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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

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attachexploration

Exploration – Love Affair With The World   (See Chart above on Development Stages)

Now we move into what is probably the most misunderstood stage of a child’s development.
Once the infant gets his source of supply stabilized, he is anxious to explore the world he is discovering.
In the Exploration phase which lasts from about eighteen to thirty-six months.

In this stage the infant’s task is to be able to securely leave his mother’s side and begin to function on his own,
with the confidence that he can then return to a secure and loving home base.
In other words, the goal of successful attachment is the ability to be separate.

The child’s drive is not to be autonomous or separate, but to explore the world.
He is differentiating from his caretaker, but he is not seeking autonomy.
He is torn between his newfound fascination with the world and his conflicting need for reassurance
of his mother’s continued availability.
He wants to leave, but only if everything will be the same when he returns.

He still needs to be attached.
He will look over his shoulder to make sure that his mother is still nearby, or keep coming back to check
that she hasn’t disappeared in his absence.
You can see why inadequate nurturing at the Attachment stage hampers the ability of the child
to explore with confidence.

At this point, the child is having a love affair with the world; everything is new and interesting.
He sticks his fingers in the electric socket, eats the toothpaste, and plays with his food.
When he does anything to which his parent objects, the child’s rebellion appears
– the curse of the “terrible twos” – is not so much defiance as it is frustration
of having boundaries in his explorations.

He become sneaky and duplicitous.
You tell him not to eat the dog’s food, but he does anyway.
He climbs the back fence the moment your back is turned, and he learns how to break into the forbidden cabinet.
Like all children, he refuses to go to bed, peaceably.
He wants more experience, more fun, another story.
He doesn’t want to miss anything.

What seems like defiance is more indicative of the powerful drive to explore and experiment,
and the degree of frustration when that drive is thwarted.
He is exploring, not rebelling.

While he resists the constriction of his boundaries and the expression of his curiosity,
he is not independent or autonomous.
He needs frequent refueling.
He needs to be able to go off on his own, but he will never lose his desire for attachment.
We are by nature, relational, and our attachment needs are lifelong.
They do not disappear.

At this point when the child is trying to explore his world, when suddenly, and seemingly, arbitrarily,
he is saying "No" to everything.
The wise mother will encourage him to explore, as long as she knows he is safe.
She sets protective limits, but not arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions.
She is not threatened by his newfound self-confidence and his determination to move away from her,
nor is she bothered by his seeming contrariness.

She understands that his assertiveness is necessary for his growth knowing that he is nevertheless
a little nervous about wandering off, she make sure he knows that she will be there and will be glad to see him,
and listens to the tales of his adventures when he returns.

In the Exploration stage, children want what can be summed up in two sentences.
"Don't worry about me while I'm gone" (that is, don't restrict my explorations).
And "Don't make me worry about you" (that is, be here when I get back.

Children want to leave and come back to their caretakers exactly where they left them
-- not off in the yard or in the bathroom, and not lost in their own delights.
The need to explore and return to things as he left them is the same whether he is two or six or forty.

The Distancing Child: Fear Of Absorption

When the Exploration phase is mishandled, children tend either to distance themselves from their parents
or to become ambivalent.
If the caretaker is overly protective, setting strict limits on the child’s wanderings, checking up on him
the moment he wanders off; if she holds him on her lap, blocking his access to the world,
the child feels smothered, and holds himself aloof.

Now, this can happen with parents who are naturally concerned or unsure of themselves,
but more often, it occurs with the parent who feels abandoned herself
and needs the child to stay connected.
If the mother grasps at the child as she tries to move away, the distancing child will stay away
and will not want to return, fearful that he will be absorbed back into the mother’s orbit.

Or his response may be to outwardly adapt to the mother’s needs, returning to her physically
(because, in fact, he needs her) while cutting off emotionally.
Still needing the reassurance of his caretakers presence and not ready yet to wander too far afield,
he plays at the farthest point of the room from the caretaker, or within earshot, but at enough of a distance
that he isn’t within range of her embrace.

He will approach the mother, but he is wary of her restrictiveness.
She is both a good and bad object in his mind.
At this age, he cannot hold these opposing traits together, so he, like the Clinger,
views her as “bad” when she restricts him and “good” when she lets him roam,
again etching a split image of the caretaker in his mind.

Sensing her rejection of his defiance, he begins to reject that aspect of himself.
Fearing his loss and its consequences, the only strategy the child is able to devise to keep from losing
his caretaker, and at the same time to keep from being controlled and absorbed is to comply
with her wishes while inwardly protesting her restrictions.
This is the passive/aggressive syndrome.

This is the child who allows his mother to pick him up, by turning his face away from her kiss.
The distancing child is the idiosyncratic form of the Minimizer response to the Exploratory stage.
He reduces his affect to deflect his mother’s consuming attentions.
In a self-proclaimed move to avoid being absorbed, his boundaries become closed and rigid.

