An insecure attachment means there is no emotional bond between child and parent in adult life.

If a secure attachment is badly disrupted similar problems follow. This can occur, for example, if a caregiver gets depression or is sporadically unwell, or dies. The consequences of this can be serious in terms of the emotional development of the child and many of the psychological and emotional ills outlined in Appendix 1 may follow into adult life. We must understand that an insecure attachment is a serious core trauma that renders the sufferer incapable of self-soothing and hence fosters the growth of fear and its distressing companions in later life. If parents are extremely cross and if the child is so fearful that he has not a voice this may later show itself in the adult as severe anxiety, which is difficult to heal. As an adult you will always know if you have had an insecure attachment with a parent. If such is the case you will not feel an emotional bond with the parent simply because he or she did not create it in pre-puberty childhood. In my experience as a counsellor it cannot be created in adulthood unless the parent undergoes significant change through professional help. If that happens, a warm bond can then be established with the adult child, who also needs parental love.
Unfortunately, however, very few parents, who, for whatever reasons, cause childhood distress, seek to change and the bond is never created. This is one of the very sad realities of many parent adult-child relationships. What often surprises me is that I occasionally meet people who have insecure attachment to their parents and had extremely abusive childhoods, but are warm and empathic. I normally presumed that there was someone in their lives who loved them, but that is not always the case. I cannot explain this, but what is clear is that the great majority of people who have an insecure attachment suffer long term negative consequences to a greater or lesser degree. While mothers are vital to the emotional nourishment of small children and have a long term impact on the emotional life of the child, it is clear that male children gradually incline towards their fathers as role models from whom they seek approval. The importance of a father is only lately being recognised. A seriously insecure attachment of the male child to his father has disastrous consequences later on in life. The role and emotional influence of the father in relation to female children should not, however, be underestimated either.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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the foetus is conscious of what is happening outside the womb

Fear is now seen as one of the prominent emotions experienced by the foetus. Modern research also suggests that an anxious child has a larger amygdala (fear centre) than others, and while this does appear to be true of prenates, increased cortisol (stress hormone) in the mother also affects the structure and organisation of the foetal amygdala. There is some evidence, too, that a foetus at sixteen weeks can experience aggression, which is closely related to fear. Perhaps this is because it can hear at sixteen weeks. It can also cry with distress in the second half of its womb life and at an early stage the foetus experiences pain through its sensory systems, because it does not yet have the nerve pathways to soothe pain.
Perhaps the best works on prenatal life have been done by the late Dr David Chamberlain. His recent book Windows to the Womb: Revealing the Conscious Baby from Conception to Birth is fascinating. Chamberlain, who was President of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, offers credible evidence of foetal emotions and behaviour in the womb. The case studies he offers in one section of book from hypnosis should perhaps be treated with caution, because false memories can be created by hypnosis. This is not to say, however, that this is the case with the examples given by him.
The relationship between child and adult as the crucial factor in fear of abandonment begins, therefore, long before the child is born. Without realising it, the mother, as primary nurturer (in the great majority of cases), continues the process of nurturing (or the opposite) when the baby is born. Her maternal task is to make the child feel secure immediately after birth. Some books on parenting, perhaps, go too far in stressing the degree of nurturing a child needs. An over loved child may have as many problems in later life as an under loved one. It is important not to over-compensate for deficiencies in our own childhood by smothering our children (or by spoiling them).
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Memories for children in the womb are encoded in their cells

