Impaired Early Attachment

The mother-child bond is predicated on both the mother and child remaining available and present to each other when interacting during this 18 month odd period. This is often not the case in our modern society.

For several reasons this critical mother-child bond is prematurely broken and replaced with a trauma inducing replacement, or a form of abandonment that results in a collapse of the emerging child’s BodyMind system. From the side of the mother a large number of scenarios can interrupt and affect her bonding with the child at this stage. For example:

  • Survival needs arise such as fleeing the onset of war, surviving a natural disaster or the mother being traumatised in some way.
  • Mother returns to full-time or part-time work and the child is put into Day Care. This topic is controversial but studies of children put into Day Care before the age of 3 years show the child may suffer trauma, as evidenced by the heightened levels of Cortisol that develop in the child. This is a brain-linked response to perceived threat that damages Hippocampus neural brain connections in the child at that age, and in adult years is linked to Anxiety, Depression and addictions. Refer to the Steve Biddulph book “Raising Babies” for more information.
  • Mother is herself distracted or not emotionally present to the child due to worries, Anxieties, Depression or not being grounded in her own body, and instead dissociates alot when physically with the child.
  • Parents separate or fight alot, and the child feels the mothers tension and stress when physically connected and held by the mother, and as seen in the eyes of the mother.
  • An event crisis such as illness or death of close one occurs that distracts mother or makes her unavailable to the child for a time.
  • Mother is unable to cope with the child, is upset or angry at the child, or distracted by the need to focus on other children also present in the family.
  • Mother is not present due to alcohol or drug addictions and their lifestyle factor complications.
  • The mother dies or is replaced by a surrogate or nanny.
  • Either parent is an abuser at emotional, physical or sexual level.
  • Mother uses child as a social object of self esteem or status. In public the mother shows or feigns affection to child to prove she is a “good mother”, but then dumps or is unresponsive to the child in private and at home, as the mother is basically a Narcissist who is self obsessed or self-absorbed.

From the side of the child a smaller number of scenarios can interrupt and affect their bonding with the mother. For example:

  • Physical illness that prevents being present during encounters with the mother, or is physically dislocated from the mother as a result(eg hospitalization)
  • Trauma caused by a third party that affects the child’s sense of safety and being present to the mother
  • Problems with attachment such as defective sucking action on nipple, inability to adapt to feeding bottle, problems with solid foods etc
  • Fear of mother due to frozen anger or frozen terror seen in mothers eyes.
  • Fear of mother due to mother’s negative emotional energy, or emotionally or energetically “taking” from the child(emotionally a child raising a child).

In the later stages of the Oral Attachment phase where the child can crawl or walk and has achieved a partial degree of separation and autonomy, there sometimes starts to develop from an insecure or controlling parent (mother or father), a number of parental behaviours detrimental to the child at this stage.

In this dynamic, the child may be controlled via regular threats of physical abandonment or disowning by a parent. It does not matter if a physical separation actually occurs or not as the threat is real for the still dependent child, and the child does not feel safe in the world.

Other forms of abuse that also occur at this stage involving the parent traumatise the child as their love-object is not safe and creates terror then still remains afterwards the only provider of necessary resources(food,clothing, home, etc). These abusive dynamics and regular threats of abandonment will result in a child feeling bound but insecurely attached to that parent.

The 3 recognised impaired attachment phase outcomes for children are:

  • Insecure-Avoidant attachment.
  • Insecure-Ambivalent attachment
  • Disorganised/Disoriented attachment.

The bottom-line for the child is that it is not safe or proper to hate those we love.  When we have received enough love to crave it, but not enough to make us feel secure in its continuance, we are faced as a child with a dilemma.

We become afraid to risk losing any love by showing any unpleasantness, and the growing child is gaining access to language, complex behaviours and awareness that can be directed outwardly towards a loved “other”.

There is anxiety that these destructive impulses may be turned against those who the child depends upon for life and love. This can be a highly charged dynamic for the child and parents.

The child must struggle from symbiosis to separation knowing that the mother will survive the discharge of the infants aggression towards them. Child developmental Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott describes this process as “I can destroy the object and it can survive.”, and learns that expressing their rage does not hurt the parent.

