Attachment: The Struggle To Exist ( See chart above on Development Stages)
The Attachment stage is what Harville Hendrix calls the struggle to exist.
Birth for the baby is a rude awakening.
Noise, pain, bright light, heat and cold, and separated from the warm, safe womb.
The sense that things have changed dawns slowly.
All of the supply lines have been cut off, and the infant emits his first signal of distress
about this condition, and begins a rooting, grasping search for contact.
Finding the mother and succeeding in getting the nipple in his mouth, the alarm subsides
and the original relaxed state is restored.
The first and most important task of a human being has begun: Attachment.
When the newborn utters his first cry and reaches for the mothers warmth and the nipple,
the psychosocial journey is activated.
The infant has a bottle agenda, and that is to close that gulf of separation that opened up
and was so threatening at birth.
He must now securely reattach himself to the nurturing, protective source of his survival.
He is responding to his internal mandate to exist.
And that's a mighty big order.
All of the varied and constant needs that were handled automatically in the womb
is now be taken care of manually.
Food must be provided, diapers must be changed, and a certain level of physical contact
maintained in a calm environment, on demand basis around the clock.
As long as everything goes along perfectly, and all needs are promptly and appropriately fulfilled,
all is fine, and the infant seems very happy being in the warm and comfort of an environment
that feels every bit as friendly as the one he came from.
He grasps and sucks and cries, and as long as someone is there who knows just what to do,
the baby develops a sense that the world are safe, and that he is in no danger.
However, when this fabric of existence is temporarily disturbed, and the disturbance has
the baby coming to know that he is a separate creature, and he now knows the difference
between pleasure and pain.
Getting attached is the infant's primary agenda for about the first eighteen months of life.
If everything goes well, and the infant's signals are properly received and responded to,
and he is fed and held and changed and talked to, he develops the sense that he is
a separate being in a safe world with the power to get what he needs.
In this case, he is "securely attached."
It doesn't seem like much, but it's critical.
The sense of security established at this stage sets the tone of the rest of our journey through life.
It is the foundation of our response to life's perils and pleasures.
Fortunately, that's pretty much how it works for many of us.
Somehow, with all the demands, the missed signals, the personal problems and distractions and crises,
and the imperfectly fulfilled, the love and good intentions of many parents prevail.
Their children feel securely connected.
Their care-taking, day in and day out is what some would say, "That's good enough."
But what about those children whose parents were "not good enough,"
who were "not there" emotionally or physically with enough consistency and warmth
for secure attachment to take place?
There are estimates that would suggest that one-third to one-half of all children are in this category.
For them, there is no assurance of a response to their needs.
Such infants are what is labeled "insecurely" or "anxiously" attached.
The fabric of their existence has been torn, and they have lost contact with their original joyful state.
Here is where the problems such as the maladaptive coping mechanisms take root.
Infant's yearn for that essential state of relaxed joy that they have lost, and they try to restore it
by adapting as best as they can to their inadequate nurturing.
In response to the caretaker's nurturing effectiveness, the infinite creates an internal image
of the caretaker.
This internal image of his inner and outer world, often split between "good" and "bad" traits of self
and other, then influences the child's behavior toward the parents, and determines
which coping mechanism he will develop.
Depending on how his caretakers respond to his needs, that coping mechanism,
at each stage of development will polarize, taking one of two forms.
One infant copes by diminishing his affect in the world,
and the other copes by exaggerating his responses.
Now let us look how this response manifests itself in the Attachment stage.
In response to deficit nurturing at the Attachment stage, the infant adapts either
by clinging or detaching.
If the caretaker is inconsistent, that is, appropriately warm sometimes, but emotionally cold
or absent at other times, her child will develop a compulsive clinging response.
Such caretakers may be preoccupied, self-centered, angry, or busy.
Their moods and their timetables fluctuate.
They are unpredictable.
Perhaps, they are uncomfortable with their caretaker role, and try to follow some rigid formula
that they have read in books.
So they provide the necessary services, but on their own schedule or whim.
They may pick the infant up and feed him regularly, but not when he cries or fusses for attention.