The foetus is unprotected from external negative stimuli, such as any traumatic event or experience to which the mother is exposed. When we realise that constant rowing between parents is as traumatic for a child as a serious road accident or a natural disaster for an adult, how much more traumatic and fearful is such conflict for the foetus, helpless and trapped in the womb! Frequent angry shouting is extremely disturbing for the unborn child.
It is also true that the child in the womb remembers experiences, thus reinforcing fear and probably keeping it in the subconscious for its entire life. This is known as cellular memory, where the memories are encoded in cells. Prenatal memories are very important, because they are the first memories of the child’s environment. We know, for example, that a mother with emotional distress from stressful experiences (e.g. depression) two years before birth can find it difficult to bond with the child. The foetus can experience similar problems, since a traumatic prenatal life makes bonding more difficult following the birth. It seems that it can numb, just as the child suffering parental neglect, and can develop feelings of deep mistrust. It is not difficult to imagine the impact on the child’s future emotional life, if the fear in the womb is aggravated by an unloving childhood following birth! There is every reason to believe that the foetus reacts emotionally to the mother’s use of alcohol or medication, and this reaction may be fear because it is helpless. Experiments also show that foetuses react to loud noises by emptying their bladders, a clear sign of fear. As a young child I saw children urinating in fear, as we stood by the blackboard in the small school I attended.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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A child’s empathy can be destroyed if the child is not nurtured

Anne Thurston, Associate Professor in John Hopkins University and Director of the Grassroots China Initiative, visited a Chinese orphanage in the 1990s and found the children there lying silent, withdrawn and immobile. She gives a chilling description of the orphanage and of the ‘dying’ room attached to it. The child wants to live, it is born to live and will do anything to live. Survival is a primal instinct, but the child is dependent on the adult for this survival. Further, if she receives consistent emotional support and affection she is able to love and have empathy later on in life with fundamental positive consequences for herself and for her descendants. Allan Schore points out that brain studies have shown that as early as eighteen months the human is capable of empathy for others. Empathy, therefore, is innate and embroidered on the neural circuit, but it can be obliterated if the child is not emotionally nurtured.
We always understood that the child’s first attachment-separation experience occurs at birth, when it leaves the warm comforting womb. But, is the womb always comforting and can the prenate experience fear of abandonment? Ivor Browne writes about the awareness and sensitivity of the foetus, and the psychologist Carista Luminare-Rosenin in her book, Parenting Begins Before Conception, holds that the mother can create an emotionally enriching womb environment that has a psychologically positive effect on the foetus. In other words, the mother and child already have a relationship before birth, and that bond is created early in the pregnancy. The father contributes to this by treating his partner with love and kindness and it is known that massaging the pregnant belly is very beneficial for the parents and the child. The baby is a social creature and that begins in the womb, where it seeks stimulation. There is evidence that it can establish some kind of bond with the father by recognising his voice, if the father speaks to it sufficiently often. It is one way for the father to come into contact with the foetus and is a way to bond with it, as he feels it responding and kicking in the womb.
If a negative womb environment is created, however, the foetus will be less secure and the assertion of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, that fear is generated at birth and that we experience nine months safety in the womb is untrue. One study with a sample of 2891 women came to the conclusion that there was an association between prenatal depression and emotional and behavioural problems of children in mid to late childhood. Research shows that the foetus can experience a wide range of emotions including fear. It would seem that even when its eyes are fused (up to week 24), it has extra sensory perception and there are suggestions that it can even sense if it is not wanted, and subsequently has more psychological issues later in life. These include school problems. Other evidence suggests that people who have negative experiences in the womb grow into adulthood feeling unwanted and unlovable, two of the major hallmarks of adult fear of abandonment.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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The awful fate of children in orphanages

