THE EMOTIONAL "BOTTOM-UP" REVOLUTION
Attachment Theory, “Affect Narratives”
and Neurobiological Influences on Slavery
Annmarie Early received her Master of Science and Ph.D. in Marital and Family Therapy and Master of Arts in Christian Leadership from Fuller Graduate School/Seminary. She is licensed as a Marriage and Family therapist in California and Virginia and is in private practice in Harrisonburg offering individual and couple counseling. Her academic scholarship and clinical practice are informed by affective neuroscience and attachment theory, as well as the importance of embodied, experiential practices in creating change. Annmarie has specialized training in depth psychologies and works with dreams, myth and story in her personal and professional life as a way of listening deeply to the song of the soul. Annmarie is a certified Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) Trainer and Supervisor and continues to offer training, enrichment and supervision from this perspective. Prior to accepting a faculty position at EMU, Annmarie served as Assistant Adjunct professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Graduate School.
Part 1: Attachment Theory and the Emotional "Bottom-Up" Revolution
Yago: Annmarie, welcome to this blog that aims at deconstructing the energies of enslavement that keeps us behaving inhumanly. The remedies of compassion, forgiveness and embracing the “giant wound,” are crucial but we are in need of the dynamic nature of science that is allowing us to use new biological discoveries to develop successful remedies in our task to deconstruct the energies of enslavement.
In this blog we ask ourselves, why a person is able to act with such atrocity? What are the psychological implications in relationships of enslavement? What is the role of our emotional life in the middle of enslavement? How can we understand the way of recovery from total disruption to bonding and belonging?
And this applies to this interview that inevitably will be a bit technical. Very often we are tempted to give easy answers without attempting first to understand the complexity of the situation. Often we are taking decisions and judging people with a lot of ignorance from our part. In order to understand the dynamics of enslavement it becomes crucial to know how our body behaves (especially our emotional brain) in situations of conflict and violence. You are invited to share with us the emerging insights from attachment theory, neurobiology, and “affect narratives” as we keep on naming the energies of enslavement that subconsciously keeps shaping so much of our social and personal identities.
|Antonio Damasio at TED Conference
Annmarie, you wrote recently an article with your husband on the Quarterly Magazine of the Association for Conflict Resolution, titled “Neuroscience of Emotion: Attachment Theory and the Practice of Conflict Resolution.” In the conclusion of your article you propose that the findings of neuroscience underscore the fact that the emotion revolution is here (Antonio Damasio). Emotion is where we live, and we stay alive navigating the world by paying attention to safety and danger. This has direct implications for how we understand ourselves and how we understand change. Making contact with emotion theory is crucial for developing models that move conflict theory (slavery) beyond cognitive calculation of interest.
Annmarie: Yes, although we might like to believe that we can think our way out of conflict, the power of the implicit and our wired in sense of safety or danger is critical in understanding both the origins and the potential solutions to conflict. I believe that we must begin to value these wired in signallers in ourselves and in others. These processes are much more immediate than our “thinking” brains. We make evaluations from this place and our actions and reactions are in movement before we have any conscious awareness or language understanding of what is happening. We must attend to these energies and understand both their origins and movement to tackle a complex web like conflict.
Yago: You say in your article “Neuroscience of Emotion” that our understanding of what it means to be human is undergoing rapid change. We are learning that humans (and mammals in general) use emotion to navigate the world by filtering for safety and danger. We feel in order to survive and to thrive; it is our first and most basic intelligence. But rarely we pay attention to it. Why?
Annmarie: Well, I think we like to believe we are in control of both our thoughts and behaviours. It is a challenge to our very conceptions of self that something much more basic - more primitive - is in control. Our very sense of self has been understood more as a disembodied mind than a ‘body-mind’ that works from the bottom-up. We have to listen in a new way - tune in to new music - in order to value these inner rhythms that have powerful communications both for harm and for healing.
Yago: In a previous interview in this blog John Paul Lederach shares his open commitment to explore the below and beyond in situation of conflict. He says that “the below refers to something that goes deeper and penetrates under the surface of the technical layer. Rather consistently I have found that when you have a real connection with people, when you get to the below, you touch something deeply connected to, or reconnected with a basic and shared sense of humanity. Simultaneously I experience this as connected to something transcendent. Finally he says that, "the below and the beyond holds a paradoxical quality: those things that are the most transcendent are also those things that reconnect us with being human. It is about the quality of presence.” Lederach’s words go in the same line of your proposal of the importance to focus into the “emotion revolution” (Antonio Damasio) and the “affect narratives.” You argue in your article “Neuroscience of Emotion” that, "emotion research, and the theoretical reflection that makes sense of it, can aid practitioners in their work with those who experience conflict by paying attention to underlying “affect narratives”(…) moving conflict to resolution through choreographed vulnerable encounter of listening and responding." How does paying attention to affect narratives help the peacebuilder practitioner and the pastor? Could you explain to us how did you reach that conclusion?
