The sound of the attachment cry

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I`ve followed Ashana`s blog for a long time, since she writes about topics I need to know more about, and she writes clear and informative posts. Her personal story is tough to read, but it shows the importance of working with stopping abuse as early as possible. Here you find a reblog from one of her posts, about a topic most people find interesting: attachment.

Playing with an idea: attachment

Posted on October 30, 2013 by Ashana M 12 Comments

last a lifetimeAdults who were abused as children frequently find themselves in other harmful relationships. That is not any secret or anything new either. And there are also various ideas out there about why this happened: lack of self-esteem, repetition compulsion, or simply that harmful relationships have become more comfortable.

I’m not really satisfied with any of these as explanations. They lack a certain solidity to their reasoning. I have never once mistreated anyone just because they didn’t think much of themselves. Why should anyone mistreat me because of the problems I’m having with myself? And we may be a bit dysfunctional, but we aren’t totally mad. Who would wish abuse on themselves?

Still, I know self-harm is not uncommon among survivors. I’ve done it myself. But why the need to outsource our own self-hatred? Most of us can handle this just fine on our own. There is no need to involve anyone else.

So, I’m after a new explanation. And I think I’ve got one. Let me know what you think.

cycle of violenceChild abuse necessarily means that someone you are close to, someone you are dependent on not only for warmth but for survival, is harming you. And so the way you respond to that harm will necessarily be different than how you might respond to harm from a stranger, or from someone you don’t know as well.

First of all, you cannot flee. You especially cannot flee into the arms of a protective and comforting parent. Neither can you afford to be too aggressive in most cases: standing up for yourself is usually out of the question. Instead, you need to find a way to obtain comfort and protection from that very same person who is harming you.

Although the abusive parent is a frightening figure for the child, those are the arms you very often end up fleeing into. So I think perhaps you continue to do that.

In the beginnings of relationships, there is often little conflict. Both parties are on their best behaviour, and the bliss of new love often gives everyone enough of whatever they need to push long-standing problems into the background. So, it’s not hard to form an attachment to someone who has significant problems so long as you aren’t attuned to the small indications of danger.

Then once the problems begin, you respond to them in the same way you always have–not because you want this kind of thing, but because that has been the only reasonable option for so long. That response isn’t to flee. It isn’t to distance yourself from the relationship.  And it isn’t to establish ground rules or to otherwise assertively defend your own rights. If you do respond that way in the moment, the tendency later on is to relent and to feel that you were wrong to be so assertive–or to flee.

And what you do instead is to seek out the arms of the person harming you, just as you had no other choice but to do as a child.

In contrast, both assertiveness and retreat tend to drive away those interested in having power over others in relationships. Flight renders you out of reach and dull besides. Assertive behaviour is maddening. So rather than ending up in a nine-year mess–as I did–the whole thing collapses of its own weight in a matter of weeks or even days.

So maybe that’s a compulsion to repeat. You could say it is. But that implies an interest in the long-term outcome, which is further relational harm. And I don’t think that’s a goal. I think it’s really about the cage in your mind, the limitations of reality you grew up with, and learned set of facts, emotions, and behaviours that take hold of you while you are in a hot state of feeling afraid or hurt or, later on, guilty.

Harm typically damages feelings of attachment. Betrayal, as we all know, is often a death knell to love. But survivors of childhood abuse have been betrayed all their lives. They are able to maintain a bond in spite of it: they have been infinitely resourceful, and they know how to patch things up regardless of how frayed at the edges the relationship has become.

And so the harm continues.

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One thought on “The sound of the attachment cry

    rudyoldeschulte said:
    November 4, 2013 at 16:08

    Thoughtful piece…I too believe that DV – all its causes, consequences, are layered with such complexity that no one explanation or any particular reasoning will fit…There is considerable interest in attachment theory and practical applications of what we now know about attachment (neurologically, psychologically, emotionally) in relationships that will be of much use in helping us understand the violent relationship better…

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