As you can see, attachment and separation are very complex issues because the nature and the quality of the attachment (and hence separation) depends upon how parents respond on a regular basis to meet the child’s needs, and how they frequently attune themselves to the child’s emotional state in its attempts to feel secure and safe. It is about connection or disconnection, depending on the type of attachment.
The actual level of connection or disconnection has a profound effect on how our brain (neo-cortex) is wired and much research has been carried out to show that the neural pathways laid in childhood are strongly influenced by the type of attachment to our primary caregiver. In other words, the type of emotional relationship the very young child has with the primary caregiver, helps to wire its brain, and the brain structures made by the experiences and relationships in those early months dictate how we will behave and relate all our lives, and when we explore our feelings and behaviours in adult life, we must remember that these early patterns are in our subconscious. It follows that a negative environment and negative relationships at that young age lays the foundation of distress in later life.
Linda Graham gives and excellent description of attachment and the brain in her article The Neuroscience of Attachment, which you can find on the internet. As already mentioned, Allan Schore is an expert on brain formation and emotional development. He is a neurobiologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA, and uses brain scans and thousands of studies to prove the connection between brain development and attachment. His major work, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. The Neurobiology of Emotional Development, is a complex work, offering the most detailed examination and explanation of the brain in this context.
In their book, Born for Love, Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry also give a fascinating, but less detailed account, of how the brain installs the attachment in the infant’s malleable brain, bearing in mind that ninety percent of brain growth occurs prior to puberty, much of it in the earlier years. When the caregiver nurtures and comforts the child on a frequent basis three neurotransmitters (the ‘chemical messengers’ dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) are released, and over time these create the psychological bond between child and parent, bringing calmness and comfort to both. Oxytocin is particularly important in mothering. Farmers sometimes inject young heifers with it to stimulate the flow of milk for the new calf. It is noteworthy, too, that dopamine is also released when a mother’s face looks joyful and stimulates the infant. Such mirroring is essential for human emotional development.
The bond of love that grows from maternal warmth is the best and most natural antidote to fear. If, however, the parent is withdrawn or punitive these chemicals are not activated, and an emotional void exists between the child and the parent. It is an awful coldness that withers the emotional development of the child and has undesirable long-term consequences. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz put it another way in their explanation that a failure to stimulate the lower areas of the brain by affection in the early years means that the human has to use cognitive ways to make connections. In such cases people often say they are numb. Their behaviour mimics autism, but is not autism. It is nothing more that frozen feelings, one of my own sad experiences for decades. But, the repercussions can be far worse than mere numbness, because it is now known that children can waste away and die if they live in a world devoid of empathy, with little emotional nourishment.
At first sight this may be difficult to believe, until we examine the behaviour of children in some continental orphanages, where until recently the initial stress and ultimate disconnection of children was clear to see. This was often followed by early child death in these establishments, where there was no environment for secure attachment, and where, as Dr Ivor Browne states, ‘the cold heavy hand of meaningless discipline’ is frequent. John Bowlby had already noticed this when observing children in institutions from the late 1940s. Research shows that children, even as young as one year old, adopted by American couples from Romanian orphanages, suffered mental health problems years later. Romania is now rectifying this horrifying situation in different ways, but the evidence shows that no matter how comfortable an orphanage is, the consistent warmth by a particular caregiver is essential for emotional growth. If orphanage staff members are warm and kind that is helpful, but it is not enough. Studies show, for example, that children living in prison fare far better, simply because they are with their mothers.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Some of the symptoms shown by a young child separated from a parent

Psychiatrists have specific benchmarks in diagnosing the child’s anxiety when they are separated from their parents (called attachment figures in psychological terminology). When three or more of the following criteria (at the time of writing) are present (plus some other conditions) they label it as a ‘disorder’ –
1. Recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
2. Persistent and excessive worry about losing or about possible harm befalling major attachment figures.
3. Persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure (e.g. being lost or being kidnapped).
4. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go anywhere because of fear of separation.
5. Persistently and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings.
6. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home.
7. Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation.
8. Repeated complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches nausea or vomiting, when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.

If less than three of these criteria is not present, then the child may not be labelled as having a disorder, but is probably suffering from separation anxiety. According to Dr Ivor Browne the death of a parent, when the child is young, may intensify the relationship with the remaining parent and lead to separation difficulties in adult life. In many ways, life is about separation and is based upon independence, the building of good boundaries and a sense of self, (boundaries are explained in more detail in the final chapter of this book). Proper separation brings self-esteem (feeling good enough), the capacity to self-soothe and a sense of meaning in your life. The opposite of separation is over involvement, possible enmeshment, feeling overwhelmed, fear and anger.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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The concept of separation is closely related to attachment

