“Get away from me!” screamed Tommy.
Joan, his foster mother, teared up. These outbursts were becoming more frequent and no matter how much she tried to draw close to 11-year-old Tommy, he would consistently push her away. She was at a loss as to how to help him. Every attempt to affirm, hug and encourage him seemed to only draw further aggression and avoidance.
For many kids like Tommy who have a history of complex trauma, this behaviour is not unusual. Much of this stems to the early beginnings of his life and how inconsistency in bonding and attachment with his primary caregivers affects him today.
Attachment really matters.
John Bowlby (1969) who is known as the defining figure of attachment theory believes that attachment plays a critical and “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” and that this formation of attachment has an impacting correlation between relationships that people form. Linda Graham, MFT (2008) attunes us into the interrelated connection that, “attachment shapes the brain and (the) patterns of attachment (that) are embedded in the neural circuitry of the brain…shape our 3 R’s: relating, regulation of affect, and resilience, (which can affect us) for the rest of our lives”. The good news is that the brain is kind of sticky, this is known as plasticity and it has been proven that our brains can grow new neurons and re-circuit pathways and networks that will allow us to relate in healthier ways.
This is accessible to all of us.
What Graham (2008) states is the importance of understanding the connection between attachment and our current coping strategies, which can be broken down into the following:
Less than secure patterns of attachment are defensive – they create barriers to emotion, to the full range of human emotions that are important signals of what to pay attention to in our lives and in others’ lives. They create barriers to the skillful regulation of emotion, creating avoidance or flooding rather than skillful experiencing, processing, managing, moving through. They create barriers to healthy relating, if relating is going to trigger unbearable emotions of fear, shame, loneliness, despair. So people (children) regulate closeness-distance by dismissing, focusing on self rather than other, or clinging, focusing on other rather than self, or by losing focus altogether, rather than flexibly focusing on self and other, the hallmark of secure attachment.
Specific techniques and interventions make a difference which assist in re-circuiting the brain, regulating emotion and developing healthier patterns of relating. One of these models, The Complex Care and Intervention (CCI) program has a history of making a difference in children and youth and setting them up to be successful, relational people.
In order to learn more, please feel free to navigate to our approach:
Also continue to check out further ATTACHMENT resources here:
Bowlby J. Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1: Loss. New York: Basic Books; 1969.
Graham, Linda MFT. (2008, September). The Neuroscience of Attachment (2008). (Presented as a Clinical Conversation at the Community Institute for Psychotherapy). Retrieved from Resources for Recovering Resilience website: https://lindagraham-mft.net/the-neuroscience-of-attachment/