Attachment Vs. Detachment : Theories Vary

Rainer Maria Rilke discusses the incompleteness of lovers who lose themselves in others, without first finishing their self work. It becomes a whirlwind of attachment and detachment.

Decades of research shows early neglect or abuse hinders the brain from learning how to healthily attach to others. For children in foster care, early neglect and violence ( physical and emotional) can cause attachment issues for life.

These attachment disorders are also seen in adults with PTSD ( negative destructive cycles of reaction to stress ) or depressive disorders– and carry on throughout life until there is an intervention of some sort.

20140222-113356.jpgThe avoidant, disordered and disruptive attachments seen in abused children carries well into adulthood. These negative styles are also seen in the adult fallout with PTSD. The dissociative symptoms, self-destructive habits, impulsive attachments, the high prevalence of divorce, the self loathing and a feeling of being disrupted or broken — breeds a torturous playground of tragic attachment.

Healthy adults attach themselves to friends and lovers when trust is gained. Unhealthy attachments can be an immediate attachment to strangers, to casual friends, and to every lover. They can be attachments that are bound by emotional, physical abuse or emotional addictions.

Abused children will sometimes try to people please abusers and form an unhealthy attachment. They cling dearly to teachers, social workers, or even someone on the bus. This cycle can carry on into adulthood.

These unhealthy attachments are built on the hope of healing old wounds, and quickly become attachments that create more. Unhealthy adults attach quickly to those who can fill a space in their emptiness without filling in their own empty space, so they are complete in themselves and able to give love and receive.

The detachment in these cases is equally as damaging. Individuals who disengage quickly, who keep no support system build harrowing self-defense mechanisms.

In a healthy adult attachment, when the friendship or relationship ends, or a person dies–a grieving period commences. After going through a series of sadness, guilt, anger and acceptance..the healthy person regains inner strength. He or she finds a way to re-attach to support networks and begin anew in time.

In the unhealthy detachment however; fear, anger and insecurity drives the person to detach coldly. The friendship or person lost is erased quickly. They remove all memorabilia and quickly look for a new replacement.

Often times this detachment is self fulfilling.”This person can hurt me so I will push it until this person feels so unloved they may go, then I can say I was left and detach.” Children in foster care will sometimes push away healthy children and adults, for fear they will get emotionally scarred by abandonment.

Another unhealthy detachment is where one sinks into a depression and does properly go through grieving stages when a friendship ends, or someone dies. They get stuck. They are immobile.Teens in abused homes exhibit this by isolating themselves, attaching to street friends who may or may not be well-intentioned and to lovers.

It is important that in working with former child abuse victims or sufferers of PTSD that we teach self-accountability, offer cognitive therapies, and instill stable support by gaining trust.

Leaning on positive community influences can help, but without personal accountability one on one with a counselor, issues will go unresolved and worsen.

Most important is teaching them to release blame for things they could not control, while being accountable for their controllable behavior.

It’s about changing their own cycles that enable unhealthy attachments. Finding healthy attachment in mentors and healthy friends is the best way to combat the search for an unhealthy replacement.

It takes a lot of painful looking inward to move forward with a healthier life after abuse..Especially as a child when it is all you know.When the one person who brought you into this world beats, neglects, burns, beats, molests or starves you…trust is a long, long road.

I was an unhealthy attacher as a teen and in my early 20s. My first teenage boyfriend was abusive. Fortunately, I had friends who helped me release myself from that situation. I was attached and attracted to his attention, and I felt I could fix him. ( Didnt work). My experiences as an abused foster child made me think I could “right” the past by appeasing this man.

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

I attached easily to women as well. I remember feeling an emotional connection to one person I kept seeing on the subway. She said hello once or twice.. And I started seeing her as a mother type figure. I imagined very familial things with someone I did not know.

From then on every man I met was a knight in shining armor. I attached easily and ferociously. Detaching was impossible, I would get stuck. 99.9 percent of my intimate relationships since I worked on those struggles and closed the door on the past.. have been healthy.

When things have not worked out, it has generally been a healthy parting after years of work. With the exception of a couple of emotional pitfalls, I avoided that cycle or ran from it once I noticed it was not healthy. I would like to detach quicker but it is a process ! 😉

Now, when I do attach..detaching is hard..not because I get stuck–but because I am so careful with my heart that once it is given away — to even a friend, it is nearly impossible to forget. I am not careless with my emotion. But it runs deep if I let it get the best of me.

When underneath it all, we feel we are undeserving..then all the affairs in the world will not make things right. If we keep leaving jobs, then blaming others, we will lose a career. If we keep turning off the switch on lovers..we lose the new families we create. New faces will disappoint time and again.

When we are hurt and damaged inside, we need to seek counseling to heal. We need to point inward so our lives can be successful. And I know it is cliché but it takes a big person to seek counseling. Most do not. It is self accountability that is hardest to confess.

Yes, foster children do not deserve the lot they are given, I did not deserve it. Yes, survivors of sexual abuse do not deserve what happened, yes starving on the street as a child can make you a negative adult, and yes being left hurts. Going to war hurts. Losing spouses hurts. People dying hurts those left behind.

However, everyone deserves to give themselves the tools to stop using excuses and start building a full life from within. And then, we can all find the attachments, friends, lovers, family that helps us grow.

As mentors who work with former foster children, or children in the system, warriors, or other adults who are overcoming trauma, it is our job to turn on the light. Everyone is a work in progress and with the right support, anyone with any background , and any experience can live a full life with healthy attachments and security.

Life and love are so much more fulfilling when we feel safe with ourselves.

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11 thoughts on “Attachment Vs. Detachment : Theories Vary”

  1. A very thorough and personal post, Phyllis. I’ll tweet out tomorrow in hopes that others will find it helpful. Have a lovely week.

  2. Reblogged this on Family Answers Fast and commented:
    This week’s reblog is from Finicky Philly. Phyllis, as a journalist, writes beautifully and well about family life and food, a combination I love. And as a child who was in foster care, she writes passionately and compellingly about foster care issues, a topic close to my heart too. In this post, Phyllis brings the topic of attachment theory to life, which is not an easy task. She makes the theory real, approachable, and full of hope! And I want to thank Phyllis personally for letting me know that my profile link to my blog wasn’t working in comments sections. I wasn’t aware of this and was able to get help from to fix it. So, thank you Phyllis! Others reading, please check out this helpful, thoughtful and hopeful blog. Oh, and the pictures….the very sweet pictures of mother and daughter will makes you go awwwwww, aren’t they beautiful!

  3. An interesting informative post. I used to sink into bouts of depression as a young child and teenager, they became less frequent as I got older but every so often low self esteem kicks me in the gut. Thank you for posting such a great article.

  4. Very insightful. Many of your conclusions can relate to anyone with a problem. I have my own, and your words hit home. Thanks.

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