While numbing or repression as an automatic defence mechanism is necessary for the child’s emotional survival, it is counterproductive in adulthood rendering the adult unamenable to healthy emotional contact. Many relationships have foundered on the rock of this ‘coldness’. It is very understandable that an adult may wish to avoid breaking that shell and experiencing the pain that was frozen so long ago. But unless that pain is experienced some adults will not only suffer from fear and inner turmoil, but may also become controlling and the controlling personality is driven not so much by anger, but by fear of abandonment and the shame that accompanies it. This is clearly argued in Donald Dutton’s books, which explore the concept of attachment and its negative consequences.
We cannot discuss attachment without looking at the concept of separation. John Bowlby was one of the first to show that they are closely related. In other words, if a child is securely attached to a consistently reliable parent, it has the foundation to explore its world and ultimately leave and live independently, always possessing core security, a spirit of autonomy and the ability to love and trust. Separation, therefore, is a psychological term denoting an emotional process tending towards independence, bearing in mind that all very young children are wary and dislike being separated from their mothers. Those of you with small children will see that they love meeting their grandparents, but any suggestion of a stay over will bring on resistance, anxiety and tantrums until they leave toddler stage. Separation, therefore, is about your instinct for safety. Essentially it is about survival and fear of not surviving, either physically or emotionally. For those with fear of abandonment the world is a very unsafe place. Basically if you cannot trust your parents to meet your needs, who can you trust? Jason’s distress in relation to his father is a good indication of this.

Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Adults also have insecure attachment types

Some adults who have suffered such distress as a child often say they feel they were adopted. How sad is that! It should be mentioned that adults have corresponding attachment or personality types, which are labelled secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. Research shows that about 40% of adults have insecure attachment to a greater or lesser extent, which helps to explain the myriad of relationship difficulties counsellors come across. The anxious-preoccupied people (ambivalent anxious as children) are overly needy, insecure in their relationship and constantly checking that their partner loves them, and may be jealous. They feel worthwhile and worthless alternately, and this ambivalence dictates their lives, for example when they feel worthwhile they like to meet other people and when they fell worthless they dislike meeting others. The dismissive-avoidant people (avoidant as children) are unlikely to have access to feelings, and see themselves as independent and perhaps ruthless, a weakness that they mistakenly regard as a strength. They remain constantly hurt because they cannot connect and often see connection as weakness. Fearful avoidant people (possibly disorganised as children) have some desire for intimacy, but then feel uncomfortable with the intimacy and opt out, harbouring an intense fear of rejection. They then become lonely and opt in, thus creating confusion and uncertainty in relationships. This becomes a tormenting cycle for the lover and the beloved. John Bradshaw in his book Home Coming explains this as a person moving between fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. It can also mean that in intimacy traumatic feelings buried during childhood and hidden in their subconscious are disturbed resulting in a withdrawal. The main characteristic of fearful avoidant people is anger and shame, and they are likely to use violence as a way of control.
By and large, those with an insecure attachment learn to relate in what Mark Grant describes as instrumental ways, able to express love but not feeling it, catering for the other’s material needs, trying to please others and stressing achievements in their spousal or parental relationships. When the emotional content is not available, however, the result is devastating to all concerned.
I hope you find these definitions helpful in making sense of yourself. If not do not worry. I find it difficult to define my own insecure attachment style. I believe that insecure attachment types have common facets and are not fully individually fenced. In real life it is the insecurity and what it does to you that matters, not the particular type that theorists struggle to define. What all the insecure attachments types have in common is that they create fear and the child creates a shell (psychic numbing or dissociation) to survive. The child represses an overwhelming fear of not surviving. Biologically, this may mean that the primitive brain and the amygdala block any overpowering emotion from trauma, such as the prolonged trauma of childhood mistreatment. If you wish for deeper information in how the brain deals with trauma you might like to consult Babette Rothschild’s works. She is one of the world’s leading experts on trauma. Because the child is unable to process the pain or to integrate the experience, it is blocked in the brain forever, unless properly treated. Very often it emerges in late teenage years or in adulthood as severe anxiety or depression, which is difficult to shift because the adult cannot connect these complaints to the protracted childhood trauma. In other words it is difficult for the adult to make sense of the unpleasant body sensations of the anxiety, because they are disconnected from the long drawn out trauma of neglect in childhood. Obviously it is easy to connect anxiety to a single trauma which can be recalled in detail. Again, much depends on the severity of the trauma, and it is worthwhile understanding that what is not a trauma from the adult point of view may be traumatic for the child.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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A child’s behaviour can show symptoms of an insecure attachment

