May 14, 2021

How Childhood Shapes Attachment Patterns & the Key to Healing Abandonment Wounds.


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When I first embarked upon my healing journey a little over one year ago, I discovered a fact that radically altered my outlook on the purpose and intention of the human experience as we know it.

These revelations, while quite possibly most obvious to those who walked this path before me, became for me a lighthouse to defy the dark night of my wandering soul.

As an anxiously attached person, I had so blindly come to believe that my goal was to exhibit a false bravado of pseudo-independence—to appear as though I didn’t need anyone and to take on the face of someone unaffected by the coming or going of any single person in my life or who might soon to enter it.

I thought that when I finally achieved that state of being, I would reach emancipation from any suffering that held or would hold me captive to the seduction of interpersonal attachment.

Once I became numb to anyone either entering or exiting my life, I will know how it feels to be free and to know I am whole, I often told myself. Normal people do not fear abandonment and neither should I, if I am to be healed.

I envied those who seemed detached from outcome. I longed to be as evolved as I viewed them to be. Little did I know at that time, I was sinking below the current, caught in an undertow that kept me stuck in a tumultuous loop of self-inflicted pain, until one day, the hook lifted and the dawn of realization shone beneath the surface of the ocean of my awareness:

We were born to attach from the moment we drew our very first breath and as we evolve, are forever in the process of shaping and being shaped from that original blueprint. It all begins, I realized, in the bond we formed with our sculptors, the ones who first held and molded us—our primary caregivers.

Upon entering this world, we are blank slates. Although we most undeniably have basic genetic predispositions and experiences in utero, we do not yet have a lot of reprogramming. We are dependent on our caregivers for our basic survival, but more than that, the quality of our bond with them directly affects our emotional development. Survival, for us as infants, depends on more than whether or not we are fed or clothed. We are sentient beings.

One evening, I was watching videos on infants, toddlers, and various attachment patterns. The most well-known experiment, conducted in the 1970s, is none other than The Strange Situation.In the study, a mother, child, and stranger take turns being introduced, separated, and reunited with an infant no older than 18 months in a small room behind a window.

First, the mother and child interact with one another as toys are scattered around the area. Shortly thereafter, a stranger enters the room, catching the infant entirely off guard, and the researchers behind the window look on as the child reacts to the perceived stranger’s sudden interrogation. After a few minutes, the mother leaves the room and the child and stranger are forced to confront and interact with one another—or not. Not until the mother reenters the room is the quality of the child’s bond most accurately measured based on his or her capacity to be soothed upon her inevitable return.

While watching this video, I was struck by one particular case: that of an insecure-avoidant child. During the time that only the mother and infant were in the room, neither of them were wholeheartedly engaged with the other. Instead, the child busied herself with the building blocks in lieu of interacting with her seemingly distant parent. Finally, when the stranger entered, the child showed no preference for either one of the adults and continued to play on her own.

When the mother got up and left, the child did not flinch and did not seem particularly enthralled that she had returned several minutes later. The child seemed aloof and disinterested in deep ongoing engagement, appearing unaffected by either the presence or absence of caregiver, as though she did not perceive her attachment figure as a source of safety, comfort, or contentment.

After I saw this, a wave of empathy came over me as I remembered past examples of this pattern in children I had seen when I worked in classrooms. My heart hurt for exes whom I labelled dismissive-avoidant in the past, as I imagined them walking in that child’s shoes, remote and untouched by the joy or sorrow that a primary attachment should ultimately bring in their presence or absence in our lives.

It isn’t normal not to attach, I thought to myself, and once more it dawned on me that exhibiting what is known as a secure attachment pattern does not mean we deny our need for another, for deep emotional bonding and a feeling of togetherness. To be human is to need others and to sweep that aside is to effectively gaslight ourselves into believing the narratives that society so often translates: that attaching is wrong and is like a warning on a dashboard, alerting us to the fact that we’re about to take a sinister turn and backtrack in our path to personal ascension.

On a primal level of our being, we were meant to attach to others—although not in a desperate manner that shouts: I am not whole without you. And perhaps only under that awareness alone can we make the changes we need to without feeling inauthentic due to disregarding the fact that we are, after all, a tribal species who depend on community for survival. Furthermore, our higher needs are what most distinguish us as a more evolved species than, let’s say, the reptilian one, and those needs include bonding and the need to experience the full range of emotion in union—or lack thereof—with others.

From there on, I felt the shackles of guilt unfasten themselves from my weary heart as I basked in the light of this awareness. Now, instead of aiming for radical stoicism, I practice honoring my capacity for deep connection while remaining grounded in the sobering gravity of the realization that people are allowed to come and go from my life as they feel called to and that their presence or absence is no reflection on my worth or on who I am as a person in and of myself.

This, I’ve come to realize, is also the more challenging task, as it asks us to both surrender to connection and to let go at the same time—lessons I am still mastering on my journey thus far. I cannot armor myself with any false defenses: I must love with my whole being and watch the object of my love eventually float away. The challenge, of course, is to accept it either way, and it is far from an easy thing to do.

When I feel that fear about to overtake me, I try to turn inward and visualize space. I watch the world from a bird’s eye view and remind myself that, whatever happens, I will quite simply be okay. Currently, I am trying to rebalance my root chakra—the bodily and energetic center for our sense of safety in the world—through yin yoga practice and affirmation meditation. While far from easy, I feel it necessary in my healing journey toward my own resonance with the concept of unconditional wholeness.

Bottom line: be present in the knowing that a wanting for another is part of and integral to the human experience. We cannot, and perhaps even should not, escape it. Only when we realize this can we feel free enough to be what we intended to be while in this fleshly form.

Perhaps only when we attach meaning to our aloneness or abandoned state do we suffer, and those are the stories we must work to reshape if we truly want to be healthy and thrive as we were meant to.


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