Having had a quite wonderful and lovely conversation/interview concerning attachment theory last evening the topic is fresh in my head and wanting to spill out. Additionally, recent interactions have indicated yet again the profound effect relationships have on our ability to reason, perceive the actions of others and have a profoundly central place in the creation of our self-narratives. Thus, I find myself reflecting on a topic that I’ve touched on before and will undoubtedly do so again in the future, one that so many including myself have an intuitive sense of the rightness of our understanding and yet research continues to indicate we are anything but accurate in that intuitive grasping. The issue is relationships, or more precisely attachments, and we are not the autonomous agents we often so desperately think we are.
In describing attachment I often start with a thought experiment. I ask the person or group to attempt for a moment to think about themselves without any relation at all to another thing or person or experience. Honest reflection will immediately indicate how impossible this is and thus is established at face value two things: one, the mind/brain loves making connections to everything and two, our notion of self is inextricably tied to the totality of our connections to everything/one. In the book “Attached,” by Levine and Heller, the focus of attachment is on romantic connections, stating:
“Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities. The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”
The last sentence is quite often met with protests and declarations of “but I’m my own person!” Reality, however, has it’s own structure and while we often believe ourselves participants in it as if set down from on high, we are actually reflections of it, instantiated within the natural fabric not apart from it. We punch a wall and exclaim that it hurts, with science telling us the deeper reality that the wall essentially hits us with as much force as expended upon it. We talk about the “face” or “front” of a tree or rock often forgetting there’s no such thing, it is rather the projection of our own perspective needing to make sense from the biological locus of our own existence. Further examples abound, but the point remains that while our perception of experience is indeed quite powerful and nearly synonymous with our awareness, it can serve to be as much of a deception as an illuminater of our lives.
From the moment of birth and our first cry of frustration from being removed from the security and safety of the womb, we reach and root around to establish connections and therefore help define our experience. What at first begins as base biological impulse evolves and grows into the central focus in human life, the variably intimate dyads that take up so much of our energy and time. This dependency, this inevitable and necessary foundational component to human existence is more than a need however, it is the very means of our interaction in the world. When we are not consciously, and when we are, relating to objects and/or people our minds are constantly re-casting the experiences in our lives (what we call memory) into every more complex narratives that take into account the present. We do not think except in relational attachments, we do not make decisions except within the parameters set up and instantiated within them. Our perspectives/opinions are not shaped within some closeted space in our minds, ready to leap out and lay a grid down to objectively define our experiences; rather, they are created within the dynamic reciprocal process of the flow of information and energy which provides the warp and weft of our life tapestry.
Where responsibility in communication and behavior resides in this framework is for the next entry, the focus now is in learning to consciously dwell within a reality that is less created by us and more an outgrowth of the interpersonal interconnections of existence. This is not a loss of freedom, if for no other reason than the libertarian notion of our existence was never true to begin with. Rather, it is the acknowledgment of a paradigm for real choice, bound in the imaginative conscious potential that is within us all. We are not free-floating entities case adrift and unconnected, we are fully and always inter-relating with the entirety of our experiences, both conscious and unconscious. “Our minds are filled with information – with symbolic meanings emerging from energy flow patterns that stand for many associated things.” (Siegel, “Pocketbook of Interpersonal Neurobiology) There is no room for feelings of superiority because there is no room for notions of unrelated specialness. Within infinite potential, what one knows another is fully capable of knowing, what one does another is fully capable of doing, what is focused on in life will reflect within our relationships.
The path of differentiation is one of continued pain and anxiety, it is rather in the process of integration that we make a functional and healthy whole. We are in this together, period.
© David Teachout