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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Attachment/Grade Yourself

Today I'm thinking about attachment.  It's a big topic, one that I'm sure to revisit here.  It's interesting and simple to understand Joey's attachment disorder.  He is struggling to be OK - if he were a person he'd be on the couch.  And it makes sense that he's a mess - his puppy-hood appears to have been full of abuse, being branded on his back, the scar on his shoulder that could have come from a cruel owner or a fighting dog.  Who knows?  The aftermath of all that is that he is desperately anxious and he can't bear to have us out of his sight - me especially.  It's my job to be a rock for him the way Kaveh is for me, always there, consistent, loving, understanding.  In time he will relax as I have.   It's also my job to introduce discomfort to him and challenge him to be better.

I remember visiting my sister and her toddler (he's now a big strapping Marine).  He was about three. She and I were talking while he napped, and then a peep - she knew he was waking.   She bolted into the kitchen and quickly heated a cup of milk for him and got to him with the warm milk just in time before he started wailing for her. I remember being horrified that she wouldn't let him experience one second of discomfort, that she felt her job as a mother was to shelter him from all unpleasantness.  It seems there is a lifelong struggle to find balance between attachment and independence, the need to be securely and appropriately attached to people you love, but also have the capacity to endure times of detachment - to self comfort.  If parents do a good job they allow more and more discomfort into their children's lives, in therapeutic doses that can be tolerated. A newborn baby should only be allowed to cry a little.  An older baby should learn to comfort himself in the night.   A toddler shouldn't be rushed to, unless his wounds are grievous.   A teenager should be held accountable for his own actions and forced to suffer consequences.  But always there should be a sense of security - a sense that there is a safety net - that there is someone there ready to catch you if you are falling to jagged rocks.  And that is healthy attachment, right?  Appropriate attachment - knowing you can count on someone - that their bottom line is that they won't neglect you and they won't leave you even if you are impossible sometimes.   That is healthy love.

And speaking of love, I love Joey.   A lady at the beach today asked me if he was a "forever dog".   I didn't know what she meant - I asked her what a "forever dog" was, to which she replied, "You know - a dog you will have forever. You won't give him back."   I answered, "He and I will grow old together....we have a lot of work to do, but we are bonded...I would never give him away."   Now we just need Joey to understand that, so he can relax and go about the business of being a dog and not be so anxious.  Today after our early morning walk on the beach, I made him stay outside in the back yard by himself for the better part of an hour while I showered and got ready for work.   He was miserable and wailed ...I was resolute and didn't go to him. I introduced appropriate discomfort.

What astounds me is how much attachment disorder and pain there is in the world. It appears to be a miracle when a kid gets a good solid start in life with two parents who give him the right mirroring. Even good parents screw this up - they are busy, stressed, self-focused, bring their own baggage, whatever.   Let me correct myself - HUMAN parents screw this up - it seems animals know instinctively how to raise their young.   OK, correction again.  I did have an inbred Siamese cat who refused to acknowledge she was giving birth - the fact that there was a kitten dangling from her, swinging back and forth as she paced up and down my bed. I had to midwife her babies, they would have died without intervention - now she was a pathetic animal mother!

Attachment....we do such a shitty job with this.   Buddhists tell us the greatest gift you can give someone is to not be attached to them.   But Freud describes the lifelong problems that plague those of us who formed insecure attachments as children. It seems we can live our whole lives dancing around this need - the need to be connected while surrendering to and accepting the impermanence of relationships.

The challenge today is giving yourself a grade on the important relationships in your life.   Are your relationships characterized by healthy attachment or do you struggle to meet each others' needs? Are you distant and disappointed  because you don't feel seen and appreciated or are you the person who fails to see and appreciate?  I know I score a big fat "F" in most of my relationships. Certainly we should think a lot about this topic with the thought that we can do A LOT better.


PS.   Please comment.   I'm craving some healthy attachment these days.


  1. Tough challenge, but I'm up to it!

    A+- The dog
    A My boss
    A My father
    A My brother
    A- My 16 year old son
    A- My mother
    B+ My sister
    B+ Myself
    B Most of my friends
    B- My 14 year old son
    D My soon-to-be ex-wife

    Now that I have taken the time to think about it, isn't thie above order NOT the way life is supposed to be? You've made me think.


  2. Wow! This is something to ponder, as I have always been the parent who didn't let my children suffer for even a moment, taking all their pain onto myself..........perhaps this isn't the best plan after all, as my shoulders are getting sore from carrying all that weight!

  3. Thanks for the comments. Tom, you are honor roll and soon your GPA will be solidly back in the A-/B+ range when you find someone special to spend the last half of your life with. And trying to figure out who posted the second comment, Liza, Sue? Put your initials next time!