On the surface, the distant child looks like the detached child of the Attachment stage,
but there is one big difference.
The detached child never approaches, and never asks for anything for himself.
He keeps his experience private, for contact is painful and invites rejection.
The distancing child made it through the Attachment stage fine.
It was when he wanted to leave that his troubles started.
He’s not afraid of contact, but he needs to maintain careful boundaries,
for his fear is that if he gets too close, he’ll become trapped and unable to escape to explore on his own.

The Adult: An Isolator

In adulthood, the distancing child becomes what is called an Isolator.
He is physically and emotionally aloof.
He has lots of ways to avoid spending time in the relationship, whether it’s a job that involves long hours
or a great deal of travel, commitments to clubs and charities outside the home,
or always having his head buried in a book or his eyes glued to the television.
He spends weekends in the garden, or in the basement workshop, and thinks that separate vacations are a great idea.

The Isolator needs his “space,” and feels threatened if demands are made for his presence or his emotions.
His complaint would be “You want too much,” or “You’re trying to control me,” or “I need some space for myself.
Although he has buried his need for closeness, he fears smothering, and so he keeps them to himself,
and maintains his distance through anger and strict limits on his availability.
He feels that if he gets close, he may get stuck and never able to pull free again.

With the freedom to come and go, the adult Isolator is fine, but as soon as he perceives that others have needs,
he withdrawals, fearing that he could be enmeshed, for it was his caretaker’s needs that traumatized him in childhood.
Only guilt, a desire to please, or his own fear of abandonment keeps him from fleeing.
If he feels his partner trying to hang on, he blasts her with anger to get her to leave him alone,
or withdraws and stays away until he gathers his armor around him.

But when he returns, he ignores their fight, and wonders why she is so angry.
He tries to get her into a good mood, and criticizes her for not wanting to be with him now that he is available.
Failing to change the atmosphere, he withdraws again.

The Ambivalent Child: Fear Of Loss

The ambivalent child is the product of the caretaker who is anxious to be free from the dependent child’s needs.
She encourages him to go off on his exploratory journey before he is ready, or she is not there when he returns,
shattering the bonding that maintained his original sense of wholeness through the Attachment stage.
Her encouragement for him to separate may take the form of ignoring him or pushing him away,
of trivializing his fears, of showing irritation at his attempts to be with her or hold her attention.

Be a big boy,” she may say.
Go and play by yourself.”
She is a urging him to grow up beyond his years, before he is ready.
He may wander off, and have a good time, but when he returns, his mother has disappeared,
either physically or emotionally, and he panics.
The unemotional “bad” mother is etched on his memory.

The result is a child who is fearful and dependent.
Where were you? I couldn’t find you” is the lament of the ambivalent child.
Now he is afraid to leave his mother’s side, and needs constant reassurance that she won’t go away
the minute he takes his eyes off her.

He becomes a Maximizer, with diffuse boundaries.

Fearing abandonment, he exaggerates his affect with any ploy -- tears, threats, stories, questions,
anything that will keep his mother’s attention and ensure that if he leaves her side,
she will still be available if he needs her.
When she is there for him when he returns, or reassures him that she will not go away,
she becomes a “good” object in his mind, balancing an abandoning mother whom he fears losing.

The Adult: A Pursuer

In adulthood, the ambivalent child becomes what is called a Pursuer.
He employs all sorts of tactics to keep his partner close by.
In a way, he is like the Clinger, with whom he shares a common fear of abandonment.
But Pursuers accomplished the task of Attachment well enough; their issue is remaining attached.

While the Isolator fears being held back, the Pursuer is afraid to stray far from home, if he is able to leave at all.
He lives with the childhood memory of the terror at finding no one there when he returned from his explorations.
To keep this terror from returning, the Pursuer is always being nice and upbeat, trying to keep things comfortable
and entertaining, always of service, fearful of anger or conflict that would lead to the partner leaving
and re-creating the childhood terrors connected to the neglectful or abandoning caretaker.

Terrified of being alone, or of being abandoned, there are always plans for things to do together
 – hobbies, chores, movies, vacations.
The Pursuer has needs, but he doesn’t give them any attention because he has to first, please his mate.
He prolongs every hug, and calls his partner from work.
He wants her to stay awake and talk after lovemaking.

Isolators and Pursuers tend to pair up; each offers what the other lacks.
Of course, every couple has some of this push/pull going on.
One wants more and the other less closeness, but they change their minds when they get what they want.
The Isolator withholds feelings, and fears that if he opens up even a little bit,
the Pursuer will just march through the door (which is true).
The Pursuer feels that if he doesn’t keep up the pressure for contact, there won’t be any.

(Content above is from Keeping The Love You Find by Harville Hendricks, pp.75-82.)

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