Clearly, the child's needs are a burden to this parent.
Unable to establish a basic trust that his needs will be met, the child senses
that only his incessant demands will keep him alive.
In response to unreliable or inconsistent nurturing, the infant's old brain sounds an alarm,
signaling that he is in danger.
Because his mother does come through sometimes, the infant keeps trying,
feeling that if he can just figure out what to do, that is, cry loud enough or long enough,
or respond in a certain way that everything will work out.
So there is established a pattern of stress, inconsistent response, exaggeration, and doubt
that creates and anxious child.
A clinging child has a highly ambivalent relationship to his mother.
Tormented by her unpredictable availability, he is simultaneously addicted to getting her attention
and finding a way to get her to respond.
At the same time, he is angry that his needs aren’t being met.
He spends half his time crying and holding on, to keep his unpredictable mother by his side,
the other half being rejecting, pushing his mother away, even as she is being affectionate.
The infant is in a dilemma because the object of pain and pleasure is the same.
He is experiencing rage, terror, and grief, alternating with unpredictable satisfaction.
Because he cannot live in an inconsistently supportive environment and tolerate for long
that consequent negative feelings its insecurity stimulates,
he develops an ambivalent defensive structure, alternately clinging and pushing away,
to ward off these incapacitating feelings.
Experiencing some of his needs satisfied and others frustrated, he begins to develop
an ambivalent (good/bad) attitude toward himself.
As An Adult, He Is A Clanger
As with wounds at all stages, if his situation does not change in later childhood or adolescence,
the child will experience a developmental arrest.
His defenses will become cemented into his character and show up
as his basic personality in adult life.
He becomes a Clinger.
Hidden behind a fabricated self, his infantile needs are still alive, and these, together with his learned protections, will influence his choice of a partner, his expectations of that partner,
and the way he will relate to get his needs met.
The core complaint of his relationships will be: "You are never there for me."
The Detached Child: Fear Of Rejection
Other caretakers are consistently emotionally cold and inconsistently available physically.
For them it is not that the child's needs are a burden, but the child himself is felt to be one.
Such caretakers will raise a detached child.
Unlike the clinging child, the detached child fears the attachment he so desperately needs,
because all attempts to attach result in emotional pain.
Unlike his clinging counterpart, for whom not having contact is frightening,
it is contact itself that is painful.
Therefore, his defense is to "not approach" his mother, because if she is present at all,
she is routinely depressed, disinterested, and emotionally distant.
Terrified of the responsibility of a child, and somehow caught up in her own problems
and personal priorities, she is emotionally, rejecting.
Because contact results if not in the pleasure of acceptance or our satisfaction of needs
but in emotional pain, the infinite makes a fateful decision: avoid contact at all costs.
"I am bad, the object (the caretaker) is bad, my needs are bad," he reasons thus etching
on his image the impression of the caretaker as bad, and on the other side,
where the image of the self is recorded, an impression of the-self-having-needs as bad.
This reasoning leads to a primitive but effective defense: "I don't have needs."
His caretaker has rejected him, so he rejects the caretaker, and finally, he rejects his life force.
He doesn't cry.
He seems content to be fed whenever food arrives.
He doesn't seem to care one way or another whether he is held or talked to.
But while the needs are banished from consciousness, the old brain remains in a constant state
of alarm because the denied needs are essential for survival.
To muffle the alarm, the detached child numbs his body and voids his feelings,
vastly constricting -- minimizing -- his life energy.
To contain it totally, he constructs a false self, which looks independent,
but is actually counter dependent.
The world admires his independence, but he lives virtually alone in his fortress,
determined to avoid the pain of being vulnerable to rejection.
Detached children don't cry very much, and they don't seem to need very much.
They take whatever they can get and don't ask for more.
Often, the mother is proud of her "good" baby, instead she finds dependence distasteful
The detached infant, motivated by fear of contact, is saying, "I don't really need you to get by,
I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
What is really happening is that he has given up in despair.
The Adult Is An Avoider
As with the compulsively dependent child, if these patterns are not corrected in later childhood
or adolescence (as they are unlikely to be, says the caretakers have usually not evolved),
they will show up in adult intimate relationships.
