Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Attachment and set patterns

I've been slowly working my way through the Wikipedia article on Attachment Theory for about a week. It's a beast. It makes me sad for some very specific reasons. I'll start at the beginning. Attachment theory mostly focuses on what happens during the infant/toddler stage. Babies require stable care givers who respond promptly.

"The set-goal of the attachment behavioural system is to maintain a bond with an accessible and available attachment figure.[16] "Alarm" is the term used for activation of the attachment behavioural system caused by fear of danger. "Anxiety" is the anticipation or fear of being cut off from the attachment figure. If the figure is unavailable or unresponsive, separation distress occurs.[17] In infants, physical separation can cause anxiety and anger, followed by sadness and despair. By age three or four, physical separation is no longer such a threat to the child's bond with the attachment figure. Threats to security in older children and adults arise from prolonged absence, breakdowns in communication, emotional unavailability or signs of rejection or abandonment.[16]"

We went to our local breakfast place on Easter, partially just to see the waitress. We like her a lot. This time she had an excited story to tell. Her daughter, seven years into a relationship, suddenly called her mom out of the blue and announced she was getting married and would mom like to help with stuff? Obviously this made our waitress' year. She was so happy. She got to buy her daughter a dress and get her a bouquet and take pictures. I spent the rest of breakfast crying. I'm very glad she got to have that experience. There are a lot of reasons why Noah and I got married in a room with a drive-in-style preacher and no one else. There isn't a picture of us. We had a wedding pint of Häagen-Dazs. I ask Noah fairly often if he ever feels weird about how alienated he is from his family. He doesn't have much more of a relationship with his family than I do but he doesn't have any specific reasons like I do. He just didn't bond there. It's weird to me. For me to maintain relationships with my mother or sister would involve me choosing not to see huge problematic behaviors. Noah has a different situation. I don't really understand it.

My parents divorced when I was three. Supposedly up to that point I should have had a reasonably secure attachment. My mother was a stay at home mom. She breastfed me for more than six months (only partially--I always had bottles too). I believe that she coslept with me early on and moved me to my own bed fairly late by societal standards. She's a light sleeper and always has been. I can't imagine her ignoring my needs.

As Ann said, "You were clean, well fed, and well dressed. What was there to report?" But my mom ignored the fact that my father was molesting me. If you go further into the Wikipedia article you find:

"The most concerning pattern is disorganized attachment. About 80% of maltreated infants are likely to be classified as disorganized, as opposed to about 12% found in non-maltreated samples. Only about 15% of maltreated infants are likely to be classified as secure. Children with a disorganized pattern in infancy tend to show markedly disturbed patterns of relationships. Subsequently their relationships with peers can often be characterised by a "fight or flight" pattern of alternate aggression and withdrawal. Affected maltreated children are also more likely to become maltreating parents. A minority of maltreated children do not, instead achieving secure attachments, good relationships with peers and non-abusive parenting styles.[9] The link between insecure attachment, particularly the disorganized classification, and the emergence of childhood psychopathology is well-established, although it is a non-specific risk factor for future problems, not a pathology or a direct cause of pathology in itself.[40] "

The specific behaviors in a very young child that indicate disorganized attachment:

"Stereotypies on return such as freezing or rocking. Lack of coherent attachment strategy shown by contradictory, disoriented behaviours such as approaching but with the back turned."

I'm not sure why it uses the word "stereotypies" but whatever. I can remember rocking; I still do it when I am very upset. And I have always frozen upon return of the person I am most attached to. I hold back. I am terrified of touching them. I need to be approached. Noah comes into the house and comes to me for a hug and a kiss. It's nice. I know that my mother talked about these kinds of behaviors when I was small. Yes, one shouldn't self-diagnose. Whatever.


"Over the short term, the stability of attachment classifications is high, but becomes less so over the long term.[9] It appears that stability of classification is linked to stability in caregiving conditions. Social stressors or negative life events—such as illness, death, abuse or divorce—are associated with instability of attachment patterns from infancy to early adulthood, particularly from secure to insecure.[46] Conversely, these difficulties sometimes reflect particular upheavals in people's lives, which may change. Sometimes, parents' responses change as the child develops, changing classification from insecure to secure. Fundamental changes can and do take place after the critical early period.[47] Physically abused and neglected children are less likely to develop secure attachments, and their insecure classifications tend to persist through the pre-school years. Neglect alone is associated with insecure attachment organisations, and rates of disorganized attachment are markedly elevated in maltreated infants.[40]
This situation is complicated by difficulties in assessing attachment classification in older age groups. The Strange Situation procedure is for ages 12 to 18 months only;[9] adapted versions exist for pre-school children.[48]"

Since I'm an adult none of this is exactly relevant and I'm just pulling things out of my ass. Awesome.


"Significance of attachment patterns

There is an extensive body of research demonstrating a significant association between attachment organisations and children's functioning across multiple domains.[40] Early insecure attachment does not necessarily predict difficulties, but it is a liability for the child, particularly if similar parental behaviours continue throughout childhood.[47] Compared to that of securely attached children, the adjustment of insecure children in many spheres of life is not as soundly based, putting their future relationships in jeopardy. Although the link is not fully established by research and there are other influences besides attachment, secure infants are more likely to become socially competent than their insecure peers. Relationships formed with peers influence the acquisition of social skills, intellectual development and the formation of social identity. Classification of children's peer status (popular, neglected or rejected) has been found to predict subsequent adjustment.[9] Insecure children, particularly avoidant children, are especially vulnerable to family risk. Their social and behavioural problems increase or decline with deterioration or improvement in parenting. However, an early secure attachment appears to have a lasting protective function.[51] As with attachment to parental figures, subsequent experiences may alter the course of development.[9]...