Attachment types can be seen in a child’s behaviour. Some years ago RTE Television presented a programme on attachment involving a large group of children, who were scrutinised by a psychologist, where the type of attachment of each child was clearly evident. Bowlby divided attachment into three types, secure, fearful and dismissive. These have been further refined by subsequent theorists, who suggest that there are three types of insecure attachment i.e. ambivalent (anxious-resistant/fearful/preoccupied), anxious-avoidant (dismissive) and, worst of all, disorganised (disoriented). Children with ambivalent attachment experience the most distressing fear when separated from their parents and are most likely to suffer fear of abandonment and possible core anger in adult life. Their fear can often be seen during the first week in school, when they are unable to settle and spend a lot of time in distress, wanting to return home. It seems strange that a child wishes to return to a home that is emotionally unsafe, but for the child that home is familiar, and this familiarity is probably the key to the desire to remain there. These fearful children experience inconsistent parenting. Their parents are sometimes nurturing and sometimes punitive. Because of this they have conflicted feelings about one or both of their parents. It has been suggested that children with this insecure-resistant attachment will be narcissistic in adulthood.
Children with avoidant attachment behave in a dismissive or aloof way. They rarely show emotion and unlike those with a secure attachment will not seek the comfort of a parent. Usually their parents are aloof and emotionally remote. They separate impassively and return equally impassively, effectively ignoring the caregiver. But they are inwardly distressed. Disorganised attachment is particularly difficult to define because it contains elements of the other two, but is close to ambivalent attachment. It is profoundly pathological. Children afflicted with this attachment usually have parents who are abusive and seem life-threatening. These parents can also be withdrawn through stress, anxiety or depression. In such cases children are often confused, fearful and angry. Whatever the reason for the emotional abandonment, their children suffer all their lives as a result.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Attachment is crucial in the development of the human

The late John Bowlby, one time Director of the children’s department at the Tavistock Clinic, was one of the first to look at fear of abandonment in detail. He proposed the theory of attachment, already briefly mentioned, as a fundamental part of child development. It is underlies fear and all the issues outlined in Appendix 1, so in reality this book is about attachment. Bowlby also examined the mother’s emotional mind-set towards the child, which he saw as determining the long term emotional relationship or bond between mother (or substitute mother) and child. Mistakenly, he did not place the same emphasis on the father as a nurturer. Bowlby’s theory is one of the most significant contributions to the understanding of human development and was tested and expanded by Mary Ainsworth, who worked with him for some time in the Tavistock Clinic.
Mark Grant, author of Pain Control with EMDR (EMDR is explained in more detail in the last chapter of this book) shows that it is now recognised that the attachment system is a central organizing system in the brain by which infants use their parents for regulating their inner states, until their own psychoneurobiology develops. Initially, the attachment process is confined to non-verbal communication and gestures, when the child begins to mimic the primary caregiver and pays particular attention to her facial expressions. Soon the child will be able to see the difference between a smile and a scowl. The smile bodes well for a secure attachment, but frequent scowling may indicate the opposite. Unfortunately, not every parent is able to create the proper emotional environment to enable the child to acquire a healthy emotional life, and from Bowlby’s studies on both humans and primates, came the concept of secure and insecure attachment. Allan Schore explores attachment in his studies on the brain.
Bowlby’s theories were later developed and refined by the research of other psychologists, which is currently well documented. A broad understanding of these studies will help you to recognise the essence of good parenting in the developmental area, and thus to prevent the formation of core fear, and its accompanying distressing conditions, in your children. I have seen parents change due to counselling challenge with gratifying beneficial results for their children. Sometimes this can be only a matter of awareness to bring about a change of behaviour.

Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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