Yago: Diarmiud O’Murchu talks of anthropocentrism as one of the fundamental causes of the energy of enslavement that keeps tied humanity. For me, it is at the foundation of any other traumatic experience that we can experience. The fact that we have separated ourselves from the natural and animal world has provoked in us a profound alienation with our real identity. What can you say on this?
Annmarie: There are very basic ways that we are separated- separated from self, others, and our surroundings. Again, using music as a metaphor- we’ve lost the melody for rich living. No longer do we listen for guidance emerging from the synchrony of our surroundings. When the drive for power and control pervade- for reasons both internal and external- we forget like one in a deep slumber- why we are here.
Annmarie: In her book, Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver shares the story of a family in Iran who after returning from the fields after a days work, find that their young toddler daughter has wandered off. They search for her to no avail and after days- having given up all hope- find her in a cave in the hills curled at the belly of a mother bear suckling milk. Held in this cross species communication of survival- some how a mother bear knows no boundaries of other and keeps this young child alive with her own milk. One wonders how a bear knows to care- to be more human- than we do.
Yago: Annmarie let us move now to the “low road” of our emotional undercurrent life. From behaviour to cognition to affective embodied. You said in your introduction to the “Attachment Theory” conference at EMU that “throughout the universe but most evident in living organisms it is becoming clearer that we are who we are because of the history and current state of our dynamic connections. Attachment theory broadly understood gets to the heart of the struggle to be alive, it identifies the dynamics of connected relationships, and helps us to understand why we feel what we feel, and why we do what we do, not only this has tremendous explanatory power, it also has the further advantage of being true.” I believe that this summarizes in a nutshell what is about attachment theory. Could you tell us more about its background and how has become to be so widely accepted and recognized in the scientific world beyond the psychological, evolutionary and ethological fields? What makes it different from other psychological theories? Why is becoming so fundamental in our understanding of relational dynamics?
When, on the other hand, we don’t have access to our “other” and we lack the internalized working models of safety and security, our danger system is activated and the entire landscape of the world shifts. Attachment theory speaks directly to what it means to be human and the consequences of insecurity on every aspect of our lived experience- including conflict.
Yago: You argue that the basic tenet of attachment theory apply across context, it is a universal theory. Attachment theory is not only at the individual and familial levels but also at the communal and society levels. Could you expand on this?
Annmarie: The same dynamics that are active between caregiver and child extend throughout the lifespan and across contexts. We know from the research of Ed Tronick (see the still face experience) that secure attachment is built on the daily rhythm of rupture and repair between a mother and child. The micro misattunements of being human are the building blocks of security. When the rhythm of rupture and repair is absent insecurity is built. Those same dynamics of security and attunement occur across contexts. We bring our history with us and this colors - either positively or negatively- our current interactions and circumstances.
Yago: Research by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s reinforced the basic concepts of attachment theory, and introduced the strange situation that led to a categorization of attachment security and insecurity of attachment patterns in infants: secure attachment, three forms of insecure attachment-dismissive, avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. A separate category, disorganized attachment, was identified later. Could you help us to understand all these concepts and how they shed light to a better understanding of the childhood of a person involved in criminal behaviour? What do we mean by “lack of secure base”?
Annmarie: The attachment classifications are based on view of ‘self’- am I lovable and worthy and ‘other’ can I trust you and depend on you. Someone who is secure has a positive view of self and others. This secure sense of self allows for an internalized sense of safety that frees them for exploration and growth. When one- due to early experiences with a caregiver or current insecure attachments- either has a negative view of self and positive view of other (ambivalent attachment) or a negative view of other/positive view of self (dismissive) or negative view of self and other (fearful-avoidant). The patterns (and it is important to see them not as static categories, but rather dynamic co-created patterns. One can have an attachment style with one caregiver that is different from another caregiver) are most evident and extreme during times of stress.
Yago: The “distress cycle” in children. Could you explain what does it mean and how affects children and in their future life as adults?
Annmarie: As mentioned above, this pattern of distress is a wired in mechanism that attempts to evoke reunification with the caregiver. This pattern, whether with a child separated from their caregiver or when we as adults are separated from our attachment figures, we protest- demand to be reunified, cling and seek- attempt to find and hold on to what we have- begin to shut down in despair and depression when our attempts fail- and eventually we shut down- or turn off our attachment longings and desires. This most basic system when it is severed, disconnects us from our basic human- in-wired connection with other humans.
