Tag Archives: Mary Ainsworth

The Day That Einstein Feared Has Arrived

#3 in my book series; original post August 2, 2013    

brousblog3a Cat Bad DayAs I’ll show based on the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), some 50% of us have a degree of Attachment Disorder.  How can there be so little information on it available?  What about us blindsided adults who suffer this?

The federal NIMH estimates about 6% of Americans are technically “mentally ill,” and the rest of us attachment-challenged are just the “worried well.” [FN1]

I’m sure attachment work can cure not only us 50% “worried well,” but lots of the NIMH’s 6%. That’s probably in some brain science book but not for me to show. Attachment Disorder is not mental illness per se. A professor told me this week, “What you’re writing about is just sociology.”

So Widespread It’s Sociology

You said it!  It’s us “worried well” that worries me – exactly since it’s so widespread that it’s a “sociological phenomenon” like, say, surfing.  Plus, there’s the enormity of the emotional pain that so many of us “worried well” each feel, in secret, with no clue where to go for help.  So the pain gets worse and worse as we trudge on, trying to perform, without knowing there is some nasty crud accumulating over the decades around our hearts.

Attachment Theory is not new; British psychiatrist John Bowlby developed it in the 1950s. [FN2]  Bowlby’s co-worker Dr. Mary Ainsworth and her successor Dr. Mary Main studied infant attachment using the “Strange Situation” procedure during 1969-1999.  Researchers concluded that only 55% of us had “secure attachment” as infants. That means almost half of us, 45%, have trouble with committed relationships.[FN3]

Next, Dr. Main discovered enough upset babies to become concerned about the parents, so she created the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) in 1982 to study adults. Main’s initial results showed that almost half the adults were not securely attached either, corresponding to their infants to an amazing degree. [FN4]

Now take the radical changes since 1999 in how we relate, after the rise of cell phones, texting, and social networking.  There’s nothing social about it.

“Well-developed human beings can self-regulate their emotional state by being with other humans,” says neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges.  “But what about people who regulate their emotional state with objects?…We’re in a world now being literally pushed on us, by people who are challenged in their own social and emotional regulation, and we’re calling this ‘social networking.’ We’re using computers, we’re texting — we’re stripping the human interaction from all interactions… We’re allowing the world to be organized upon the principles of individuals who have difficulty regulating emotionally in the presence of other human beings.” [FN5]

I’ve interviewed a number of specialists who have seen a large volume of patients in almost 20 years’ clinical experience since 1996, who believe that with people spending so much more time on electronic devices, rather than face to face, we’re lucky if we’ve got 40% who are well-attached these days.

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction,” warned Albert Einstein.  That day is now.

brousblog3c Day Einstein Feared

Whether it’s 55%, 50%, or 40% of Americans who are securely attached – it leaves  roughly the other half of us in some degree of attachment disorder.  With a 50% divorce rate, and all that’s happened to destroy attachment since 1999, 50% seems a good talking point.  Believe me, I don’t want it to be so high. I’d like to remarry – and the idea of having to ditch 50% of the frogs is annoying.

Which 50% are you in?

Don’t think, focus only on your physical sensations as you read this list:

• Unusual birth stress for mother and/or infant
• Exposure to extreme heat or cold, especially in children and babies
• Childhood surgery or other major illness terrifying to a child
• Childhood neglect, left alone for prolonged periods, abandonment
• Childhood emotional, physical, or sexual threats or abuse
• Sudden loud noises now or at any time

If you’re in my 50%, you may feel discomfort or constriction in the chest, gut or elsewhere, however minor.  This can be the re-activation of stress experienced in some childhood event which never made it to our conscious memory banks.  Not everyone grows agitated reading this list.

“It’s very important to understand that nervousness, anxiousness, or almost any response you might have, has to do with the activation of the energy you experienced during the original overwhelming event,” writes trauma expert Dr. Peter Levine. “When you are threatened, your body instinctively generates a lot of energy to help you defend yourself… the unused energy aroused when you are threatened can get frozen into your body and cause problems and symptoms years later.” [FN6]

Wondering why your therapist, or your several failed therapists (I had three duds) haven’t helped? You may not be the problem. Attachment Theory, which shows how Attachment Disorder works, was hardly taught during college training until after 2000. A new Norton Textbook Series is just being published. [FN7]  Many therapists today don’t diagnose attachment disorder well or are at sea how to treat it.

