What Is Early Attachment Trauma?
The attachment patterns that people experience as children impact the remainder of their lives in powerful ways. Understanding early childhood attachments to their parents offers essential insights into why people live their lives today the way they do, how they operate in relationships, and how online therapy can help repair the wounds of the past.
Research has shown that our earliest relationships serve as templates for how we imagine the world works and how we expect others to behave. Often, without our awareness or understanding, we are mysteriously drawn to recreate in the present old patterns and dynamics from our past.
For example, if, as a child, a woman experienced an insecure attachment pattern (avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized), she is much more likely to feel unsafe in her closest relationships, especially when it comes to a husband or her children.
It’s almost as if we are programmed to recreate painful or hurtful experiences in our future relationships as a result of an inadequate attachment pattern early in life. The insecure attachment as a young child seems to create an emotional magnet that draws us into a similar dynamic in the future.
3 Ways to Heal from Early Attachment Trauma
1. Create a Coherent Narrative
Attachment research tells us that, to liberate ourselves from the powerful vortex of incomplete or inadequate attachments, we need to face, understand, and feel the full pain of our past. This unpleasant proposition just can’t be avoided. As Dr. Daniel Siegel explained in his book, Mindsight,
“The best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences (and reproduced this template with their children).” That is why, to repair and heal our ability to attach and create more inner security later on in life, we must be willing to develop what Siegel calls a “coherent narrative” of our earliest experience.
“It turns out that by simply asking certain kinds of autobiographical questions, we can discover how people have made sense of their past— how their minds have shaped their memories of the past to explain who they are in the present,” wrote Siegel in Mindsight.
“The answers people give to these fundamental questions also reveal how this internal narrative— the story they tell themselves— may be limiting them in the present and may also be causing them to pass down to their children the same painful legacy that marred their early days.”
According to Dr. Siegel, we must bravely face our personal history and absorb the full force of its impact on our lives by understanding the narrative of our past. It is only then that we can alter the course of our lives, the quality of our relationships, and the attachment patterns we bequeath to our children.
2. Choose Relationships with Those with Healthy Attachment
Another method that will create more security is for the one who has suffered attachment trauma to develop a relationship with someone fortunate enough to have a healthier attachment experience. Connecting with such a person long term will build security and slowly transform their own unhealthy reflexive inner dynamic.
This method is useful because the experience of developing a secure attachment, even later in life, will have a powerful impact. The new model of what a relationship can be is no longer abstract but is experiential.
For example, a person who had a parent whose availability was inconsistent and, as a result, was allowed to experience chronic anxiety, will become more secure and less anxious when connecting with someone calm and consistent.
3. How Online Therapy Can Help
A third and invaluable avenue for developing a secure attachment is through therapy, whether it be face-to-face or online mental health therapy. And there is a significant additional benefit that the therapist can provide besides the therapy itself. By healthily interacting with the client, the therapist offers the opportunity to form a secure attachment with him/her, an essential step in the healing process.
Connecting with a therapist who can consistently provide a secure base serves as a corrective emotional experience that can be a critical benefit to someone suffering from attachment trauma. Promoting this inner security can become a catalyst to experiencing life and relationships more fully, and help unlock one’s true self.
However, it isn’t unusual for a client to feel very sensitive and ashamed about experiencing an intense yearning to become close to his/her therapist. The question is, why do these clients, especially those who had difficulties earlier in life, develop such a craving?
More often than not, this craving finds its roots in some attachment trauma. Invariably, when one’s critical emotional needs are bypassed early in life, the child who carries these unmet needs recedes to the background. This “inner child” doesn’t go away but is waiting expectantly for someone to come along and fulfill those needs.
An essential limitation of therapy is that therapy can be very helpful in resolving the feelings that evolve from unmet needs, but cannot fulfill them. This stands directly in conflict with the needs of the “inner child” who is sure that the only real solution is to find an adult to fill those needs. And who is a better choice than the benevolent therapist?
Let’s be clear. The job of the therapist is to help the client, with sensitivity and compassion, understand that the only real solution is to deal with all of the feelings of sadness, disappointment, grief, and anger regarding the unmet emotional needs of the past. Only this will open the door to the real solution, which is healing the “inner child” through self-parenting.
Choosing another person, even an empathetic therapist, to fill the emotional holes of the past will never really work. For some reason, another adult can never adequately remove the pain of the distant past. Soon the client will again feel the hunger pangs for a surrogate parent unfulfilled. Only parenting one’s inner child has been shown to work.
For more information, please contact Global Teletherapy or your local mental health provider.