability underwrites many or even most of the patterns of stuckness that we experience in our lives. Tending and healing these attachment wounds is difficult work. It is also worthy and powerfully transformative work.
For more information on attachment theory:
*When we are Self-led, our being is imbued with and grounded in these qualities: calm, curiosity, connection, compassion, creativity, courage, clarity,