Reaching For Attachment

Have you ever felt really happy to see someone and felt knocked off-balance by their response? Do the needs for predictability and a sense of care in relationships come up in your day-to-day life? These are very familiar needs for me, along with wanting to live with a sense of congruence and ability to make meaning in the midst of those 'off-balance' moments. 

I have been pondering how we are interconnected, and intentionally seeking a way to have solid grounding in my life, for resiliency, wanting to be present in such a way that I am creating meaning and finding purpose in each moment, especially as a parent. Because when I am able to perceive, make sense of, and respond to my child's needs, I am co-creating with him an internal working model of safety and security he can rely on. 

I remember noticing my son was eating and sleeping a lot while going through a really big growth spurt. My guess was it was a really big stimulus for him, and I imagined that his nerve endings felt like they were on fire and thus his window of tolerance was greatly reduced. 

He was filled with excitement when he got to spend the night at his older brother's house, and the next day, when I went to spend time with him and care for our grandchildren, he made grumpy faces and moved away when I reached out to him. I felt very confused, trying to understand what was going on. I remember stopping him in the hallway by reaching out and taking hold of his arms; instantaneously he began wriggling about, resisting connection. As he squirmed to the ground, I was able to stay with him and said, "Hey, what's going on here? I want to slow it down and connect with you for a moment." His foot connected with my shin, and the unexpected pain, coupled with knowing my two-year-old twin grandson was witnessing this interaction, fueled a fierce love within me as I held him, seeking connection. "Do you know how much you are loved?" I asked passionately. As he squirmed, he shouted back, "No! Let go of me, I hate you!" 

With tears in my eyes, I said, ”I love you. The bubbas are here and love you too. They are watching and listening right now!" My son slowed his movements, and began to look at his surroundings, his eyes softened as they rested on Andrew, one of his little nephews, who was slowly drawing near to us. 

"Guncle sad?" Andrew asked with compassion, "Hug Guncle?" he reached out to embrace his Uncle and give him a kiss, resting his head on his uncle. My son's eyes, wet with tenderness, met mine as he received this gift of unconditional love. "Aw, thank you, Andrew, Uncle feels better now with your love." he said. 

Noticing I was holding my breath, I felt my body begin to relax as I drew in a deep sigh of relief, so touched and amazed by the power of unconditional love and presence. I took a moment to acknowledge to myself just how big it feels within me when my child faces challenges in becoming his full self. Remembering my circle of friends, who hold me with compassionate understanding, supported me to return to a state of calm where I could realign myself, once again, with my intention to remain unconditionally present with this young man who is my son. 

Reflecting over this experience later, while receiving some much needed empathy support from others, I realized that in the biggest moment of intensity I felt some real horror that my little grandson had witnessed what I perceived as an act of violence. As I slowly re-connected to my experience with eyes of compassion, I recognized a response pattern of terror and fear that was activated by embedded memories of how an older child had interacted with me as a young child. This was the first time I connected viscerally with how my limbic system becomes flooded in the presence of my son's intense behaviors. 

From an interpersonal neurobiology perspective, the mental model ingrained within me from repeated patterns of past experiences with the older child was retained in my implicit memory. Implicit memories, activated without a sense that in the moment something is being recalled, directly influence our perceptions, emotions, behaviors, and bodily sensations. 

By slowing my inner experience down, in the presence of caring others, I could take deep breaths and pay attention to my bodily sensations. I remember my heart felt huge and on fire, like it was going to burst with the pain it was holding in, and there was a constant roar in my aching head. As I witnessed my experience in this way, a new awareness gradually emerged around how what happened in my childhood connects within present time. 

It dawned on me that a very little girl, a part of myself, was stuck in a place of fear, in time outside of time. The overwhelming sensations made perfect sense when I could see that this little-girl part of me didn't know that I had survived my experiences with this older child! While I cried, my inner compassionate witness began to have a dialogue with this terrified child. This part of myself, who desperately needed to be seen and held, needed to be held. In real time I needed someone to finally see with compassion what had happened for me as a child. 

My little girl part was incredibly worried about the other child and wanted her to be held too. That was such a surprise for me to take in! This person was someone I had lived in fear of all my life. And yet, at the same time, I tapped into how much I really do love this person. I was astonished how I could have such immense unconditional love and at the same time feel simply terrified of this relationship! This was such a huge piece I am still sitting with even now; it's so helpful just to name it and anchor this fierce love within me. 

While in dialogue with this little-girl part of self, I was able to tell her she'd survived the experiences with the other child and how old I was. She laughed! 

There is something here about taking in the wisdom that this little part of myself has been holding for so long. She was able to release the intensity of her experience in the body, my body, which was mainly in my belly and in my heart, and to allow those sensations to be experienced - without making them wrong - just being present with acceptance. 

When my younger self was willing for herself and the other child to be found and held, in that process of integration, I received new wisdom from my body connection that I didn't have before! Having believed death was imminent… having believed I was going to die any moment...the little girl didn't know what the compassionate present part of me knew! That I'd grown up and had an 11-year-old boy who needed us to be present! 

There is something really powerful around the innocence of a little child's love and forgiveness for those they care for and are nurtured by. There was something about having my two-year-old grandson compassionately present that brought the really little part of me out to be received and held by my compassionate witness. Both parts wanted to hold space for someone they love and know is in pain. The older child really had nurtured me, more than anyone, because we were left alone a lot. 

I imagine that when my son "acted out" it was due to him flipping his lid, and I consistently did my best to respond to him with fierce love, I was modeling something radically different for him, for myself, for any little kids who were near me, and for whoever happened to witness my response! That's the kind of love that I'm about and choose to claim for life, for children, all children, for me. I acknowledge the little-girl part of me understood this and she taught it to the compassionate witness part of me! 

I believe, with a fierce determination, that when my son was flailing about, he needed me to stay present and in relationship with him as he found his way. At the same time I have practiced self-resonance by attending to self-care. As I continued my own healing journey, I was empowered to remain present in new ways that sustained my son to experience break throughs on his own healing journey. 

I really appreciate what it took for this part of myself to integrate. All the work that I've done with trusted others continues to be a huge part of my healing journey. What amazing beings we are. It truly is never too late to heal. 

Our brains can alter synaptic connections and grow new neurons, especially in the integrative regions, when we have new interpersonal experiences that promote an internal sense of security, self-understanding, and a willingness to try new approaches to connect with others. 


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