Attachment issues are yet again of a different part of the dartboard from shadows and traumas. They are some of the deepest and most difficult material to bring into awareness because they’re developmentally the earliest (typically from womb to 18 months old). They occur before language and before the ego was online so often no memory or obvious felt sense of the body is available for therapeutic use. Subtle skill, depth and connection to being is needed in both the client and therapist to fully address attachment issues.
Imagine yourself before your narrative, before your story, before you began to think any thoughts. Imagine the “blank slate” and openness of an infant before the social conditioning of living has occurred. The experience of this period of life is probably still womb-like and oceanic, and there is not yet the recognition of being separate from the outer world. This is before the “I” or the “I want” phases of development before the sense of self has emerged. Even in less than ideal conditions, infants spend a great deal of time being, before any of the demands of later stages of evolution have unfolded.
Research shows that secure attachment is correlated with caregiver safety, mirroring and attunement. In best cases, a caregiver mirrors an infant’s “being”, the vast and empty selflessness which proceeds ego development. An infant in its natural state has no agenda, no drive beyond instinctual impulses, and often transmits openness without boundaries. If a parent is sensitive, awake and developed enough to mirror this quality consistently, the message of “beingness” is recirculated caregiver to infant congruently. The infant feels safe, secure, confident and attuned to and this motif is absorbed as an imprint of the self which may influence all higher stages of development. When parental conditioning, including shadows, traumas and attachment issues, interrupt the circulation of being, the unspoken coding in these exchanges is that simple beingness is not enough or not OK. In other words, the parent’s subtle fears and agendas, which may have the best of intentions, is substituted for unconditional love.
Because of the research and paradigm articulated above, a common view, when individuals are ready to heal their attachment wounds is: “Because attachment issues happened in relationship, they can only be healed in relationship”. But this is an interesting point of contemplation. In relationship to what? When we hear the word “relationship” most of us automatically generate an image outside from ourselves, a projected perfect caregiver that we may be seeking in a counselor or romantic interest. But this image, when it is reclaimed as a projection is precisely clue, a symptom of the attachment issue itself, and a key to the greater spiritual growth.
Attachment wounds can be healed most thoroughly as we mature in the spiritual domain. In other words, to the degree that we can “relate” with and as being, without judgments toward any of our experiences, the more the attachment wounds have the propensity to heal. Of course, it is very healing and meaningful to have specific relationships where beingness is mirrored through “unconditional positive regard” or unconditional love. But ultimately this scaffold of others doing this for us, is seen as a mirror of our own being, which releases us back into experiencing what we’ve been searching for all our lives. Ultimately our sustained realization ofbeing reveals the original wound of narcissistic separation and through spiritual maturity we become our own mirror, our own romantic relationship inseparable from everything.
So what is good therapy at the attachment level? It requires that the counselor has done a good amount of work to heal and clear his or her attachment issues and has the capacity to hold presence with no agenda. From a counselor’s perspective, the relationship with a client becomes one of mutuality and collaboration, and a sustained view that there is nothing that truly needs healing because being is sufficient.
There are many good attachment modalities available and I especially recommend the “Attachment Project” of Psychologist and Mahamudra meditation master Daniel P. Brown. He has developed the Three Pillars Model as well as published a textbook, Attachment Disturbance in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair.
A final look at our example:
At this point the client has done a lot of work to release the frozen anger from her body that was tied up in fuzzy memory of her father’s abuse. Her professional life is improving and she is advancing developmentally by feeling a wider range of emotions, and a deeper recognition of the importance of relationships. As she relies more on her relationships, she notices that she’s anxious partner goes away for a week to visit family. With her counselor’s assistance she begins to sense the terror she feels when her partner disconnects and she begins to notice a “black hole” of empty space where she feels totally alone, helpless, and “as if I am going to die”. She is not able to communicate what she needs. The counselor leaves behind all technique and allows the session to unfold with minimal interference, expectation or even hope. While assuring her client that she is safe to experience this in the here-and-now, plenty of space is given for her experience and moment to moment attunement to her experiences. The counselor plays a skillful balance of mirroring being to the client while at the same time encouraging her to stay with the black empty space, a state of not knowing, that is holding all of her experience perfectly as it is.
Attachment work at the level of spirit is a life long commitment to Waking Up beyond the conventions of healing (Cleaning Up) and Growing Up. The contracted sense of isolation and separation becomes a longing for union beyond any projected relationship with any sort of “other”. That said, a good deal of healing at all levels- attachment, trauma and shadow- can be done in any relationship where a certain degree of regard and safety is present.