Every time I speak on the subject of attachment, there is usually one person in the audience who will ask. ‘Is this a western concept?’ or ‘My mother never told me that she loved me and I am fine.’ Then there’s the conversation afterwards by those not bold enough to share publicly. This is where I’ll hear about the angry, harsh mother who never declared love. They talk of mothers more comfortable with physical punitive punishment, criticism and negative feedback than giving love, appreciation and encouragement.
Although it is alarming that some think attachment is unnecessary, I have learnt to listen with patience and understanding. Sometimes these questions are not meant to be controversial; they are usually coming from a place of curiosity and genuine concern. Most would like to learn more about this concept so that they can understand and make changes. However, others fiercely guard their loyalty to their parents and refuse to accept that anything could be wrong with the method used.
This misguided loyalty is also a protective shield to keep the pain at bay. However, most are unaware of how attachment applies to adult life. Some know that something was wrong with their childhood, but fear stops them from investigating.
Connection is built-in
As humans, we have an innate need to experience love both verbally and nonverbally, and when we don’t have those experiences, it can be problematic. This need for love cannot be intellectualised or argued away.
Sometimes taking the position that bonding is a hairy fairy concept is a protective shield. Nevertheless, this defence ensures that another generation of people in your family will grow up not knowing what it feels like to connect with primary caregivers intimately. Regardless, this cycle can change. It changes when someone in that lineage decides to heal their attachment injuries and make different choices.
There are many ways to heal attachment injuries and build an atmosphere of security between you and your children. Although the practice might vary from culture to culture, some elements will be the same.
Certain words and actions might mean different things to different people. Notwithstanding, there are some universal elements of love. For example, everyone will notice the parent who is sensitive and attentive to their child’s needs. Attunement to needs is an essential element in building a secure connection. It helps the child feels safe, protected, cared for, seen and loved. Notice that love is the last feeling I mentioned. Many have heard I love you, but this is often not backed up by the actions, and therefore, they live with a skewed perception of love.
Attachment cues might differ from culture to culture, but love in action is the same across all cultures. For example, some cultures might be expressive and vocal when playing with or engaging the baby, while others might be calm and more reserve. None is right or wrong but what is essential is that mothers know how to respond to the needs and love me signals of children and act in a timely way.
Building secure attachment
A secure connection develops through safe touch, kindness, love and acceptance. Relationships that reflect these crucial elements are reliable and can give a child a feeling of safety and a sense of belonging.
Mothers are usually the primary caregivers and the person most expected to give care. They carry the baby in their wombs for nine months, breastfeed and care for the infant, and are often the only person with them for many hours day and night. Children depend on mother to mirror for them who they are and how to navigate relationships.
When this connection between mother and child breaks, it is difficult for the child to find safety anywhere. This disconnection can also damage the child’s sense of self and impacts how they see the world. Relationships can be problematic throughout their lives because of emotional neglect.
Mothers who cannot connect are likely recipients of childhood trauma and lack of parental connection. However, the ones who are aware of this and works to heal their wounds are the ones which are available emotionally to their children.
Society assumes that mothers would automatically know how to do emotional availability and connect with their child, but many women struggle. Shame and pride stop some women from getting the support they need to break through this barrier and be a safe space for their children.
It is impossible for a woman who is either unaware of her need to heal or refuses to heal to be securely connected to her children. It is impossible because while she denies her needs, there is a large part of her that is inaccessible to her and anyone else. Usually, that’s a vital part necessary for connection.
The elements of secure connection are loving-kindness, gentleness, soft-touch, laughter with eye contact, relaxation and presence in the relational field. In other words, you can bring your whole self to the experience.
There is hope for the women unable to perform these necessary functions; attachment wounds can heal.
Healing attachment wounds
A parent’s availability or unavailability can affect a child’s behaviour. Likely, the people who question the need to learn how to say I love you or show it so that the child can understand comes from the environment where there was emotional unavailability.
Those who still believe it is a western concept, when did you first figure out that your mother loved you? What were the signs that led you to make that conclusion? When do you think your children will begin to figure out that you working hard was your way of showing love? Should that replace other expressions of love such as safe loving touch, kindness, smiles, soft eyes, and quality time?
Remember hearing that you are loved and experiencing it, is not usually the same thing. The psychological consequences of insecure attachment are wide and varied; therefore, healing might need different things.
Therapy helps you accept the possibility of the wound and help you process the damage caused. The process might sometimes feel like grief as you begin the journey of dealing with the anger, frustration and loss of connection. Despite this, an experienced therapist can help you work through these feelings safely.
Books are also a great resource in helping to understand emotions and learn from other people’s healing experiences.