Yago: Mary Ainsworth devised a procedure, called “The Strange Situation” to observe attachment relationships between a caregiver and child. Could you tell us more about this procedure and what insights can give us towards relationships of enslavement?
Annmarie: Mary Ainsworth worked with John Bowlby and sought to actively measure attachment security and insecurity with this assessment device. In this protocol, a child is brought into the lab with their caregiver. Observers are behind a one- way mirror watching the behaviour of the child in response to the parents presence in the room while trying to engage, when they leave, and their response when they return. It is from these behaviours that the above attachment classifications were developed. The secure child is distressed but easily comforted when the parent returns for they can trust that the mother will be there- as she always has been. The children who are more insecurely attached either look- in the case of the ambivalently attached child- distressed and dysregulated at the return of the caretaker and the caretaker demonstrates misattunement and an inability to comfort the child. They are most attuned to the anxiety. The more avoidant children act as if they aren’t affected by either the absence or return of the caretaker. What is interesting, however, is that when electrodes are placed on the child they are alight in fight, flight and freeze. They have just learned to hide their experiences of distress.
We all come from early childhood contexts that impact our current functioning. The patterns mentioned above influence our capacity to be in relationship. These patterns- based on our view of self and other- make us susceptible to either high anxiety or to adopting a system of disengagagement and avoidance. These patterns become the implicit working models that guide our overt behaviour including our capacity for relationship and other forms of human engagement. They also impact our body functioning, decreasing our physical and emotional health.
Yago: Now let us enter into the process of moving from disengagement to re-engagement. How does one move from being insecurely attached to becoming more securely attached?
Annmarie: Security is based on the sense of our others “being there” for us when we need them. When the answer to the question “Will you be there for me when I really need you?” is yes we feel safe and secure. When the answer to this question is no it leads to insecurity and the patterns of distress are activated. Dan Siegel (The Developing Mind) has coined the term “earned security” meaning that we have the capacity to change our attachment patterns by changing our internal working models and getting into relationships that foster security. We can change our very neurochemistry and bodied sense of self by attending to our attachment patterns. This is a hopeful message- we are able to change throughout the lifespan and that has implications for all forms of human engagement.
Yago: If we don’t hit what is the basic issue it creates a process that makes things worse in the conflict. It is like attachment theory helps us to see clearly what is actually happening in conflictual and enslavement situations, like in the case of slavery. We are called to provide interventions that go to the heart of the matter. Could you elaborate on this?
Annmarie: Yes, these patterns are helpful for narrowing our field of vision and seeing with greater clarity the aspects of relational engagement that are most powerful and persuasive. When we use this lens to address issues of conflict- it allows us to more accurately pinpoint key moments of bonding- that override entrenched patterns of disconnection- and moments of injury- named by Dr. Sue Johnson (Hold Me Tight) as attachment injuries- moments in time that create injury (either a symbolic marker or an actual event) and activate the distress cycles. Knowing how to identify these critical moments of rupture can aid in attempts to repair.
Yago: What do we mean by attachment disorder? What about Reactive Attachment Disorder? Creating strategies to survive. How does it apply to slave holders or people acting in a criminal way?
Annmarie: Reactive Attachment Disorder is not an insecure form of attachment, but rather the absence of attachment that creates extreme patterns of behaviour do to the absence of any attachment figure. Children who have suffered circumstances that leave them without any caretaker provide a context for extreme distress, dysregulation, potential lack of empathy for how their behaviour impacts others, and dangerous behaviours. When we leave children without a caretaker during those formative years, it has implications not only for that child but for society. We are creating humans who lack the building blocks of healthy attachment and the costs to society for this failure of parenting and attunement gets paid back to our communities at a very high cost. It would be in our collective best interest to make sure that every child has at least one consistent person in their life for the first three years.
Yago: What is the role of boundaries in attachment theory. How a person with an “unsecure base” behaves related to boundaries?
Annmarie: I like to say that boundaries provide safety. We need to know where our others are and be able to push into something solid in order to know who we are- to learn our own boundaries. The difficulty comes when we attempt to help people differentiate- or have good boundaries -before they are securely attached. The consequence of doing that is to activate the fight, flight, and freeze system because being alone can feel dangerous.
Yago: What do we understand by the terms “separation response” and “affectionless character”? How do they relate to the person who perpetrates violence?
Annmarie: When the attachment system has been shut down or was never able to develop due to early childhood circumstance and deprivation, a survival strategy to combat utter aloneness is to shut down. This, simply stated, for it is much more complex, creates the lack of human empathic responding. We can harm what we have no feeling towards.
Yago: You say that our attachment style is based in our working models. Schemas, internal mental pictures. Based in our thought, cognitions, beliefs, emotions, our whole inner world system. Our working models are based on our relationships with our caretakers and influences fundamentally the way we view ourselves and others. Could you expand on this? What do we understand by working models? How that perpetuates in adulthood? How this affects relationships? How can you describe the working model of a slave holder, or a dictator?
