Attachment: Otherwise Known as Love
Guest Post by Tamara Blum, MSW, LCSWIn her book on case examples from her psychotherapy practice, Deborah Luepnitz (2002) paraphrases Arthur Schopenhauer’s fable on the dilemma of intimacy: A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter’s day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of co-mingling, and again begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing. (p.2) This push-pull of seeking warmth and connection and the inevitable frictions that come with closeness is found to one degree or another in all human relationships. The desire is to manage the human condition of mortality by creating a life of shared meaning with a loved one. And so in all of us there are drives for emotional and physical intimacy. All too easily a relationship can become derailed by fear. Some of the ways this fear has shown up in my practice is “Will you leave me?” “Am I more important than your work?” “Do you love me enough to fill in the blank with: control your anger? Care about the things that are important to me? Get well?” In order to understand adult love relationships, we need to start with understanding love from a child’s perspective. In a nutshell, Bowlby (1969) was the first to advocate for the emotional lives of children, that children have needs beyond the physical, needs for emotional attunement, empathy, warmth, and predictable loving responses from mothers (appropriate now to expand this to fathers as well). Bowlby termed this secure attachment- that the infant experienced the mother as a secure base and safe haven. It took psychological researchers until the mid-1980’s to begin to apply Bowlby’s work to adult love relationships. In treating adult couples, Susan Johnson (2008) refers to what Schopenhauer’s porcupines were doing as a couple’s dance. The aim is to look to a couple’s attachment histories and patterns of interactions within the relationship in order to help each person lean into the relationship, or preserve the safety of the relationship from an attachment perspective. So that when the question of, “Will you be there for me when I need you?” arises in the relationship, there is security in the answer. In addition to countering negative, destructive, reactive cycles within the relationship, Johnson (2002) highlights other goals of couples therapy, specific to trauma survivors:
- a sense of safe emotional connectedness through easier communication.
- an ability to respond to each other in a way that is cohesive, not divided, especially during intrusive symptoms such as flashbacks.
- share the impact of the trauma with each other.
- use the relationship as a source of comfort.
- be a comfort to each other when attachment needs arise.
- offer acceptance and reassurance to each other, directly countering the trauma experience. (p. 161)