The Pandemic of Attachment Burdens
This blog covers a topic very close to my own heart.
It is about the single most important discovery which has empowered my own emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and also what I believe is the most single crucial reason why people with longstanding chronic health conditions don't get better.
Yet even though it is so widespread that we may call it the greatest pandemic of modern times, it is also so secret and hidden that we all too often mistake it as 'normal'.
What am I speaking of?
Simply put, it is what is going on within that boy in the photo above, crouched over with his head in his hands feeling deeply hurt.
We could call it attachment trauma, yet trauma is not a good word as it implies it only happens to very few of us, or when we hear of extreme cases or childhood neglect, physical or sexual abuse. Or it may imply there is someone to blame and that we are little more than helpless victims. So let us simply call it attachment burdens, and define it as the cumulative load we carry from in utero and early childhood - and perhaps also previous generations - from all those times we have not felt an unconditional, visceral sense of love, acceptance and safety.
My own journey in awakening to attachment burdens began about six years ago when I first felt compelled to dig deeper into the link between trauma and ill health in the regular patients I saw in my medical practice. I learnt and began to practice EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a powerful way to help someone revisit a painful or traumatic memory, and then facilitate a person's healing as they moved their eyes horizontally following my fingers. The protocols were excellent, the science was robust and most people would feel a big shift in the course of a session.
However, I soon learnt that although EMDR worked like a charm - sometimes miraculously - for people with a one-off trauma like narrowly escaping a bushfire or having their home invaded, others would feel decidedly worse or unchanged come our next session.
Then I came across a brilliant EMDR trainer by the name of Sandra Paulsen, who when assessing people would always pose the question - 'If you really tune into your body, do you get a sense that things weren't quite right when you were really young or even before you were born'?
This led to her sharing a process that would take clients back to the moment they were conceived and move through their journey developing in the womb, using bilateral tapping (similar to eye movements used in EMDR) and a theme of witnessing the unborn baby's untold story - whatever needed to be reviewed, released and repaired. This was followed by an opening to the felt sense of what it is like to have those very early, primal needs completely met - guided by our own loving presence.
Most people feel strong body sensations and feelings as they move through the in utero re-membering, though often we also intuit what was going on for our parents - whether we were in a toxic environment, or whether we were truly loved or wanted. This reprocessing work would go all the way through to the first few years of life, which is when a child's developing brain is especially vulnerable.
Although put forward as a way to use EMDR to heal attachment trauma, I soon realised that this powerful process was entirely relevant to anyone who may have struggled - knowingly or unknowingly - with any level of attachment burdens.
And this also included me!
This attachment burdens I am speaking of can sometimes be subtle. Perhaps we were inadvertently shut down for expressing feelings or not seen when we needed to do so, or we sensed the anxiety of parents who were over-protective... or were given less attention and affection than a brother or sister who suddenly entered our world. Attachment research speaks of three types of insecure attachment patterns - clingy, avoidant and disorganized. However even though we might regard our upbringing as entirely good, there may still be parts of us - sometimes hidden - who are still driven by certain insecurities. And these may shape our personality far more than we realise.*
And so I went through a period where my learning became more personal and experiential, as I explored within myself the link between situations that would trigger me and the burdens I may have still carried in my body from those very early years. One of these burdens was a tendency to be overtaken by intense bouts of depression every few months, which had affected me to the degree that I needed to take medication for a number of years from my 20's onwards - which I only did with great reluctance.
I had absolutely no idea where this came from, and was happy for while with the predictable narrative that it was all about dodgy brain chemistry that I may have inherited from my parents. Yet one day in a particularly triggered state I saw myself as a tiny infant crying inconsolably, desperately in need of attention and then realizing with sheer devastation that no one was there. Later I found out my parents were influenced by advice which endorsed controlled crying - through no real fault of their own of course as this was simply normalised as something all parents should do.
