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Attachment and Authenticity

You know the saying to listen to your gut instinct? As survivors with dissociative disorders we had to disconnect from our gut instinct, our body, and emotions to survive childhood trauma. Going from disconnection with ourselves to living authentically is a challenge!

A child’s drive for attachment is the need to be close to someone to be taken care of. An infant is born in touch with their bodies and emotions and will cry for survival. They feel the hunger in their gut and cry as a signal to be fed. They have a wet or soiled diaper and they cry in discomfort to be changed and in response to being too hot or cold in hopes to get their needs met. Crying when they feel physical pain like getting a shot at the doctor's office signals to the mother to pick them up for comfort.

When a child goes through abuse, neglect or is abandoned, the essence of trauma that causes the most pain that is carried into adulthood is from two things:

1. The conflict there is in disconnecting from our authentic self and not being able to live authentically. (disconnect from body, emotions, and gut instinct)

2. The belief that we have about ourselves as a result of the trauma, neglect, or abandonment.

The pain is not just what happened to you as much as what happened inside of you as a result of what happened to you. The pain is twofold; a result of disconnecting from the authentic self in exchange for attachment (survival instinct) and what the child comes to belief about themselves. For example: A child that is told they are not wanted or has been abandoned may have the belief inside that says, “I’m not loveable”.

Let’s look at an illustration of a child who loses his sense of self and the connection to his emotions because he can’t lose attachment or relationship with his mother.

Jimmy is a 3 yr old boy who is angry and crying. He just got back home from going to the grocery store with his mother. He is tired, hungry, feeling the need for comfort. His mom has not had the time or energy to meet any of his needs. He is acting out with behavior that is intolerable to the parent because of what his actions trigger in her. She yells at him and has his older sister put him in another room for time out. Jimmy learns that anger is not ok, that to please his mom AND to maintain an attachment to her he has to suppress his anger. He becomes conditioned to suppress his emotions or he will lose relationship with mom. He disconnects from his gut that tells him he is hungry, tired, and needing comfort. Like Jimmy, children can start to become the parent’s emotional caregiver because they want to be loved. In taking care of the parent's emotions a child gives up their own emotions and needs which sets up an unhealthy attachment style. Children will pick attachment every time and disconnect more and more from their authentic self.

Now the God created survival instinct that was placed in them as an infant has a conditioned brain memory that says, "Do not pay attention to emotions or gut instincts any longer". The trauma brain suppresses the memories of the abuse and represses the emotions along with a disconnect from the body and gut instinct.

What is the solution for the parents who have had trauma that gets triggered by their children who get angry or are going through acting out behaviors?

Parents need to check in with themselves to identify their own feelings and what their child’s actions are triggering in them. They may need to take some deep breaths, get calmed down and then and only then can they respond to their child with a loving response and help the child to process their emotions instead of reacting from a place of fear. But that’s not always possible. We’re human and we mess up. Apologize as soon as possible, say you were wrong to yell. Give them a hug and tell them how much you love them, letting them know that mom was tired and frustrated too. Encourage your child to express their anger and identify their feelings every chance you get.

A child tries to make sense out of what happens to them during trauma. They will inaccurately reason that they are responsible for the adult’s behavior or that they are bad which is what led them to being abused. The residual feelings of guilt and shame, self blame, insecurity, and unworthiness are themes that follow them into adulthood.

The belief that gets embedded in the brain as emotional memory like “you’re not lovable” was needed to survive at the time will then get activated later in life by something that tells the nervous system there's danger and sets off emotional baggage.

The most common underlying emotions that get activated are shame and guilt.

The difference between the two is that guilt is a normal response to doing something bad with the focus on behavior and can be a positive drive for us to change our behavior. Shame on the other hand has a focus on self not the behavior. Shame says “I am bad” and is the result of feeling flawed. The person ends up feeling unworthy of love, connection or belonging. This childhood coping mechanism can become negative in adulthood by becoming a psychological problem such as depression which can be caused by repression of anger. The wounded emotions are pressed down.

We stay in relationships that aren’t good for us for the sake of attachment. We don’t believe that we have value or that we're loveable.

We get out of touch with ourselves to the point that our brain associates being ourselves with the threat and possibility that if we do bare it all we will be rejected and lose attachment.

So we continue to live from a fake facade (living inauthentically sounds better) letting others make decisions about what we want or what is best for us just to keep attachment. We try to be nice to everyone and become people pleasers all the while losing ourselves and feeling even more disconnected from ourselves. We end up feeling alone even when we are with other people.

We have a hard time making decisions because we are not connected to our gut that could tell us what we want, need, and desire and feel. We may go from one relationship to another because we fear every person as a possible "rejector" who will abandon us unless we do everything according to what they want. Deep down we are cut off from our "wanter" and we may even stay in an abusive relationship because our gut instincts are no longer telling us to stick up for ourselves and the underlying belief that we are not loveable says to stay because "you don’t deserve anything better anyway." This causes lack of boundaries, feeling violated or used by others, lack of self compassion, judging ourselves harshly, self hatred and difficulty with allowing ourselves to accept or care for ourselves because of the unworthiness we feel.

If we continue to give up connection with ourselves for the sake of attachment and never risk losing attachment with the people in our lives, we will do this for the rest of our lives.

As a child it was detrimental and our survival brain made the choice for us to attach to others who harmed us only to lose ourself.

As an adult we have to learn to be ok with knowing and experiencing that we will lose some of our attachments with some people by choosing to live from our authentic self.

Being in touch with our bodies and emotions is essential for recovery.

Whether you have an inner child or more identities, acknowledge the wounds that you carry by admitting that you have been abused. Imagine yourself as that child (look at pictures of yourself as a child) and reconnect with her or him or them. Through your adult eyes you can start to see yourself through that lens of acceptance, love, care and protection that you missed out on and come to terms with the injustice of what was done to you. The trauma in your past was not ok.

Reconnecting with our feelings can be an overwhelming prospect.

We may not like feeling the negative emotions but to open ourselves up to the pain means that we will feel joy, love, and happiness more fully. Relearning to have our emotions takes time. Be patient with yourself and know that it is possible to reconnect to all of your emotions. You can listen to the part of you that is scared, sad, angry, lonely and tell yourselves “It’s ok to feel our feelings” “we are safe now", "we are loved", "it’s not our fault”, “I’m here”, "we are ok", and “I can protect you

We can identify and learn to express our emotions. I recommend the emotion wheel. It is more than ok to feel our emotions. It is necessary to have and feel our emotions. Emotions are the body’s way of keeping us from danger and driving us to act. We need to pay attention to them. Fear tells us we need to escape or hide when something is unsafe.Anger communicates to us that an injustice has been done and requires protection. Sadness says that we have had a loss of something or someone important to us and gets us to seek social connection to feel good again.

What you need matters. You matter and your needs are important. You can connect with your gut instincts again and tune into your physical body without just being logical and reasoning through life. Find other supportive people, begin to speak up and be vulnerable with others, say what’s on your mind, share your feelings, and realize that there will be some fear in moving towards wholeness because you have been conditioned from a tiny child to not live from your own sense of who you are. By confronting the fear you can recognize and understand yourself. The biggest stress has been from trying to be who you aren’t and is actually harder than being who you are.

Have compassionate curiosity towards yourself as you connect and learn that you already are good enough. Be gentle with yourself for being this way in the first place instead of having self judgment or self criticism. It is not a fault or failure that your marvelous brain did what God intended for your mind to do to survive back then. You can only go forward from now. Today you can start being your authentic self and choose the people you want to be with and those you don’t.

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