In this article I will specifically talk more about attachment wounds as a spiritual issue. I‘m proposing that by Cleaning Up some of your deepest psychological material you can also be serving your Growing Up and Waking Up but this is rarely accomplished and needs to be articulated gingerly. I begin by introducing the work from attachment expert and Mahamudra meditation master Daniel P Brown whose work is infiltrating the integral, spiritual and psychological fields of study and practice. This article then explores attachment healing experientially, through Brown’s “Ideal Parents Visualization” which is the cornerstone of his Three Pillars Model. And to conclude, I’ll show how healing the self- meeting its primitive needs at its roots- primes future self-development and may in rare cases allow the self to soften enough to let it go, to transcend the self.
Soon after I wrote that “attachment wounds are spiritual issues and resolved by being”, I learned that Dan Brown has a highly recommended online course for clinicians as well as an affordable course for individuals wanting to begin the journey into healing attachment wounds. Check out https://www.attachmentproject.com/heal#enroll. And for a deep dive of study, he’s also co-written the first comprehensive textbook on healing attachment disturbances which is excellent and clear.
The first thing I need to say is that studying attachment theory with Brown is a true transmission in its own right. He has literally turned psychotherapy on its head for me and I’ve been thinking much differently as a clinician. Most people who enter psychotherapy begin through an involutionary process. That is to say- and this is a generalization- we move from higher levels of development beginning with shadows in the mind, then deepen into traumas within the body and finally contend with attachment level pathologies in the earliest level.
This can be substantiated by seeing how the field of psychotherapy emerged collectively beginning with Freud and Jung in Psychoanalysis (mind and shadow). Then, the study of the body and trauma, while taking its roots back to Reich, did not gain ground as full-fledged modalities like Bioenergetics or Somatic Experiencing until the 1970s. And today, perhaps within the last decade, attachment modalities are just beginning to become more developed and available.
And because, as Brown claims, all future self-development rests on the foundation of healthy attachment, he’s helped me to flip things and look at psychotherapy more evolutionarily. In other words why not start by addressing the building blocks of the self at the bottom- the attachment level- and work our way upwards (evolution) in addition to the typical downwards (involution) view?
So now a bit on Brown’s Three Pillars Model. He recognizes five basic needs which go met or unmet at the attachment stage of development (0-18 months). The first need, safety and security, is the most primitive need as we see even animals protect their young from physical harm. Second, adequate attunement is needed, good mirroring of the infant’s experience. Good attunement includes parents remaining present as well as curious about the child’s inner state. Third, a parent’s expressed delight in every new discovery contributes highly to a positive sense of self in the future. Incidentally, Brown indicates that modern parenting often overlooks this need by parents being more interested in the “job of parenting over the joy of parenting”. In fact, Brown believes that inadequately expressed joy is a contributor to narcissistic traits in later self- development (See Attachment, Narcissism, Awakening, Part 1).
Fourth, the ability of the caregiver to soothe the child’s emotions, teaches them to self-soothe and self-regulate as development progresses. Going hand in hand with attunement, good parents offer calm and reassurance so a child does not suppress negative emotions but can also regulate them. And finally, the fifth, fostering self-development is the parent’s ability see the unique characteristics of the child which help them to feel supported in exploratory behavior and discovering their unique potential over time.
Exercise: Let’s try a traditional way psychotherapy could help bring your attachment level of development into focus. Take a moment to imagine yourself as a young child. Gently bring each of these five areas of attachment needs to mind. Notice how your mind and body respond when you contemplate what you did and didn’t get. The 5 areas are: 1) Safety and protection 2) Attunement or presence toward you 3) Expressed joy and delight 4) soothing or affect regulation 5) fostering self-development and exploration as you mature and grow.
Now as an alternative approach try this ideal parents visualization by Dan Brown. Brown is combining a wide variety of his expertise here including hypnosis, positive psychology and visualization. The effects over time are profound. Many clients that I work with who agree to begin treatment with doing the IPV daily are resolving other issues much more effectively. This is because when needs for the basic building blocks of the self are met, there is an apparent evolutionary ripple effect all the way up the developmental ladder. And as more psychological material arises around unmet needs, the ideal parents can serve as a resource in real time.
For example, one client who realizes that she didn’t get the desired attunement to her inner state has struggled to access emotions and often experiences confusion when negative emotions arise. Having recognized this, and imagining scenes where the ideal parents are attuning to her confusion, she beings to heal and feel what it is like to receive this accurate attunement. In time she begins to notice that she’s actually talking to herself differently when confusion arises. Rather than criticizing herself for being confused she now self-attunes which has allowed negative emotions to become conscious and for her to reach out in relationships to get her needs met in variety of current circumstances. And in fact, when she’s doing tasks which challenge her to show up to higher capacity than she believes she is able, she brings in the ideal parents to foster her own self development. So she’s Cleaning Up, integrating, and Growing Up and the visualization continues to be a tool on up the developmental ladder.
But Brown’s approach goes further. What makes his IPV so powerful is his extensive study and transmission of Tibetan Buddhism. The IPV is in part a result of modifying original Tibetan Buddhist practice of developing unconditional love (and I do mean Unconditioned, Awake, not self indulging, self-pity or rescuing) by using the archetypal mother figure. He discovered that the original practice was not working so well with westerners who have much more ambivalence toward our mothers so he instructs us to create the “ideal” mother and father to get each of the 5 attachment needs met.
Throughout the visualization, Brown repeats the phrase, “notice how this impacts your state of mind”. The essential instruction here is that after a period where the self receives unconditional love that is most typified by a good mother, the self begins to soften. He points out that at best, the ideal parent image can be with us in our “being”, which allows advanced meditation practitioners to rest in and identify a liberated state that was always present, even before the sense of self developed. Recognizing this state and experiencing it in the present is a pointer to Waking Up which can be a powerful accelerator for those with a robust meditation practice.
However, I do not wish to go on record for misguiding people through oversimplification here. Brown estimates that clinically speaking it takes 6 months to 3 years of using the protocol and therapy to earn secure attachment. The important truth is that addressing attachment wounds is a rare undertaking in its own right. And to then be able to use the IPV not only to heal the roots of self (Clean Up), to foster ongoing self-development (Grow up) AND transcend the self through the recognition of being (Wake Up) is incredibly rare and difficult. Keep in mind that Brown has 45 years of meditation experience! Whatever the case, in seeing how the IPV protocol has worked for me, for other practitioners and the clients I serve, the beauty is that it can assist many people in many ways and it is the only tool I have ever encountered that can address Cleaning Up, Growing Up and Waking Up in concurrence.