Mammals. You gotta love 'em. Partly because of the way they rear and nurture their young. Sure, some insects (bees and ants, for examples) hang around after they lay their eggs and fuss over the next generation. They keep them safe from predators and natural disasters, they monitor their temperature, they watch over them until the new brood emerges. But all of this care lasts only until the hatch. After that, the bugs are on their own.
But mammals go much further. Humans hold our offspring within our bodies for 40 weeks. We hold them at our breast for months after that. We hold them close within our family unit. We hold them safe within the tribe, the clan, the community. We do a lot of holding. All of this holding has worked well for mice and lions and elk and orangutans for millions of years, and we instinctively know that holding is the way to go. We even know when the time comes to let the new generation launch off and form new families and communities.
When all of this holding and launching plays out as nature has designed it, the result is adults who are something we call "more or less well-adjusted." All this holding leads to "attachment." Attachment is the secure connection between parent and child and family and community. When something disrupts the natural order and secure attachment is not established and maintained, the attachment can become avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized. These dysfunctional attachment styles can stay with us throughout our lifespan, and profoundly affect attachment outcomes for generations.
More on attachment styles.
Another member spoke about how, during her darkest times, her dogs had helped her get out of bed. She said it felt good to be "pulled out of myself," because I was needed. How can we explain the effect coming together with another individual who is somehow there for us seems to have?
We often talk in group about David Richo's Five A's of Attachment. The 5 A’s of Attachment are the biological needs humans (as well as the other primates, other mammals, and even some birds) are born with. We strive to have these needs met in infancy and childhood because our psychological makeup demands it. If these are not met in our early life, we can find it difficult to achieve “wholeness” or “selfhood” later on. Our self-esteem can be in jeopardy, and we may tend to accept (and even be attracted to) dysfunctional relationships.
If we do get these needs met early, then we are likely to pass them on to others and be satisfied with our available inner and outer resources when life’s stressors arise. The 5 A's are what often stand in the way of our having a decent chance at a resilient, fulfilling, emotionally rewarding life.
The Five A's are:
If no one notices that an infant is tired, wet, cold, dirty, hungry, sick, or afraid, it can be fatal. If a child does not get attention one way, then other ways will be pursued.
If we are given the message in early life that we are not okay the way we are, then “okayness” can appear out of reach for us indefinitely.
We need to feel we are worthy of existence; that we benefit those around us because we are here. If someone important doesn’t value us, then we may not feel important enough--ever.
Babies who are not smiled at, hugged, kissed, nuzzled, stared at, played with, and cooed at, have structurally different brains. We never outgrow this basic need.
When it’s time to leave the nest (or to leave any other environment or stage of life) we need to feel supported from behind.
We've all seen rescue dogs who've been abused or neglected. They wear their damage like flea-bitten coats of protective armor. Some are angry and loud and show their teeth, some cower and tremble and avoid eye contact, some chase their tails endlessly. And we've all seen these dogs eventually respond to humane treatment (the kind everyone deserves). When it comes to the power of relationship to promote internal change, we have so much to learn from these examples.
Whether we are deciding to obtain puppy therapy, or go to group, or hang out with nurturing friends, we are choosing to give and receive the basic things we need as people. We are choosing to move toward secure attachment, away from our old, familiar ways. We are choosing to heal; and healing is contagious. Why not consider spreading some around this week?