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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reflections on Attachment, Part I

I was both astounded and fascinated by Dr. Johnson’s presentation on the opening night of the Attachment Conference at EMU. Astounded at the scientifically-sound arguments she was making for this relatively new “Emotionally Focused Therapy”, and fascinated by all its implications. By starting out with describing and showing us a video of the Argentinian Tango, an improvised dance, Dr. Johnson prepared her audience for a talk on resonance, emotional bonding versus isolation, the cuddle hormone, sex, and love.

The primary need of all human beings is the desire to hold on to another, to “reach out and connect, to feel with and for others.” This can be seen from the earliest stages of a person’s life, as the “still-face experiment” so vividly portrayed. Not only is this “attaching” a primary need, but an indispensable one, for when a person is insecurely unattached, his body slowly shuts down and literally becomes ill. Johnson gave us the statistics: those who feel emotionally starved are three times more likely to suffer from strokes, heart attacks and become clinically depressed, among other mental and physical problems.

“Emotional isolation is the worst enemy of man,” she says. One feels panic when he’s not experiencing secure bonding, and anguish when rejected. Interestingly enough, both these “feelings” are coded in the same part of the brain that codes for physical pain! In other words, emotional isolation or starvation is more than just feelings – this lack of secure attachment transcends to the very core of our beings, sapping our bodies of energy and causing intense physical and mental anguish.

And try as we might, we cannot - and should not - escape this innate need for secure bonding – it’s wired in, a part of who we are -- “the only thing we get choose is how we deal with it.” We can choose to allow ourselves to communicate, to open up and become vulnerable, to forgive and ask for forgiveness, to come close and to receive; or we can choose to live independently of others, to be distant, uncaring, and unresponsive – but clearly, the latter route is neither fulfilling, pleasant, or healthy.

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