“Secure Attachment is there waiting to be excavated from the mire and tar of past hurts. We can rediscover it because it is hard-wired as a ‘bonding blueprint’ into our psycho-physiology. We just need to ‘dust off the diamond’ of our true ‘in-light’-enment.” ~ Dr. Diane-Poole Heller, Somatic Attachment Expert
Exciting and clinically useful developments in neuroscience and attachment theory have revolutionized modern therapy. It is irrefutable that our brains are shaped by our early relational experiences and can be reshaped by new relational experiences, including those that occur in attachment-based therapies. The exciting discoveries of Daniel Siegel in Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and many others in the field of developmental attachment theory are validating and illuminating the very real impact we have on one another as human beings. From pre- and perinatal experiences between mother and child, to the bonds we develop with partners in intimate relationships, or with a therapist, the relationships we have with others shape our minds, our attachment styles, and how we perceive and interact with the world, ourselves and others.
One of the key components to healing our early attachment and developmental issues is the ability to access and connect to what is known in esoteric traditions of all major religions (with different terminology) as the Self, or the absolute ground of being. In psychology, this aspect is often known as the Adult Consciousness or Wise Adult. This part of us has the ability to hold and contain our overwhelming emotions, self-judgments, shame, and even self-loathing, with solid, reassuring presence, which for many, can feel deeply loving as well.
In my experience as both a therapist and a client, the Self or Wise Adult is the most accessible for a client when the therapist has access to this embodied sense of self, or ground of being, within him or herself, and can hold this space in sessions. For this reason, it is very important to choose a therapist who has done his or her own therapy and inner work and continues to do so, and who we sense has the ability to hold presence with our pain. When there is Self online, either within us or the therapist during our internal work, healing just happens!
The good news is, we can develop this connection to our deeper Self, or Wise Adult, through ongoing conscious connection with others who have it. When we are in deep and authentic relationship with another being, meaning, we are being who we really are and feeling accepted no matter what parts of our shadows emerge, we are repairing early attachment wounds, which automatically gives us more access to Self. This is the easiest within relationships that intentionally hold the space for us to be authentic with unconditional acceptance, such as in therapy, with a spiritual teacher, and often, with sponsors in 12 step programs and other healing communities.
And so while many transformation seekers discover that connecting with this loving, unconditionally accepting Self is not as easy as they want it to be without the presence of a therapist or teacher, just as a child learns to feel more secure with the consistent and attuned presence of a parent, so can our adult brains be rewired through new, healthy relational attachments. For those of us who were not parented lovingly or who had parents who loved and cared for us but did not feel self-love for themselves or have the ability to be with our pain, self-love is not as easy to access, but is still within our blueprint. (Fact: we are not living in a culture that promotes the ability to be with the painful emotions of others, so it’s not something most of our parents, or we as parents, were likely to learn, on top of the fact that’s it’s a human default to avoid pain).
Though I was a spiritual seeker long before I became a therapist, and I tried to chant, meditate and yoga asana my way to psychological health and relationship with a loving internal Self, I discovered (to my initial dismay) that I needed the ongoing support of healthy, unconditionally present and accepting others to heal, as my brain simply did not have the wiring to do this without the steady presence of those who did. I was also told, like so many seeking to find themselves, that I needed to “love myself first,” only to find that I could not. I was relieved to later discover through attachment theory and therapy that this is not something we can do from the inside out if we have early attachment issues! Through my work with spiritual teachers, therapists, and at one time, an Alanon Sponsor, I know that we can rewire our brains to love ourselves, develop secure relational attachments and enjoy the long-term benefits in our lives, even if it’s not how we started! But we are simply not wired to do this on our own. We were created and developed through relationship and it is also true that we heal through relationship.
We cannot spiritually bypass, rationalize away, or dismiss as “the past is the past” with regard to how our early family environment shaped us if we really want to transform. Nor does this mean that we need to blame our parents or feel guilty about our own parenting. In attachment-based therapy, we are working with the parental (and all of the relational) dynamics that we have internalized, whether they are true today or not, and how they impact current relationships with self and other. Our feelings and acquired beliefs from the past do effect how we relate with ourselves and others today, but revisiting stories of the past in the historical context that one might associate with traditional psychotherapy is not the priority. Reconnecting with and healing the split off aspects of ourselves IS.
My work with developmental and complex trauma is greatly informed by my training in Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems (IFS) and attachment-focused models, including Diane Poole Heller’s DARe (Dynamic Attachment Repatterning), Larry Heller’s NARM (Neuro Affective Relational Model), and Aline LaPierre’s NaTouch (Neuro Affective Touch) and may include the use of Somatic Therapeutic Touch when appropriate (and always with full consent). I also use EFT Tapping and Matrix Reimprinting (for more info, see modalities pages). Much of my focus is on the recovery and reintegration of the parts of us that were lost and frozen in traumatic responses and emotional repression. Reintegration of our exiled parts and unexpressed emotions leads to a sense of wholeness and aliveness that is our birth right and is a profound joy to facilitate.
For those wanting to use self-help techniques or gain more awareness about how to work with their emotions, beliefs, and inner child or “parts”, this can be a very helpful and empowering adjunct to therapy and I recommend the books, The Completion Process, by Teal Swan, The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner, Transform Your Beliefs, Transform Your Life by Karl Dawson and Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors, by Janina Fisher.