“What’s going to happen to us?” I heard myself saying, as my eyes welled up with tears.
My chest filled with sensation, like a balloon inside me that took up so much space that there was none remaining with which to breathe.
I was bracing against the painful sensations of love. Even as my heart swelled with it.
Attachment trauma is the potent combination of stress and suffering that accompanies the freedom and liberation of love.
When we have attachment traumas, we are rarely capable of experiencing love without pain.
Instead, our internal dynamic either pulls love toward us until we threaten to suffocate it, or we find ourselves shoving it away with fierceness and fury meant to smother our internal anguish or anxiety before we ever have the chance to feel it.
In either direction, our bodies are on edge for the loss, abandonment, grief, and shame spirals that we perceive will inevitably follow the vulnerability of connection.
Our nervous system is consistently primed for reactivity as we are subconsciously prepared to flee, fight, or fawn. Or frozen—in painful analysis and assessment about what to do.
When our nervous systems develop with a lack of secure and consistent primary attachment, we do not experience love as expansive and safe. It feels more like laying in the center of the road naked and praying that a car does not run us over.
We are drawn toward love but hate the experience; our bodies rebel against the force we learned in development was intertwined with pain.
Our relationships suck.
My sister discovered a clue to my relational woes by accident.
Flipping through my baby book a few years ago, she found a single sentence detailed in the scarce manner that highlighted my middle child status. Reading aloud, she said, “Penicillin prescribed for ear infection.”
No further details were scribed around this event, just the date: six weeks after the day of my birth.
By day 42, my body was already begging to be heard, and my ears were alit with inflammation.
As an adult witness to my parents holding my own child, I instantly knew what was amiss upon my sister’s narration: attunement and emotional safety as a baby.
My parents did the best they could with the skills they had. There was no question that they loved me, but there was also no question that I wasn’t heard, held, and tended to in a way that calmed my infant nervous system.
I was raised in the days of “cry it out” and “spare the rod, spoil the child.” A parent who organized their life around a child was subject to mockery for being “manipulated” and letting the baby “run the show.”
In an effort to follow the advice of pediatricians and socially belong, I was left to cry and soothe myself.
My body rebelled early by way of ear infections. My immune and nervous systems were ready for battle in just 42 days. It would last for just as many years.
Our nervous system begins to develop in utero, where we first develop a connection to another sentient being.
In the months immediately following birth, we are utterly reliant on an adult in our environment to keep us alive.
We develop in relation to our environment, adapting to whatever conditions will be necessary to ensure our survival—and placing attachment in priority sequence ahead of our authenticity.
We are willing to lose our essence in order to stay alive. And many of us do.
We develop childhood wounds in the process, adopting coping mechanisms intended to retain attachment, no matter what the cost.
As adults, many of us become aware that our relational patterning is amiss. We may become aware of our “attachment style,” yet find that this information neither changes our actions nor does it rewire our nervous system response.
We must heal these traumas by teaching our bodies the skillset we did not learn as children through somatic experiences rather than intellectual learning.
The first critical tool we must learn to experience as adults overcoming attachment trauma is finding the container of our body.
When we are babies, we do not understand that we are separate beings from our caregivers. In these years, if we do not get our needs met, we cry longer or louder, and we lack the trust that we will get our needs met. So we miss the step of differentiating our bodies from the ones of those we love or trust.
In adulthood, we must learn to feel our bones, particularly those of the pelvis.
Framing our body as a container with a bony structure inside teaches us the awareness that we are unique and separate from the objects beside us or the people in front of us: we can learn to be solid in our own selves.
To do this, we can sit or lie on a yoga mat and notice the bones in our legs and pelvis. We can feel the weight of our bones and notice the heavy and solid structures inside us.
This may be completely new information and will take time and practice. Complete one step at a time.
Once we have located our bones in the pelvis, we can track our attention upward to the ribs. Can we notice the ribs? The shoulder blades? The arms?
Once we are comfortable, we can move our awareness from one area to the next, modulating our awareness between the bones of the lower body and those of the upper.
The next step is turning our awareness to soft tissue. Can we feel the muscles in our bum? Or legs? Our arms? Our belly? Can we describe sensations arising as we sit? Lie? Move? Stand?
Once we have located the bones and muscles, can we feel how our body is uniquely different and separate from the objects and air around us? Can we notice that inside us and how it is different from that which is not inside us?
Once we have located solidity in our body, we can begin to examine our emotional reactions and responses.
When anxious or avoidant:
>> What are the sensations of our body? Can we name them?
>> What are the feelings we experience that accompany those sensations? Can we name them?
>> Do we recall feeling these sensations as a child? Can we bring a specific or general time to mind?
>> Who did we talk to at that time? Name the person or explain why—if it was nobody.
>> Notice what we would feel compelled to do for a small child or baby of the same age?
>> Name aloud what the sensations in our bodies would need if they could speak.
Safety is not the presence of threat but instead the absence of connection.
Experiencing the edges and innards of our body gives the nervous system safety that we never had as babies or young children in our developmental years.
When we are in the throes of attachment trauma, we get enmeshed in our stories. We circle round and round and round and round, analyzing and assessing. Our bodies don’t feel safe, connected, or calm.
We need to re-enter our bones and skin, bringing ourselves into the present moment, and being aware that our partner cannot fill our attachment void.
We can learn safety that we were never provided as children by being aware of the container of our bodies and the experience of what it is to live as a separate being.
And then what can happen “to us” is liberation.