Annmarie: Whatever the internal constellation - the picture of our experiences of self and other - influences how we engage the world. Our internal working models are simply the internalized pictures of our outer experiences of attunement with our caretakers. We take those experiences into ourselves in a deeply embodied way and those experiences then influence how we engage with the self and others. One who asserts power over another or perpetrates violence is doing so both based on their early developmental experiences and based on their current context. Our actions come from context and implicit experience - many times out of conscious awareness unless we spend time reflecting on it - and cycles and patterns of behaviour are perpetuated.
Yago: Although a traumatized person may not explicitly remember the traumatic event, the memory is held in the body. In this regard neuroscientists have identified two different types of memory: explicit and implicit. Explicit memory is not developed until 18 months. However, the implicit memory system is available from birth (even before birth). Many of our emotional memories are laid down before we have words or explicit recall, yet they influence our lives without our awareness. How does implicit memory relate to internal working models? What is the role of the subconscious in conflict situation, in situations of slavery? What are we doing to effectively deconstruct all that? Why is so difficult to break the cycle of violence?
Annmarie: Those are some difficult questions. I’m not sure I can effectively answer them all, but I would say that our inner working models are constructed from all of the explicit, languaged experiences that are accessible to conscious awareness as well as the implicit lived experience of the self being a body in the world. The implicit comes from the fringes of conscious awareness- the immediate knowing of the body-mind and though powerful may never have language or explicit understanding placed on them. So, many actions and reactions come not from the thought out place of choice, but rather the automatic appraisal place of instinct and intuition. We are acting and reacting before we know what we have done. We have to look no further than our last fight with a significant other to know how alive this place is within all of us.
Annmarie: We are a history embedded in a context that impacts moment -by -moment choice. If we think we know who we are and we avoid the stranger within we miss the alive presence of our wisest self. Learning to pay attention to the richness of the self in body opens greater self and other awareness.
Yago: As peacebuilders we are called to accompany the demanding people caught in energies of enslavement. You say that people do things for a reason. What can you say on that?
Annmarie: All behaviour makes sense in context. If we take the time to attune deeply to the person and the story of the “other” we can hear past our assumptions and expectations. We hear through our own story- often missing the meaning underneath the surface- clouded by interpretative scripts. Listening through the implicit- understanding the power of attachment dynamics- and being open to hearing differently the reasons for choices made opens up new realms for encounter. And, encounter creates change. When we truly encounter the humanity of another casting off scripts and listening deeply the natural process of bonding is creating. Bonding is a wired in process that takes the stranger or enemy and makes them friend. It is in these moments that friends are made of enemies and new possibilities are birthed.
Yago: Another domain of attachment theory is “exploration and enjoyment.” One of the most evident symptoms of people in conflict/traumatic situations is their lack of creativity and enjoyment. Pain, suffering, frustration, mechanistic and linear behaviour. Could you elucidate more on this?
Annmarie: The power of intersubjective delight releases us for engagement. When we are secure in our connections with others and/or hold within us the inner knowledge of our relatedness to others- that we are held in the heart and mind of another (Siegel)- we are free to explore and play. We need to become the dyadic presence of play in the face of trauma- meeting people where they are at- always accurately attuning, but holding space lightly with delight and play.
Diana Fosha the originator of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) coined the term transformance and names the experience of intersubjective delight being key for transformation. As people face trauma and release the bound up energy of fear and pain, they not only heal but become more than they were before. This is the space of transformation. Sometimes we need to hold- in heart and mind- these possibilities for others- like one with the map of the territory ahead- pointing the way to this new land.
Yago: Attachment is very much about regulation capacity. There is a new movement in attachment theory towards regulating stress. Stress is one of the core symptoms of energies of enslavement. Schore, in Modern Attachment Theory, says that “in line with Bowlby’s fundamental goal of the integration of psychological and biological models of human development, the current interest in affective bodily-based processes, interactive regulation, early experience, dependent brain maturation, stress, and non-conscious relational transactions has shifted attachment theory to a regulation theory.” Could you expand on this?
Annmarie: Well, Allan Schore says it best- attachment theory is a theory of emotion regulation. Secure attachment creates the capacity for regulation freeing energy for exploration and creativity. The inability to regulate creates a myriad of problems where we use other “things”, substances, people, behaviours to help us regulate. Some of these are helpful, others are deeply destructive. Developing the capacity to regulate or dyadically regulate is crucial for overall well-being.
Link to Part 2: Attachment Theory and Neuroscience >>
Link to Part 2: Attachment Theory and Neuroscience >>