Dealing with Anxious Attachment and Attachment Loss

Okay, I’m probably giving up on the 31-day writing challenge. I love the prompts, but right now, they just don’t seem to inspire me. I’m not feeling well at all right now. Haven’t for about a week or more. Like I shared in my post on Sunday, I have been feeling triggered by my staff being on sick leave. It’s not just that, of course. The change of seasons with all its triggers to my time in crisis back in 2007, doesn’t help either. The emotional flashbacks are so bad I’m considering asking my nurse practitioner to temporarily up my topiramate. For now though, I’ll write a little about attachment loss and abandonment issues.

When I was first diagnosed with complex PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in 2010, part of the consultation that led to this diagnosis involved an attachment styles questionnaire. I scored highest on the anxious/preoccupied attachment style. This means that I tend to depend heavily on others. I struggle to admit this, but it is true.

As such, I fear attachment loss or abandonment a lot. Most anxiously attached people tend to seek another relationship right away when one ends. I don’t have any exes, since my husband was also my first boyfriend, but I do notice it in other areas. For example, now that my assigned staff is on sick leave, I’ve already been thinking about who will become my assigned staff if she ends up not returning. Which, in fact, is something I cannot get out of my head for whatever reason.

Anxiously attached people also tend to cling to dysfunctional attachment figures far too long. Again, I don’t experience this in my marriage, but I did experience it in the psych hospital. I had an assigned staff who was rather adamant that I become more independent than I could be, but I accepted her as an authority for far too long. Same with my psychologist.

I, thankfully, left that place. However, I do find that something I read while researching attachment loss for this post, makes a lot of sense: the idea that leaving a relationship on paper doesn’t mean being emotionally detached from that attachment figure. Again, not my marriage, but with respect to my care situation, yes, that’s so me! I still experience vivid dreams (not necessarily nightmares!) about the psych hospital. I also still look up things about my former care agencies, thinking maybe I should go back. I still find myself being influenced by what my past care providers said about me, no matter how harmful and wrong. This may be one reason I don’t generally meet the avoidance criterion of classic PTSD, but am rather the opposite: I find myself drawn to things that trigger me. Now if only I could find a way to truly let go of the emotional baggage I’m carrying with me.

Basic Mistrust

I have been compelled to read up on emotional and psychosocial development. One theory is Erik Erikson’s theory, which states that, at each different stage in life (from infancy to old age), a particular conflict is present. In infancy and early toddlerhood, this conflict is basic trust vs. mistrust.

I initially thought that this stage corresponds pretty much to the first adaptation phase in attachment theory, which takes place between birth and age six months. When I checked it though, it includes this stage as well as the first socialization phase, age six to eighteen months. This may be one reason why I relate strongly to basic mistrust even though, in attachment theory terms, I function in most areas consistent with the first socialization phase.

One thing I’m facing lately is a chronic feeling of anxiety and distrust. In my care plan, my emotional development is outlined and in the fear domain, I am said to function at an age comparable to somewhere between zero and eighteen months. This includes all of Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development. By contrast, it encompasses both the first adaptation and first socialization phase of attachment development. The reason my development in this area isn’t pinpointed to either of these two phases, is that I experience both basic fear (consistent with the first adaptation phase) and strong separation anxiety (consistent with the first socialization phase). Apparently, a baby under six months cannot yet express separation anxiety.

I have little idea why I might experience such strong anxiety, as in, what in my early development contributed to it. I mean, my parents claim I didn’t have these issues until I started to lose my eyesight at age seven. Seven is another important age in both cognitive and psychosocial development, but I don’t think that one is particularly important in my life. The earlier stages seem to make far more sense to me.

Of course, I do know that I probably didn’t have optimal care in my early life. This isn’t anyone’s fault. I was, after all, born prematurely and spent the first three months of my life in hospital. Though my parents visited me often, I don’t think I could rely upon them for meeting my every basic need. After all, they cannot possibly have been in my proximity 24/7, like the mother of a typically-developing child usually is at least for the first few weeks to months. My nurses must’ve provided me feeding and comfort at least part of the time.

As for affection, I have absolutely no idea. NICU nurses aren’t likely to be able to provide any significant level of affection to a baby at all, but I guess my parents would’ve made up for that. I went into this when discussing mother as source and mother as place of attachment. The truth is, I honestly mostly rely on my current feelings to guide my ideas. I, after all, don’t have many early memories of affection. My first memory related to it is from age four or five and it involves my mother using a nickname for me that referred to her needing to be at my side all the time. Then again, most people don’t have many early memories at all and remembering is still a form of reconstruction. In other words, because I experience a lot of basic mistrust now as an adult, it is easier for me to remember the memories that point to this.

This post was inspired by Fandango’s one-word challenge (#FOWC), the word for today being “Basic”.

If The Staff Saw My True Nature…: Reflections on Not Belonging

Yesterday, I was in yet another crisis. I was majorly triggered when a staff told me at the dinner table to calm down or go to my room because she had other clients to attend to as well. This triggered both my fight and flight responses. I was completely convinced that this one remark proved that, if staff truly know me, they’ll abandon me. After all, if they truly knew my nature, they’d know I needed more support than they can offer. I was and still am intensely ashamed of this nature of mine, but for whatever reason, I cannot seem to change it.

I cannot stop this part of mine who thinks she needs almost literally one-on-one support all day. It isn’t even a sense of entitlement, since I don’t feel that I’m somehow deserving of more attention than the other clients. Or maybe at the core I do believe this. I’m not sure. My parents would say I do believe I’m somehow entitled to endless attention.

At one point, I lashed out at the staff member. This led to further intense shame. I was convinced that, in that moment, the staff had seen my true nature and that she was going to make sure I’d be kicked out.

For whatever reason, she didn’t. She did, I assume, write an incident report. Other than that, I must say she was incredibly nice all evening.

And yet all day I was convinced that, if the staff nor the manager were going to kick me out, they must not have seen how wicked I really am. I do know that, in truth, this was one of my worst outbursts of aggression ever. I’ve done more harmful things, but those were harmful only to myself.

The manager came to talk to me late in the afternoon. She reassured me that I won’t be kicked out. I tried to tell her that, despite my desire to be good, I feel I might need more support than my current home can provide. I wasn’t trying to elicit her pity or convince her to apply for more funding for me, but I was trying to make it clear that I may be more of a burden than she can handle. I don’t want to feel attached to the staff and the home and even some of the other clients only to be told in a month or two that after all I’m too much of a handful. The manager sort of reassured me.

And yet, when she was gone, I went online and looked at other places I might be able to move to. Not because I really want to move, but because that’s what I’m used to. I’m used to not being wanted anywhere. And it’s tempting to believe that, with how often I end up in crisis here, I don’t really want to live here myself. Ugh, I don’t know how to answer that question.