It slowly dawned on me that after I had not just seen this but felt this - felt the pain of the infant and witnessed it with loving awareness - that the depression pattern quite surprisingly began to lift and in my own case medication was no longer needed. And then when I began to use a similar process with some of my clients, many reported that longstanding and perplexing patterns of depression, anxiety and worthlessness simply weren't there anymore.
It wasn't as simple of course as one single incident, as I was soon to discover the many layers of attachment burdens that were buried deep in my subconscious, waiting to be met and witnessed. These layers, I now know, go right back to coming into my mother's womb, attaching to her via the umbilical cord and also accessing the burdens which were literally handed down from my ancestral line - especially my grandmother who lost her own mother when she was really young. Not to mention images or visions that could be interpreted as 'past life', whether we see this as something real or merely metaphor. Recently I also became painfully aware of how my own attachment burdens led to inner conflict or fragmentation, which played out in an undercurrent of mistrust, frustration and indecisiveness ever since I was really young.
The good news, however, is that attachment harm is not a life sentence. Although it may be incredibly difficult for a minority or people with severe or complex trauma, healing is possible for all of us!
After years of working with people in this field, in really simple terms I believe there are two utterly necessary things we need to do if we are to set forth on a healing journey.
The first is connection to the 'field' of loving presence or loving awareness, sometimes called our own 'Source Connection' or 'God Spark', which ultimately is our most powerful healing ally. This of course is greatly enhanced by feeling part of a loving supportive community, devoting our lives to whatever calling is deeply meaning for us, and realising how we are all deeply intra-connected with each other, with the earth and with the natural world. In a world now dominated by so many negative messages and toxicity - which we have all been conditioned to see as normal - certain healing modalities and technologies may also have a role to play.**
The second is a willingness, honesty and courage to go to those places which might scare us the most. Yet just as we wouldn't go deep see diving without the most incredibly well maintained, high quality equipment to ensure we are safe, so too we wouldn't dare to dive into those terrifying places within our psyche without being resourced enough to feel solid, present, grounded, stable, safe and connected.*** Then we are equipped to enter the survival terror which lies at the root of all attachment burdens, and even if we only stay there for a few moments, the release that we feel can be completely and utterly transformative.
When we do this, the memories stored in our body which have been fragmented and frozen are melted by the fire of our loving presence and are laid down in a completely new way - what we call memory reconsolidation in the trauma field.
This is not just about diving into our own attachment burdens or trauma, but peeling back the layers of what may have been handed on to us from our parents and ancestors - our so called family patterns - as well as the collective history of humanity over many thousands of years. We can also open to the possibility that these family patterns may actually be a consequence of deeper levels of societal conditioning which we have always have regarded as 'normal' and wouldn't usually dare to question. Yet in recent times these questions are being asked and paradigms are beginning to shift.
The final question, then, is whether we can put an end to this pandemic of attachment burdens. I firmly believe we can.
If we as individuals have the courage to fully embrace our own healing journey, we become beacons of light for others who can then by inspired to follow in our footsteps. Then when we reach a critical threshold, it is my hope that our personal inner work will be mirrored by changes on a system level whereby the education system makes trauma-informed spiritual values and principles our core priority. In other words, we teach people how to truly lead from the heart and connect with their God Spark, while every other kind of intellectual pursuit is still honoured but given much less importance.
Furthermore, if we truly bow down to the crucial role we play as parents and mentors in building strong bonds of affection with our children, we can heal the legacy of attachment burdens right here right now, without needing to pass this on to our descendants.
Then, I pray, we will come to a time on this planet where the pandemic of attachment burdens can be declared 'over', and we can welcome the discovery of a new normal - the way we were always meant to live.
* How our attachment burdens shape our personality patterns is addressed in a practical way by Steven Kessler in his book The Five Personality Patterns, which speaks of five distinct patterns that take root when particular attachment needs are not met - leaving, merging, enduring, aggressive and rigid.
** I am referring first of all to whatever one might discover as useful is one's own path to healing as elaborated upon in my blog Flowers and Filing Cabinets,
*** This refers to a resource scaffold such as that used in the Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM). More on this can be found in my blog Healing the Root.