a great article on attachment in a therapeutic context

It seems limerence and other addictions stems from early life attachment wounds.
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David
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a great article on attachment in a therapeutic context

Post by David » Fri Mar 17, 2017 8:01 am

This is worth a read for any practitioners here and any others with an interest in understanding the latest thinking and research around human attachment.

http://lindagraham-mft.net/resources/pu ... ttachment/

Its a long article - these extracts resonated with me:

It’s fascinating to learn what’s happening in our brains as we feel accepted or rejected by people closest to us or important to us. What’s happening in our brains as we experience a sense of connection and belonging or dis-connection and isolation. (You may have experienced reactions in your own brain as you even read words like acceptance or rejection or experienced either one so far today.)


Relating to one another, one on one, couples, families, or in larger social groups, is the most complex thing human beings do, more complex than writing a symphony or running a government or solving global warming, and the need to relate, to be emotionally and socially intelligent, has driven the evolution of the human brain to be the most complex anything in all of existence.

It becomes important, as clinicians, to understand what’s happening in our brains, ours and our clients, in the therapeutic relationship, to understand what attachment theory and research over the last 50 years and modern neuroscience of the last 20 years are telling us:

1. our earliest relationships actually build the brain structures we use for relating lifelong;

2. experiences in those early relationships encode in the neural circuitry of our brains by 12-18 months of age, entirely in implicit memory outside of awareness; these patterns of attachment become the “rules”, templates, schemas, for relating that operate lifelong, the “known but not remembered” givens of our relational lives.

3.when those early experiences have been less than optimal, those unconscious patterns of attachment can continue to shape the perceptions and responses of the brain to new relational experiences in old ways that get stuck, that can’t take in new experience as new information, can’t learn or adapt or grow from those experiences. What we have come to call, from outside the brain looking in, as the defensive patterns of personality disorders. What one clinician calls “tragic recursive patterns that become encased in neural cement.”


Fortunately, the human brain has always had the biologically innate capacity to grow new neurons – lifelong – and more importantly, to create new synaptic connections between neurons lifelong. All of us can create new patterns of neural firing from new experiences. All of us can pair old even maladaptive patterns with new, more adaptive, patterns of neural firing. All of us can all create new neural circuitry, pathways and networks that allow us to relate, moment by moment in new, healthier, more resilient ways. All of us can store those new more adaptive patterns in both the structures of explicit memory, making them retrievable to conscious awareness and conscious healthy functioning, and in the structures of implicit memory, making them the new habits of relating.

90% of what we know about how the brain works has been learned in the last 20 years. Dan Goleman wrote in his introduction to Social Intelligence, which came out last year, that most of the understanding we have about the neurological substrate of things like empathy, emotional regulation, the effect of trauma on explicit memory, interoception – how we know what’s going on in our bodies …..hadn’t even been discovered yet when he wrote Emotional Intelligence 10 years before.

In that time there’s been an explosion of discoveries relevant to addressing the wounds of less-than-optimal attachment: the social engagement system of the brainstem, the fight-flight response of the amygdala, mirror neurons, bonding hormones, the social-emotional bias of the right hemisphere, the positive bias of the left hemisphere, the role of the pre-frontal cortex in attunement and learning the “rules” of attachment, the resonance circuits we can use in empathic therapeutic relationships to catalyze brain change in our clients.

On the individual level, the neurons in the limbic regions – the seat of our emotional learning that is foundational to our subjective sense of personal and social self – are not fully connected at birth. They are genetically primed to form synaptic connections through the relational experiences we have with those closest to us. Caregivers activate the growth of those regions of the brain – through emotional availability and reciprocal interactions. This includes the hormones of bonding and pleasure that are released in intimate and contingent relating. That is nurture. Patterns of energy and information laid down in these early moments of meeting develop the actual structure of these limbic regions. This means that the very foundations of perception, particularly in regard to relationships, relies on the quality of these earliest interactions with our parents. It is essential to understand experience dependent maturation of the brain to understand the importance of early attachment experiences to shape the brain and our patterns of relating and to embrace the power of new attachment relationships in therapy to re-wire the memories learned with this part of the brain.