Why don’t all professionals use the AAI? What are they thinking?  No wonder three psychiatrists-turned-neuroscientists felt compelled to publish “A General Theory of Love” in 2000, a book about attachment which also warns that their profession is failing America. [FN8]


This is from the Forward of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.  Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


FN1  “Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness (Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE, “Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R),” Archives of Gen. Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6):617-27)” From “The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America,” www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

FN2  Bowlby, John, “The Nature of a Child’s Tie to His Mother,” British Psychoanalytical Society, London, 1958; “Attachment and Loss,” New York, Basic Books, 1969
Ainsworth, Mary D.S., Blehar, M.C., et al, “Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the  Strange Situation,” Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1978

FN3  Benoit, Diane, MD, FRCPC, “Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome,” Paediatr Child Health, Oct 2004; 9(8) p. 541–545 at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724160/ “Infants with secure attachment greet and/or approach the caregiver and may maintain contact but are able to return to play, which occurs in 55% of the general population... Infants with insecure-avoidant attachment fail to greet and/or approach… avoiding the caregiver, which occurs in 23% of the general population. Infants with insecure-resistant [ambivalent] attachment are extremely distressed by separations and cannot be soothed at reunions… in 8% of the general population.” Benoit reports that “in normal, middle class families, about 15% of infants develop disorganized attachment.” Her first three categories add to 86%, leaving 14% in the disorganized category.
van IJzendoorn MH, Schuengel C, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, “Disorganized attachment in early childhood: Meta-analysis of precursors, concomitants and sequelae,” Dev Psychopathol. 1999;11:225–49.  https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/1530/168_212.pdf?sequence=1 “During the past 10 years nearly 80 studies on disorganized attachment involving more than 6,000 infant-parent dyads…In normal middle class families about 15% of the infants develop disorganized attachment behavior.

FN4  Main, Mary,  2000, “The Adult Attachment Interview: Fear, attention, safety and discourse processes;” also titled “The Organized Categories of Infant, Child, and Adult Attachment: Flexible vs. Inflexible Attention Under Attachment-Related Stress,” Jour of Amer Psychoanalytic Assoc, 48:1055-1095; 2000.  *p.1091: “The same average parent-to-child, secure/insecure match of 75% holds even when the interview is conducted before birth of the first child…” Lifespanlearn.org/documents/Main.pdf
Hesse, E., (2008) “The Adult Attachment Interview: Protocol, Method of Analysis, and Empirical Studies,” Chap. 25 of Cassidy, Jude &  Shaver, Phillip R. (Eds), “Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications,” 2nd edition, 2008, p. 552-598, New York, Guilford Press, retrieved August 2014 from http://icpla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Hesse-E.-Adult-Attachment-Int-Protocol-Method-ch.-25.pdf

FN5  Porges, Stephen, PhD:  — Social Networking: page 15 of “Polyvagal Theory,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) webinar, April 2012; retrieved July 21, 2014 from: http://www.stephenporges.com/images/NICABM%20April%202012.pdf
— Overview of his work, 2013: “Body, Brain, Behavior: How Polyvagal Theory Expands Our Healing Paradigm,”  NICABM Webinar, http://stephenporges.com/images/NICABM%202013.pdf
— On Trauma, 2013: “Beyond the Brain: How the Vagal System Holds the Secret to Treating Trauma,” http://stephenporges.com/images/nicabm2.pdf
—  Academic background, 2001: “The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system,” International Journal of Psychophysiology 42 Ž, 2001, 123 146, Department of Psychiatry, Uni ersity of Illinois at Chicago, http://www.wisebrain.org/Polyvagal_Theory.pdf

FN6  Levine, Peter A., PhD, op.cit “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN7  Norton Textbook Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology, featuring:
Siegel, Daniel J., MD et. al, “The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice,” November 2009; 368 pages
Schore, Allan N., “Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self,” Norton textbook May 2003;  first edition 1994; 432 pages

FN8   Lewis, Thomas MD; Amini, Fari MD; Lannon, Richard MD;A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. See: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

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