“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 empowering us toward greater understanding and validation of the very real impact we have on one another as human beings. From pre- and perinatal experiences between mother and child, partners in intimate relationships, to therapists and clients, 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 as a client when the therapist has access to this ground of being and can hold this space in sessions. Therefore, it is very important to choose a therapist who has done his or her own therapy and internal work and continues to do so, and who we sense has the ability to hold presence with our pain. When there is Self online 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.
What many spiritual and transformation seekers discover, however, is 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. 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, this is not as easy to access. (Hint: 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 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 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 in spite of the powerful healing and transformation I've received from these practices, I also needed the ongoing support of healthy, unconditionally present and accepting others to heal. My brain simply did not have the wiring to heal attachment wounds without the holding container and sense of secure connection with others. 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, at least not until we have enough of the tracks for secure attachment laid down to connect with the Self within. We developed through relationship and 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. We also don’t need to blame, defend or spend years talking about our parents, though there are times when it can be helpful. 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. For those who are reluctant to revisit the past or put an elderly or beloved parent in the hot seat, rest assured, we heal more through dealing with our own internalized experience and dissociated emotions than by revisiting stories of the past in a historical context that one might associate with traditional psychotherapy.
My work with attachment and developmental trauma is greatly informed by my training in Somatic Experiencing and attachment dynamics, 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). Please see the following links for further information on these modalities:
I am also IFS-informed (Internal Family Systems) and have found this model has resonance and effective results for many people. Much of my focus is on the recovery and reintegration of the parts of our being 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 Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner, Transform Your Beliefs, Transform Your Life by Karl Dawson, No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz, and Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors, by Janina Fisher.
Healing Developmental Trauma, by Lawrence Heller and Aline LaPierre, is a profound and comprehensive work in trauma literature that offers a deeper understanding of the healing process for Complex and Developmental Trauma.