As Cozolino says, we are not the survival of the fittest; we are the survival of the nurtured.

This highly evolved human brain is the most complex structure and the most dynamic process – noun and verb – in existence. 100 trillion cells in 3 pounds of firm tofu between our ears. Of which 100 billion neurons are gray matter that are the working clipboard of the brain. Each gray matter neuron is capable of connecting with – and communicating with – 7,000 – 10,000 other neurons. Those who have done the math have calculated that the number of synaptic connections – and thus neurochemical messages – possible in each human brain is 1 to the millionth power, numbering more than atoms in the universe [estimated at 1 to the 80th power].

Any experience cause neurons in our brains to fire. Repeated experiences cause neurons to fire repeatedly. Neurons that “fire together wire together,” strengthening neural connections

I’m sure many of you by now are familiar with Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain. The arm and wrist are the spinal column and brainstem of the brain. The brain stem regulates the internal homeostasis of the body: heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, through the autonomic nervous system (ANS) – the extension of our brain throughout our body. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic (SNS) of arousal and the parasympathetic (PNS) of calming. These two, arousal-calming, gas and brakes, are part of the completely unconscious social engagement system that regulates the energy level or vagal tone of our bodies. Too much SNS and too little PNS, we feel restless, agitated, stressed, all the way to panic attack. Too much PNS and too little SNS, we feel slow, lethargic, numb, all the way to collapsing in a faint. When there is a balanced vagal tone, we are happy campers.

When we feel safe in relationship, we stay within our window of tolerance and our cortex stays functional. When we perceive threat or danger, the SNS arouses the amygdala to prepare for fight or flight. We can experience this as an emotional hijacking; our rational self temporarily nowhere to be found. When we perceive a life threat, the PNS calms down everything, down to the point of shut down. We go numb and freeze.

Unfortunately, for purposes of attachment, Cozolino suggests that because the amygdala is the structure of both our social emotional processing and is our fear center, the negotiation of relationships and the modulation of fear so overlap, our earliest relating, our earliest implicit experience of self can have a bias toward the negative. Because, evolutionarily, members of our species who were nervous, anxious, on alert, tended to survive. Those who are nice and mellow got eaten.

The hypothalamus located deeper in the limbic system releases many different hormones to regulate the amygdala. A very important one, that researchers have begun to understand more fully in the last 5-10 years, is oxytocin – the bonding hormone that is released through touch, warmth and movement, such as breastfeeding and orgasm. Oxytocin calms the amygdala, it can spur the pre-frontal cortex to grow GABA bearing fibers down to the amygdala and quell the fear response. Why hugs make us feel safe and bonded to the person who is helping to release oxytocin in our brains.


It has been amply demonstrated by Allan Schore that the need for emotional regulation is what drives attachment behaviors. Affect regulation is the engine of attachment and attachment is what drives the development of the pre-frontal cortex, the brain structures that do that. Dan Stern and Peter Fonagy have amply demonstrated that it is the need for empathy, the need to be seen, understood and reflected that drives the intersubjectivity that develops theory of mind. I know that you know what I know and I know that you can also know something different than what I know.


So how parents – and therapists – use empathy and bonding and reflection to regulate fear, anxiety and shame, and soothe the firing of the amygdala, and help the other discover who they are by seeing and accepting them first, this attunement and feedback are so very determinative of attachment patterns and are a crucial part of their healing. So, even before consciousness develops, the parent is regulating the emotions of the baby through their own pre-frontal cortex, brain to brain regulation. The baby is “borrowing” the PFC functioning of the parent to regulate their emotions. And the baby is introjecting the reflections of who they are from the parent to develop the internal working models of who they are in relation to the other. As the baby’s PFC develops from these experiences, they can begin to regulate their emotion on their own. They can begin to have self-awareness and self-reflection on their own.

The 9 functions of the pre-frontal cortex are:

1 regulation of body – SNS-PNS balance
2 attuned communication, felt sense of other’s experience
3 regulation of emotions
4 response flexibility – pause, options, evaluate options, appropriate decision
5 empathy
6 insight – self awareness
7 fear extinction – GABA fibers to amygdala
8 intuition – deep knowing without logic
9 morality – behaviors based on empathy.

