Attachment and self-negating behaviours

Children need a safe base from which to find their place in the world, to bond with their parents and later on in life, to securely bond with those around them or their environment and form secure relationships. Love, intuition and in-tunement are invaluable ingredients in our understanding and interpretation of the signals a child gives. In the flow of interaction between parents and the child those aspects or the lack there off, in combination with environmental factors, can have a great impact on the development of behaviour.

We are dependent of social relationships for the development of our emotional wellbeing. The infant child as a vulnerable being, forms their sense of self, of their place in the world through interaction, through reaction and response but most of all from their needs being heard, met, confirmed and in-tuned to. The child’s brain develops through interaction and by receiving responsive input to stimuli. The parent or caregiver acts as the child’s extra stabilising self or frontal cortex which becomes the child’s regulating filter for overwhelming emotions. When this is not the case, the lack of emotional regulation that in turn causes the child’s overwhelming experiences and emotions becomes the bases for a certain unsafe attachment style to develop and when activated, the child forms internal strategies in order to cope. Those strategies create neural pathways or behavioural patterns that when later triggered by for instance a critical situation activates a self-destructive or self-negating behaviour.

In my case, I was unfortunately born into a conflicting family system. Our family dynamics consisted mainly of insecure periods of emotional instability in my parents, physical and mental abuse and a constant latent threat of unpredictable mood swings. All though both of my parents adored us sisters and were loving and cared for us in many ways, my mother in her dedicated and tender affection yet fragile state of demeanour and in my father with his good natured kindness and sociable personality yet labile and aggressive temper, the world within the microcosms they created and were part of elicited the need for coping mechanisms. Even though they were in tuned with many of our needs, they were not able to provide us with the most important, safety from their dysfunction. This does not mean one is to blame the cause of someone’s self-negating behaviour on parents but merely to see the factors that could explain and give some understanding.

How could this be further understood? To live in a constant stage of fear and flight, if the world is perceived as unsafe when the ones who provide security and nurturing can not interpret the signals of vulnerability and society confirms a world of instability, the existence for a child with sensitive predisposition can be unsettling. Consequently in order to decrease the effects of unsafeness and perception of danger the child forms a set of mechanisms for self-protection from an unbalanced inner world such as, like in my case, by making sure everyone else is ok or for instance avoiding a sense of “owning ones space”. This could be understood as, in a threatening external and internal world, there is no place for bonding, for a secure sense of self, for a safe base in which to belong to,If the child’s signals are being heard, in-tuned to, a safe sense of self can develop, an objective perception of- and belonging to the world. Seeing that those behaviours are exhibited when there is a safe sense of both inner and outer world security and that the person/parent the child builds a balanced attachment to, is what sets the premises for the possibility of not developing self negating behaviours, it could be said that this understanding might provide a more in-depth approach to treating victims with self-negating behaviours.

Perhaps I was not able to find safety in my previous treatment to form a safe base from which to trust in and begin recovering. It was not until my last treatment were attachment, secure bonding, safety, trust and stability were essential parts of my recovery progress and treatment plan. However, commonly, in many treatments of self-negating behaviours it is encouraged for the staff to reinforce the patient’s self-sufficiency, responsibility and discipline. It could be noted, with the attachment theory in mind, that establishing safe boundaries without first having worked on- and addressed the victim’s constant subconscious state of fear and anxiety through a caregiver’s ability to regulate those emotions and create safety, objectivity and most importantly become the base from which the victim can start creating their sense of self, would be similar to building a set of behavioural premises that when tested by trying circumstances or challenges collapses again and again as a solid structure. Relapsing becomes then a reoccurring pattern that only reinforces the self-destructive and negative behaviour, making it harder to form a safe attachment in treatment if a holding foundation is not in place. In other words, it could perhaps be argued that victims with self-negating behaviours need a restructuring of a “safe base” through the loving, intuitive in-tuning and emotional regulative work of a trusted caregiver from which to start forming a new attachment to in order for the victim to trust the recreation of self and belonging.

Those and many other aspects are such important dimensions to consider in the improvement and research of mental health treatment. What would you emphasise as important in treatment? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.