Secure Attachment versus “They F**k You Up”

I was interested to discover whilst reading and listening to some of Dan Siegel’s work that the number 1 predictor of how a child would attach with their parents was based upon the parent having created a “coherent narrative” about their own childhood. An attachment theorist named Mary Main noticed this and Dan Siegel was struck by the importance of her findings and has seen that “adults who could through therapy or other reparative life experiences, learn to create a reflective, coherent, and emotionally rich story about their childhoods – no matter how neglectful, abusive or inadequate – they could ‘earn’ the emotional security they’d missed and still be able to form good relationships with their own children.” For me this is good news, as a Mum and as a therapist and Babiesknow Team member. 85% of parents who had a coherent narrative of their childhoods had children who attached securely.

It fits with my own experience of making sense of what happened to me as a child, in truth, I continue to do this in therapy and in my personal and professional relationships. Whenever I have understood something for myself, not only about my childhood but also within other relationships and within the laws of nature, by the time I get home the dynamic with my children has changed. The theory is, that by understanding we leave the field clear for our children to have their own experience.

It is thought by attachment theorists that the baby or mammal attach, as they need the care of an older wiser individual to survive, the attachment system continues to function throughout our life but as parents we hopefully bond to our child. Neuroscience has been able to show that the quality of the attachment relationship changes how the brain wires together and functions. As the brain stays plastic throughout life and we have neurons in our hearts and guts we can constantly change and grow.

The qualities of a secure attachment are:

  • Emotional balance
  • Response Flexibility (i.e. when you feel like screaming you take a deep breath and respond calmly and compassionately)
  • Insight
  • Empathy – the ability to create a map inside of yourself of somebody else’s life
  • Ability to soothe yourself
  • Intuition
  • Morality
  • Regulation of the body
  • Attuned communication – a resonance process

Life is much easier if you feel securely attached.

Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist, emphasized the ongoing inborn temperament in shaping human experience, asserting that the effect of early experience, if any, is far more fleeting than is commonly assumed. In my professional life I have seen that some people are more resilient and aware of their parents foibles and mistakes than others and have not taken on the difficulties created by their relationship with their parents.

It seems to me, that our parents, rather than ‘f**k us up” as Phillip Larkin suggest in his eponymous poem, cause us harm, akin to catching a virus from which we can heal.
One of Kitty’s desires in co-founding Babiesknow was to alert parents to the influence they have on their children and the wonderful opportunity that having a child brings to heal yourself.

If you are interested in finding out whether making sense of your childhood will change how you parent, I commend Babiesknow to you. For me it has brought a heart-warming joy and happiness into our lives and a freedom to do what I do with the belief that I’m good enough.