He becomes what is called an Avoider.
Avoiders tend to hook up with Clingers, for predictable reasons.
It is not that Avoiders have no needs; rather, they gave up on getting their needs met long ago
and have lost contact with their desires.
Large chunks of themselves are buried -- especially their sensitive, feeling side
and their capacity for emotional joy and body pleasure.
Their hidden needs for contact influence their selection of partners with excessive contact needs,
which provides Avoiders with the contact they consciously deny they want.
Consequently, they never have to approach their partners, because the partners’ intense needs
to be in contact fulfills the Avoider's denied needs to be in contact.
But contact is still painful.
The need for reliable attachment never goes away.
But the acuteness of the need depends on the degree to which it was denied in infancy.
For the Avoider, the need for an attachment is a secret hunger.
For the Clinger, it is an ever-present demand.
The ambivalent Clinger and the detached Avoider have found a way to compensate
for the untrustworthiness of their caretakers, but a powerful lifelong pattern
has been set in motion.
If nothing comes along to mitigate their experience, this behavior becomes fixed.
The infants become adults who are frozen in a pattern of clinging or distancing.
So, it seems that nature, with its compulsive passion for survival has equipped us neurologically
to adapt in one of two ways to life-threatening frustrations at each stage of our development.
We minimize or maximize our affect.
Depending on our genetic makeup and our interaction with the specific ways
our caretakers treated us, we choose one of these two responses if our needs are not meant.
Minimizing or Maximizing describes the way we express our energy when danger threatens.
Diminishing or exaggerating our affect is an expression of our survival instinct to constrict energy
or to explode it in the face of danger -- here translated into relational behavior.
The Maximizer is the active one, often expressive and explosive, discharging his high energy,
fighting to get what he needs.
The Minimizer is passive, almost immobile, fleeing inward to avoid the danger
of being emotionally or physically abandoned.
If we look back at the Clinger, we see that in childhood he learned to try and get
what he needed by crying, grasping, screaming, clutching, and he never gave up.
He actively amplified and exaggerated his affect in the hope of getting a response,
however uncertain or inconsistent it was.
The Avoider, on the other hand, gave up in childhood, withdrawing into himself,
hardly ever crying, denying his need.
He diminished his affect, withheld his emotions, feeling that his efforts were to no avail.
At each stage of development, the child will maximize or minimize his affect,
though in each phase the motivation and degree differs.
Remember the snowball effect.
The earlier in life, the more primitive the stage at which the primary wound is suffered,
the greater degree of exaggeration or diminishment.
So, a child wounded at the Attachment stage will be far more volatile -- or passive --
than a child whose injury takes place at the later stage of Exploration or Concern.
It is also true that in our culture, which values people who are rational, restrained,
and self-contained, the Minimizer, who has buried his feelings and needs looks good,
and is more acceptable.
The exaggerated, emotional, out-of-control Maximizer looks bad, but he is in fact better off.
For while the Maximizer's behavior may be unacceptable, and it may not get him what he wants,
at least he is still aware of his feelings and desires.
The Minimizer is sometimes more successful in the world, but he is so split off from his emotions,
so suppressed, that he has lost his consciousness of his desires.
Before he can solve his problems, he must first become aware of his feelings.
The Maximizer has minimal internal and external boundaries.
He has a difficult time separating his own thoughts, desires, and opinions from those
of the people around him.
Malleable and impressionable, he doesn't know his own mind.
He is intrusive, and easily intruded upon.
The Minimizer has tight, rigid boundaries, and relates everything to himself.
He cannot walk in your shoes or see your point of view.
Establishing proper personal boundaries is a crucial task at every stage of development,
but it is particularly critical at the Identity stage, when our task is to establish a clear sense of self.
Were you wounded at the Attachment Stage?
It can be difficult to trace our wounds through childhood memories,
which are often dim and unreliable.
Often we must deduce our childhood wounds from our present circumstances and past liaisons.
(All the above information is from Keeping The Love You Find written by Harville Hendrix.
More vital information can be found in his book on pages 63 through 74.)