The sad fact is that many children do not navigate this transition and receive this message from its parents, and then is condemned forever to believe that their rage is unacceptable and destructive to others. This is one dynamic that will keep or create a child stuck in their Narcissism, never adequately able to make the separation between self and other.

The hatred that requires expression and discharge is instead directed inward at themselves, and at the same time its true impulse and permission repressed psychically into the unconscious.

The child builds an accumulation of internal rage but they must lose or “kill” their feelings to be safe, as the feelings to “kill” the parent appear dangerous, and so must be given up. The child now fantasises they have rescued their “beloved” by “killing” the feelings to kill the beloved.

This heroic fantasy is like the false fantasy that the adult Narcissist spins to their followers and “beloved” one’s, and which wallpapers over their own hateful feelings towards themself and others.  The child also becomes self preoccupied as a way of avoiding their own feelings, and a Narcissist or “person without feelings” is now evolving in childhood.

Refer to our Narcissism article to gain a more indepth look at this personality disorder.

In the BodyMind tradition we also note that the interruption of the key oral based function of breast feeding may give rise to a resulting trauma in the child that will in later life see the adult have an unconscious impulse to have oral based habits, addictions and cravings.

In the body of such adults we see an undercharged front chest region of the body, where it may be flat, sunken and the muscles and skin tone flaccid and pale. Correspondingly the external limbs and periphery of the body is undercharged and often thin and weak in function and appearance.

This outcome relates to the function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) in the developing child. When a human adults ANS goes into “fight or flight” mode, one effect is that the blood drains from the peripheral limbs of the adult so if attacked they will not have extreme blood loss.

In a child forced to live in ANS “fight or flight” mode, which is what insecure Oral Attachment children experience, the blood deficient limbs do not fully develop and strengthen as the child develops.

Adulthood Consequences of Insecure Attachments

Adults who had ongoing insecure Oral Attachments in childhood are prone to manifesting Addictive Personality and Co-Dependent relationship outcomes. The childhood dynamics will often be unconscious:

  • Oral based addictions such as eating, alcohol, and smoking.
  • Oral anxiety such as biting of nails, sucking lollies or chewing gum.
  • Addictions to almost any object, experience or process.
  • Low self-esteem, distorted belief systems and Depression.
  • Undercharged energetically. Often struggle to hold down jobs or to finish projects they start.
  • Abandonment in relationships. Either you abandon them or they abandon you, or you operate both outcomes depending on the relationship. Fear of abandonment drives the relationship.
  • Needy, clinging, Co-dependent relationships.
  • A victim stance towards life. A life statement of “you owe it to me”.
  • Anti-dependent or stubborn independent stance to life, never letting someone in or to accept their help.
  • Shame based personality.
  • Ends up in abusive or unhealthy relationships despite vigilance and avoidance of relationships for much of the time.
  • Sex is unsatisfactory and used for clinging and nurturing contact rather than for adult eros. Orgasm is weak due to undercharged state of body.
  • Inability to form close relationship with own children, or triggered by their own children’s dependent need on them the adult
  • Inability to hate constructively, and will be submissive or deceptive in their love relationships
  • May effectively turn their hate destructively against their partners and themselves, including having self-hatred issues.

Many adults suffer as they struggle through life battling the effects of this childhood legacy. It need not be like this as an adult can heal the legacy of our unmet early Oral Attachment needs.

Just as the original dynamic involved the child in relationship with a parent, now it is best healed with the adult seeking a therapeutic relationship with a therapist with whom they can safely explore and heal this wounding.

The healing process attends to our unmet childhood attachment needs, works to heal addictions and their underlying anxiety base, which as a dividend will increase our capacity to trust and love others and create more satisfying relationships in our adult lives.

Even though it is possible for a person to be addicted to almost any object, process or experience, there are some common addictions that people indulge in. Some of these have a double bind of an emotional and a physical addictivity whereas other addictions generate other BodyMind chemical, emotional and energetic pay-offs.

Copyright 2015 Richard Boyd

Psychotherapy & Counselling

Private Therapy