EMDR Therapy is mostly known for helping people working through very distinct traumatic events. These events can be named, felt, and remembered distinctly. When these kinds of memories are worked on in EMDR Therapy, clients feel the trauma become resolved and feel more present in their lives. This is something that most people are familiar with working on in therapy.
But, one can look at relational wounding that can occur early on in life that can impact one for their entire life. Usually clients describe these kinds of issues as “I’ve always been this way, felt this way, etc.” These issues may be about early Attachment wounding or trauma.
Let’s look at the functions of Attachment. The function of Attachment is to provide a sense of security for the baby. The caretaker is there to help regulate the baby’s emotional states and help promote the expression of feelings and communication.
Most of the books on Attachment talk about 4 different Attachment styles.
Secure Attachment: Secure Attachment provides the ability to form relationships with boundaries and have a sense of self. The baby begins to experience the ability to assimilate the external and internal world in a congruent way. A baby seeks proximity to the caregiver and goes to the caregiver at times of distress for comforting as a source of safety. The baby has an internal sense of wellbeing that enables them to go out into the world to explore and make new connections with others.
Secure Attachment is developed through relationship with a primary caregiver who is consistent, attuned, congruent, “good enough.”
It’s important for the caregiver to be able to manage their own emotional states so that the baby feels that through repeated cause and effect experiences that the baby knows: “I know that you will come if I call”, “I know that if I need you my needs will get met”, “If I am hungry you will feed me”. These are all examples of a consistent caregiver.
When the caregiver is attuned with the baby, the caregiver identifies with the feelings of the baby and relates through touch, eye contact, and voice tone to provide an accurate response to the baby’s needs. When the caregiver’s emotions, behavior and words match she provides a sense of safety for the baby. The caregiver doesn’t need to be “perfect” rather be “good enough” in this process.
Insecure – Avoidant: Insecure-Avoidance Attachment is developed when a caregiver is repeatedly emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and rejecting of the child. The child adapts by avoiding closeness and emotional connection to the caregiver. The baby experiences the relationship as emotionally barren. The baby is left with the feeling of helplessness, shame, and a reduced ability to express emotions. The baby will shut down feeling emotions, will discount their own emotions or others, may try to isolate to take care of self and may also express frustration in peer relationships.
Insecure-Ambivalent: Insecure-Ambivalent Attachment is where the baby experiences the caregiver’s communication as inconsistently available, perceptive, responsive, and at times intrusive. The baby cannot depend upon the caregiver for attunement and connection. The baby develops a sense of anxiety and uncertainty about whether they can depend upon the caregivers and are not sure what to expect. The baby has a sense of insecurity and carries this forward in interactions with the larger social world. They grow up experiencing the world as unreliable and filled with uncertainty. The baby may react to others more emotionally, isolate self when it’s stressful, become overly dependent in relationship and find it hard to calm self in relationship as they grow older.
Disorganized: Disorganized Attachment develops when the attachment needs are unmet and the caregiver’s behavior is a source of disorientation or terror. The caregiver’s behavior becomes overwhelming, frightening and chaotic for the baby. The caregiver is a source of alarm and confusion. It can be very confusing to the baby because she/he is wired biologically to seek comfort from the caregiver to be soothed during stress and now the person who is supposed to be comforting is providing safety for the baby. This creates confusion for the baby. This is very common in abusive households.
As you can see, having a secure attachment is important in our development in how to regulate our emotions and learn how to be interacting healthy in relationships as adults. Having some understanding about relational trauma can help therapists can more insight into the struggles clients sometimes face. Attachment work can begin as soon as therapy begins. But looking deeper into the client’s history of attachment can help therapists use EMDR Therapy in a way that strengthens the client’s resiliency and change how they relate to other people as adults.
Therapists can learn more about working with EMDR Therapy and Attachment trauma in the EMDR Advanced Workshops, “Attachment and EMDR Therapy: Adults” taught by Barb Maiberger, MA, LPC and Arielle Schwartz, PhD.
This EMDR Advanced Workshop looks at how to be present with client’s relational wounds through the 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy.
Most people’s memories begin around age 5 – 12. So younger memories tend to be more nonverbal, more of a felt sense. Working on these younger nonverbal pieces with EMDR Therapy can be very healing and help re-pattern the attachment wounding so that more secure and satisfying attachments can form.
More specific interventions will be discussed and practiced in “Attachment And EMDR Therapy: Adults” to help therapists learn to implement new tools into their work immediately.
[ Image Source: “Baby Holding Hands Hands” by beeki via Pixabay (CreativeCommons) ]