#3 in my book series; original post August 2, 2013
As 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.
Even if it never makes for visible mental cracks, that continuous cortisol stream over decades eats at internal body parts, causing stress-induced digestive, vascular, and other diseases well-documented by trauma experts.
Attachment Theory is not new; British psychiatrist John Bowlby developed it in the 1950s. [FN2] Bowlby’s co-worker Mary Ainsworth showed that the way an infant behaves with strangers when its mother leaves, the “Strange Situation” experiments, predicts a child’s emotional traits for life. [FN3]
In 1982, Ainsworth’s former student Mary Main created the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) to show the reverse: how securely attached adults became as kids. Main concluded that only 55% of us are actually securely attached, and Dr. Ainsworth agreed. Already a shocker as a low number. [FN4]
Now: take the radical changes since 1996 in how we relate, after the rise of cell phones, texting, the internet and social networking. There’s nothing social about it.
“Well-developed human beings can self-regulate their emotional state by being with other humans,” said top neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges recently. “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.
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 1996 — there was no internet in 1996, outside the Pentagon — 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 diagnosis 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
FN3 Ainsworth, Mary D.S., Blehar, M.C., et al, “Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation,” Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1978
FN4 PDFs by Mary Main are below. The NIH at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724160/ says under 4th subhead “Measurement” :
“The three ‘organized’ strategies (secure, avoidant and resistant) are assessed in the Strange Situation (SS) (Ainsworth , Mary DS, Blehar MD, Waters E, Wall S, “Patterns of Attachment,” Hillsdale Erlbaum, 1978), a 20-minute laboratory procedure where patterns of infant behaviour toward the caregiver following two brief separations are categorized as secure or insecure (insecure avoidant or insecure resistant). The SS can be used when infants are 12 to 20 months old. “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 (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.
“Infants with insecure-avoidant attachment fail to greet and/or approach, appear oblivious to their caregiver’s return and remain focused on toys, avoiding the caregiver, which occurs in 23% of the general population. Infants with insecure-resistant attachment [aka insecure-ambivalent-kb] are extremely distressed by separations and cannot be soothed at reunions, displaying much distress and angry resistance to interactions with the caregiver, which occurs in 8% of the general population.”
[This NIH article earlier reports that the remaining “approximately 15% suffer insecure ‘disorganized’ attachment,” i.e. virtually failed attachment, citing their own footnote which states “In normal, middle class families, about 15% of infants develop disorganized attachment.”
[Note: 23%+8%+15% = 46% not securely attached.
Articles by Mary Main on the AAI:
–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,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48:1055-1095, at http://70-40-200-36.bluehost.com/documents/Main.pdf –Main, Mary, 2005, with Hesse, Erik & Kaplan, Nancy, “Predictability of Attachment Behavior and Representational Processes at 1, 6, and 19 Years of Age – The Berkeley Longitudinal Study,” Chapter 10 of “Attachment from Infancy to Adulthood: The Major Longitudinal Studies,” edited by Klaus E. Grossmann, Karin Grossmann, and Everett Waters, pp. 245–304, New York: Guilford Press, at http://70-40-200-36.bluehost.com/documents/5.Main%20Regensburg%202005%20.pdf
FN5 Porges, Stephen, PhD: — On Social Neworking: page 15 of his April-June 2012 webinar: “Polyvagal Theory,” 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
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