One explanation for the effects of early attachment classifications may lie in the internal working model mechanism. Internal models are not just "pictures" but refer to the feelings aroused. They enable a person to anticipate and interpret another's behaviour and plan a response. If an infant experiences their caregiver as a source of security and support, they are more likely to develop a positive self-image and expect positive reactions from others. Conversely, a child from an abusive relationship with the caregiver may internalise a negative self-image and generalise negative expectations into other relationships. The internal working models on which attachment behaviour is based show a degree of continuity and stability. Children are likely to fall into the same categories as their primary caregivers indicating that the caregivers' internal working models affect the way they relate to their child. This effect has been observed to continue across three generations. Bowlby believed that the earliest models formed were the most likely to persist because they existed in the subconscious. Such models are not, however, impervious to change given further relationship experiences; a minority of children have different attachment classifications with different caregivers.[9]
There is some evidence that gender differences in attachment patterns of adaptive significance begin to emerge in middle childhood. Insecure attachment and early psychosocial stress indicate the presence of environmental risk (for example poverty, mental illness, instability, minority status, violence). This can tend to favour the development of strategies for earlier reproduction. However, different patterns have different adaptive values for males and females. Insecure males tend to adopt avoidant strategies, whereas insecure females tend to adopt anxious/ambivalent strategies, unless they are in a very high risk environment. Adrenarche is proposed as the endocrine mechanism underlying the reorganisation of insecure attachment in middle childhood.[46]"
I describe myself as being "bad at monogamy" not polyamorous. (Not anymore! Just monogamous.) I am not all that familiar with the music of Amy Winehouse (and I didn't hear about her until well after her death) but I have had people push a few songs at me recently. In particular: You Know I'm No Good just seems relevant to me. When I try to talk about "what kind of girl I am" that's a lot of what I am talking about: That. She is compulsive sexually and very self-harming. Crying on the kitchen floor because you feel disgusted with yourself for your behavior, check. Sex you don't even really enjoy, check. But you owe these men. They understand you. If you don't put out then you are being part of The Embargo and you are bad. It's just my place in life. He wanted to get off. What was I supposed to do other than get him off? (This is when I wish I had a guest post by Noah explaining the Embargo for me. I would link to it even though I think being self-referential is kind of hilarious.)

Back to this Attachment Theory stuff. Being sexually assaulted by one of my primary caregivers from toddlerhood (or earlier, who knows) means that I was pretty primed for not-perfect-attachment. And things in my household were far more chaotic than they appeared to the neighbors because my father was a raging alcoholic and drug addict. I think it is reasonable to assume that I am on the problematic end of things. I don't think I have Reactive Attachment Disorder even though it is uncomfortable to read.

I had so much repeated sexual contact with neighbors over the years because I went out looking for some attention and affection anywhere I could get it. It wasn't safe for me to ask for affection or attention at home. My sister has issues with being touched like I do. If I approached her at the wrong time I would end up in a lot of pain. It would always be phrased as my fault or an accident. I wasn't supposed to say out loud, "You hurt me on purpose" because then she would actually slap me to "show me the difference."

My mother was always preoccupied. Always thinking about other things, other people. I'm sure Shanna feels that way about me. I make up for it by spending many hours a day focusing on the kids. I only let my thoughts wander at pre-selected times. It's hard to control. Back to the Attachment Theory stuff. It has only been applied to adults in terms of their romantic relationships. The basics of adult styles are:

"Securely attached adults tend to have positive views of themselves, their partners and their relationships. They feel comfortable with intimacy and independence, balancing the two. Anxious-preoccupied adults seek high levels of intimacy, approval and responsiveness from partners, becoming overly dependent. They tend to be less trusting, have less positive views about themselves and their partners, and may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsiveness in their relationships. Dismissive-avoidant adults desire a high level of independence, often appearing to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient, invulnerable to attachment feelings and not needing close relationships. They tend to suppress their feelings, dealing with rejection by distancing themselves from partners of whom they often have a poor opinion. Fearful-avoidant adults have mixed feelings about close relationships, both desiring and feeling uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They tend to mistrust their partners and view themselves as unworthy. Like dismissive-avoidant adults, fearful-avoidant adults tend to seek less intimacy, suppressing their feelings.[7][52][53][54]"

I really like to date dismissive-avoidant men. (love) I kind of go back and forth between being anxious-preoccupied and and fearful-avoidant. Which means this isn't something I can self-diagnose well. Regardless of which of them it's pretty clear I'm not secure if you know what I mean. There is hope though.

"Some authors have suggested that adults do not hold a single set of working models. Instead, on one level they have a set of rules and assumptions about attachment relationships in general. On another level they hold information about specific relationships or relationship events. Information at different levels need not be consistent. Individuals can therefore hold different internal working models for different relationships.[56][57]"

So even though I am pretty clearly fucked up I could probably, with enough time and effort, learn how to have a secure relationship with Noah. He keeps assuring me that as long as something has the possibility of success, even if it is a low possibility, keep trying. I don't understand why he picked me. I make it as hard as possible to have a relationship with me. I ask him to do very hard things all the time.

A friend told me a cool analogy: trust is like water dripping into a bucket. When there isn't much water in the bucket it is hard to spill water out if the bucket tips a little. If the bucket is full it is easy to dump water out.

Every so often Noah and I tip the bucket. I want to say more. But it's time to go in.

1 comment:

  1. > Since I'm an adult none of this is exactly relevant and I'm just pulling things out of my ass. Awesome.

    I didn't read that as "irrelevant." I read it as "hard to measure."

    ReplyDelete