This is a photo of my Uncle Mike sitting with me in August of 1974. I was 4 at the time and had lost my mother over 2.5 years prior. My dad was also missing from my life. My Uncle Mike was the only consistent male figure that I was able to attach to. My early life was fraught with disruption and I was not able to attach to anyone deeply nor vulnerably. When I look back on my life I’ve often wondered how I made it through and in retrospect I believe that the spiritual or fantasy attachment I had with my mother was what shielded me. Attachment is so much more than baby bonding or physical closeness. We attach in complex ways that are not fully understood in society. Our needs range from the physical to the emotional, psychological and spiritual…and develop throughout the course of one’s life and in a variety of contexts. I often share this photo with the parents I support. I ask them to bring in photos of themselves as children and this is where we begin. Before we even start talking about the needs of their own children I invite them to share what they were like when they were little and what it was they needed most. I find this helps towards endearing them to their own children, many who have been removed due to protection issues. It can be very difficult to reflect on oneself if one is defended against seeing one’s own flaws and yet this is an important part of growth….making room for and feeling those emotions that are difficult.
If, like me parents experience attachment trauma early in life this can affect many of our future relationships including our relationship with our children. A healing needs to take place, otherwise hardened hearts continue to beget hardened hearts. I have seen the biggest shifts with not only parents, but professionals when they can get in touch with what was missing for them in the context of their attachments to primary caregivers. The resulting softening this awareness brings often leads to spontaneous healing and growth. It’s a beautiful and magical thing. Human development is complex, dynamic and requires patience, love, kindness, space, support and most important attachment.