Research has shown that 7 of the 9 functions of the PFC are outcomes of secure attachment. Research also shows that all 9 functions are strengthened in mindfulness practice, internal attunement rather than interpersonal attunement. So a therapist’s mindful awareness of their own internal states strengthens the same pathways of the brain we need to become aware of another person’s internal states. (Mindfulness and psychotherapy is another article.)

When we are attuning to another’s behavior and expressions of intention – facial expressions, body gestures, tone of voice, mirror neurons fire in our brain. Information from these mirror neurons travels from the cortex of our brain through the insula – a structure buried deeply in our brain that is located at the interface of the cortex and the limbic regions. The insula carries information down from the cortex through the limbic regions to the neurons of interoception – how we sense what is happening internally in our bodies. The information gathered through interoception, tension, tightness, tiredness, travels back up through the insula through the limbic regions where the sensations are given emotional meaning, back up to the structures of the middle pre-frontal cortex. The insula integrates somatic experience with conscious awareness. We feel pain when another feels pain. Cozolino notes that this insula, though a very small part of the brain, is an evolutionary masterpiece.


This resonance circuit operates in the brain of the parent attuning to his or her child; it’s what stimulates the developing brain of the infant to process and know its own experience; its experience metabolized and reflected back by the parent becomes encoded in the infant’s neural circuitry. Because you know what’s in my mind and heart, I can know it, too. These patterns do stabilize in the brain by 18months of age, rendering them as Cozolino says, of permanent psychological significance.

This resonance circuit operates in us as therapists as we attune to our clients. And clients experiencing us attuning to them as they share their experience are also receiving our unconditional acceptance of that experience which re-wires their sense of it and their sense of self.

What clinicians need to face directly in healing attachment trauma is that the coping strategies in less than secure patterns of attachment are defensive – they create barriers to emotion, to the full range of human emotions that are important signals of what to pay attention to in our lives and in others’ lives. They create barriers to the skillful regulation of emotion, creating avoidance or flooding rather than skillful experiencing, processing, managing, moving through. They create barriers to healthy relating, if relating is going to trigger unbearable emotions of fear, shame, loneliness, despair. So clients regulate closeness-distance by dismissing, focusing on self rather than other, or clinging, focusing on other rather than self, or by losing focus altogether, rather than flexibly focusing on self and other, the hallmark of secure attachment.

Why Allan Schore said “The security of the attachment bond is the primary defense against psychopathology.”
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

For confidential Coaching see http://loverelations.co.uk/limerence/

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Spinnaker
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Re: a great article on attachment in a therapeutic context

Post by Spinnaker » Sat Mar 18, 2017 9:40 pm

Sending a huge thank you, David !

I found this to be THE most informative article, yet, to help me understand what I'm trying to wrap my brain around in therapy. It just made sense, this time. :idea: Maybe I have to read about it 10 diffent ways and recognize it to sink in.

Bookmarked!

Spinnaker :ymhug:
"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

JellyBean
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Re: a great article on attachment in a therapeutic context

Post by JellyBean » Sun Mar 19, 2017 7:33 am

I found this article interesting too. I find neuroplasticity and mirror neurons interesting to read about.

Below is a snippet from the article which gives us limerents hope...

"Fortunately, the human brain has always had the biologically innate capacity to grow new neurons – lifelong – and more importantly, to create new synaptic connections between neurons lifelong. All of us can create new patterns of neural firing from new experiences. All of us can pair old even maladaptive patterns with new, more adaptive, patterns of neural firing. All of us can all create new neural circuitry, pathways and networks that allow us to relate, moment by moment in new, healthier, more resilient ways. All of us can store those new more adaptive patterns in both the structures of explicit memory, making them retrievable to conscious awareness and conscious healthy functioning, and in the structures of implicit memory, making them the new habits of relating."

Pudding
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Re: a great article on attachment in a therapeutic context

Post by Pudding » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:45 am

That's true. It's basically what I had to train my brain to do to overcome an eating disorder. It wasn't easy, but for some reason it is seeming much harder to make the same changes to move on past limerence, than it was to move past the ED :-\
F 37
LO is M 34, my son’s teacher

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