One of the significant impacts of insecure attachment, ie, attachment trauma, is the implicit beliefs about ourselves that arise from it. These beliefs tend to be of a very similar nature, along the lines of, there’s something wrong with me, I’m unlovable, I’m broken, nobody loves me, I’m bad, and, i have to hide my brokenness. These beliefs develop very early in life and are interpretations, or meanings made of the felt experience of the accumulated experience of insecure attachment.
Before cognitive and linguistic functions begin developing, around 2 years old, our experience of life is entirely as feelings and sensations. This is true of our felt and emotional experience of the misattunement and other factors that create the conditions for insecure attachment. So as very young people we have an array of uncomfortable and painful feeling states, which live in our bodies and to all intents and purposes experientially appear to us as part of us.
The Mind Makes Meaning
The mind in it’s meaning making function, begins to interpret and make meaning of these feelings, and the implicit assumption of them being part of us is carried into the meaning making. Hence the meanings we make about our felt experiences as young people become the implicit truths about who and what we are that are then carried forward in the development of our personal psychologies and self image.
These feeling states are held and experienced in the body and are activated every time our present moment experience resonates with them, meaning, evokes the same feeling response. You may have noticed that we have an inherent tendency to move away from pain and undesirable feelings, just as we are attracted to and attempt to hold on to positive and good feeling states. So in the continued defense against what feel like existential threats to our existence, we double down on the survival strategy of our attachment system, ie avoidant, ambivalent or in the accompanying experience of tangible danger from the attachment figure(s), disorganized attachment.
Implicit Beliefs Aren’t Truths
Invariably we also believe that these feelings and subsequent survival strategies are not only part of us, but unique to us. What attachment theory has shown is that they are in fact the opposite, they are consistent, repeated and biological reactions to patterns of relational experience in the years of our lives when we are so utterly and entirely dependent on the care and attention of others. Further because of the utter dependence of our earliest years, the feeling states aren’t just painful or uncomfortable, they feel like an existential threat to our very existence. It is this primary intensity that makes this core wounding so powerful and the defenses and compensations against it so entrenched and frightening to work with.
Understanding our attachment style and seeing it’s consistent matching to the known inter-relational dynamics that lead to it, allows us to begin, at least cognitively to understand that the implicit beliefs we hold about ourselves aren’t true. This can open just enough space for us to be able to begin to come into relationship with the deeper feelings that lie behind these beliefs.
Healing Insecure Attachment
Working with a relationally focused and somatic therapist who can hold a safe base from which to venture into these territories is the next step. As I see it and have experienced for myself, there are two dimensions to the healing of insecure attachment. One is the relationship with ourselves becoming increasingly accepting and compassionate of all of the parts of our experience. The other is through an external relationship with someone who can provide the secure base we didn’t have as infants and children, an attuned, accepting and compassionate other. Insecure attachment is relational wounding and it’s healing is in these two dimensions of relationship, which incrementally change within us the internal model of relationship and ourselves as safe in relationship.
For me personally, mindfulness meditation practice was the most powerful and effective resource for coming into the type of relationship with myself that proved deeply healing of my own insecure attachment wounding. In it I developed a capacity to meet all of myself with increasing acceptance and compassion. After many years of practice I was able to find the ground of Being in myself that did not need the defensive and compensatory survival strategies of the attachment wounding. This process of healing deepened during my own time of working with a mindfulness based psychotherapist and opening into the secure holding it offered. In this way the internal healing through mindful meditation practice was mirrored externally allowing healing of deeper aspects of the wounding that only manifested in the relational space between myself and another human being.