Healing the Wounds of Early Attachment – June 2012
What do early attachment wounds look like? How do we know if we are wounded in this way? We look at our relationships: our relationships with others; and our relationships with self. What are our patterns of anger? How often do we slip away and abdicate responsibility, finding ourselves unable to move, almost paralyzed? Do we struggle with addictions, finding substances, food, alcohol or activities more compelling than connecting with others? Do we need our addictions to even be able to think about connecting with others? Do we have pockets of self-loathing, despair, shame or rage that ambush us suddenly, as if we’ve just stepped on a land mine? If you are nodding in response to any of these question, you are living with unhealed attachment wounds. I’ve been thinking about what facilitates such healing this month: the restructuring and ordering of the right hemisphere; and integration of right brain with left.
The following paragraphs outline an attempt to capture some of what happens in the healing process, while acknowledging the overall mystery of deep, transformative change and the unpredictable moments of grace that are like the gamma waves of sudden insight in the very brain of our universe, washing over us and giving us a sudden sense of the numinous possible, allowing us to see ourselves in a new light.
When we have long-term experiences of being held with love and resonance, it awakens our attachment circuits, giving us a “felt experience” of the flow of oxytocin (ahhh, warmth!) and providing an integratable internalization of an outer figure who is deeply committed to us. We bring these people (and sometimes animals, trees, the earth itself) inside us and we carry them with us on an ongoing basis. This is a major occurrence in healing the original attachment experience.
Modeling of self-compassion and invitations to embody the compassionate self-witness awaken the attachment circuit, allowing us to feel how it would be to live in a securely attached place on an ongoing basis.
Mindfulness, learning about Interpersonal Neurobiology and a practice of Nonviolent Communication are all activities that build the brain’s ability to look at itself, and as that solid ground of self-perspective is gained, we create more room and a solid basis for attachment repair and self-compassion, as well as creating fibers between prefrontal cortex and amygdala in the knowing.
When we have disconfirming experiences – for example when we feel shame about sharing at depth but we discover that we are actually contributing to others – then we are recrafting the brain’s embodied anticipation of existing in the world. This also leads to secure attachment, as we are resetting the contents of the brain’s default network to bring the upper left hemisphere into free self-expression and contribution – again, more integration, more secure attachment.
Relationships where we feel safe create a ground of being in which we can heal the disrupted timing of connection and conversation – the largely non-verbal dance of acknowledgment and acceptance that occurs in contingent eye gaze, body movement, facial expression and prosody.
As we have our cognition and words held with attention and reflected, we’re providing the missing feedback mechanism of contingent communication, which allows the brain to self-correct and to create pathways between impulse, experience, autobiographical narrative and outer world.
As we transform false core beliefs, untangling the amygdala connections that lead us to associate our sense of self with negative cognition, self-contempt, shame, or rage, our fibers of attachment begin to work more effectively.
When we use resonance for emotional microsurgery, we are healing neural networks so that they begin to communicate with one another and so that trauma bubbles are claimed as coherent brain territory – making the brain more integrated – and an integrated brain is a securely attached brain. In addition, as we resolve the trauma moments that are frozen in time, we reclaim time itself as a resource and a landscape that we can inhabit.
Additionally, specific spatial activities, like sand tray and family constellations, allow the hippocampus to integrate meaning making about the space of self and autobiography.