Attachment: The umbilical cord of life

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Is there anything more important than connecting with others? Research by Harlow shows that monkeys who are deprived from their mothers are forever shaped by it.

Although Harlow, his students, contemporaries, and associates soon learned how to care for the physical needs of their infant monkeys, the nursery-reared infants remained very different from their mother-reared peers. Psychologically speaking, these infants were slightly strange: they were reclusive, had definite social deficits, and clung to their cloth diapers.[9] For instance, babies that had grown up with only a mother and no playmates showed signs of fear or aggressiveness.[10]

This is also true for humans. We have all heard stories about children growing up in foster homes where they got no love, no physical contact. There is no doubt that this shapes them forever, even if it is possible to repair some of the damage done.

Right now I am listening to the brilliant audiobook called “A little life” by Hanya Yanagihara. It is a book about trauma and abuse, and one sentence in it demonstrates how important other people can become. One of the characters in the book, Harold, talks about his former wife, and describes the connection between them like a type of c0rd, pulling them towards each other no matter how many years go by. This made me remember how I felt together with my ex. It almost felt like there was some type of string binding us together, and I could physically feel how it pulled me closer to him, and when he was somewhere else, it sometimes felt horrible, because I so wanted to be there.

As children, we are connected to our parents and others no matter if we want to or not. Many might have read and learnt about attachment theory, and know that there are different types of attachment. Secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganized. These attachment are so sensitive to rejection. Just imagine, from birth children are cut from the umbilical cord that gave they everything they needed. They were safe in the womb, protected. Suddenly they are out in the world, and to survive they are dependent on others.

In placental mammals, the umbilical cord (also called the navel string,[1] birth cord or funiculus umbilicalis) is a conduit between the developing embryo or fetus and the placenta

When I read about the cords connecting Harold and his ex-wife, and was reminded of my own experience, I started to think about the umbilical cord. Is the physical connection between mother and child so strong that it somehow stays in the mind, making children crave for being reconnected again? I am convinced that the body remembers things that are unconscious to us, and I think most of us have experienced the invisible pull towards certain people. Some times we can`t say why we feel attracted towards certain people, but we all know that it happens. I love the symbolism of a mental umbilical cord connecting us. Like brain cells that fire together and thereby wire together, we are social beings that needs to connect to not stray to far from land. We need anchors, we need the string holding kites in place. But there is so much that can go wrong: If those cords are bound to the wrong person, we might end up getting hurt. The umbilical cord might not give us the nutrients we need, but poison. If the umbilical cord is not there at all, we have no one to give us the oxygen we need to breathe, we feel alone in a wasteland, not able to drink water even though it`s right there. Sometimes the umbilical cord almost gives us what we need: A steady supply of the most essential nutrients, enough oxygen to not suffocate. But intermittently we get only half of what we need. And relationships are like that too: What we need is balance, somebody who is there and gives us what we need, consistently. If somebody chains us, we don`t learn what it feels like to get really healthy nutrients, so we crave the unhealthy diet, because we know no better. This might lead to retraumatization, like it does for the main character of “A little Life”, when Jude is not able to leave after being abused. If we sometimes get what we need, sometimes not, like in ambivalent attachment, we might crave both the good and the bad. Like being fed with only chocolate that you eat until you become nauseated, and occasionally a really good healthy meal, therefore craving both, knowing that the chocolate is bad, that the healthy meal is good, never finding the balance, always searching for the right way to find the balance. The secure attachment is when we get the healthy things through the umbilical cord most of the time.

I sometimes wonder what I crave more: Chocolate that seems sweet but eventually leads to shame, depressive moods and uncertainty, or healthy nutrients that make me grow and lift my spirits. The partners I have fallen most in love with, has been the ones giving me both, making me confused because I can`t figure out if the strings pulling me towards that person is good or not. That`s when I want to cut the cord, but I am not sure if I am ready yet. I wish I could say I am now able to walk around on my own. That I can look around me and attach myself to the cord that is right for me, that I sometimes don`t need to focus on it at all, like the secure child who knows that his mother is there, even when she leaves.

But I’m not sure if I’m there yet. If I’m ready to feel that pull towards someone without scaring me because the bond might be broken off one day. But I sure will try. 

More about attachment:

Avoidant, ambivalent, secure and disorganized attachment

3 thoughts on “Attachment: The umbilical cord of life

    Chris Karl said:
    January 1, 2016 at 17:41

    I’m an alcoholic in recovery and very interested in how attachment styles play into that part of me – I’ve done a little research myself on the topic, but found this helpful as well – thanks for sharing

      mirrorgirl responded:
      January 1, 2016 at 19:14

      Thank you for commenting! Attachment affects all of us, and even if you grew up to not become securely attached, it is always possible to change how we connect to people later, but it might require hard work!

    The sound of souls singing in tune « Mirrorgirl said:
    March 23, 2016 at 10:19

    […] Even better: You share the moment with somebody else. We call it love, empathy and bonding. The umbilical cord between the two of you sends all the nutrients you need back and […]

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