"A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there's work to be done." -- Ram Dass
If you don’t think early bonding with caregivers and parents doesn’t affect the nervous system and how we develop, guess again.
Self-regulation is a regulatory skill, or lack there of, and provides an adaptive edge which enables survival and the ability to grow with changing conditions. As we age and mature, the regulation of thinking, emotions and behavior is critical for success in all areas of life.
Adept self-regulation skills in children are associated with better mental health, effective relationships and global adaptive functioning in adulthood. Maladaptive self-regulation skills developed in childhood are associated with increased risk of physical and mental health disorders.
Self-regulation is both autonomic / unconscious and conscious. The autonomic nervous system has a survival response / alarm, armed with a variety of “thermostats” which monitors and helps us to adjust to our internal and external worlds. When we are able to gain some control over our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, self-regulation skills take on a conscious front row, where we choose how to respond to an internal or external event.
Learning self-regulation as a skill involves many domains: cognitive, motor, sensory, emotional, social behavioral and motivation and requires awareness and cognition to evaluate the external environment. Self-regulation also requires and awareness of the state of the body, requiring internal communication with motor, language or other systems to choose and carry out a response.
Regulation of arousal and sensorimotor responses via autonomic responses of the nervous systems begins before birth. After birth, caring adults provide for infants’ needs and by age four, many children can anticipate appropriate responses and modify responses when circumstances are subtly different.
Attachment: The attachment bond is the formed by verbal and nonverbal communication between an infant and caregiver, lending way to the quality of attachment.
Attachment is the ability to form and maintain heathy emotional relationships and is the “glue” of normal human interaction. Attachment is a biological imperative, as we seek attachment, which then teaches us about our emotions and relationships. Attachment provides a neurophysiological brake for the Sympathetic Nervous system. Social connection helps to modulate the stress response via oxytocin and the Parasympathetic Nervous system. The capacity to receive pleasure from others creates a major, positive learning tool for children.
In a secure attachment with the caregiver and child, responsive caregiving occurs. The child learns early on that he/she can rely on the caregiver for the basic needs for proximity, emotional support and protection/ Basic trust, positive self-image and outlook, autonomy, well-developed coping skills, behavioral flexibility and good emotional control are all hallmark characteristics of a secure attachment.
Anxious- Avoidant Attachment
In an anxious-avoidant attachment, the caregiver is distant and disengaged. Infants will then become emotionally distant, and non-explorative. They learn early on to expect rejection and learn distrust. Relationships are therefore challenges as well as emotional detachment.
An anxious-ambivalent caregiver will demonstrate inconsistent caregiving, teetering between neglect and sensitive. The child learns he/she cannot rely on needs being met, and later on develops lack of trust in relationships. Controlling behavior and emotions will present in the child, as well as confused self-image and relationship challenges.
In a Disorganized attachment, the caregiver is extreme and erratic with caregiving. The may act frightened, frightening, passive or intrusive. This type of attachment can lead to repressed, angry, aggressive, passive or non-responsive behavior. The child become confused and lacks strategies to meet their needs
A lack of secure foundation with establishing secure attachment as an infant may result in anxiety, limited exploration, negative self-image, withdrawl, poor focus, anger, insecurity and difficulty with relationships.
"Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth." -- Margaret Atwood
Touch and the Tactile System
Touch is considered “the mother of all senses” and the catalyst for healthy development of the cognitive, social, emotional and physical spheres of an infant. The tactile system is the first to develop and become functional with an infant. Children who are born with abnormal tactile sensitivity do not receive reliable information through the skin receptors. As a result, these infants grow into children who feel insecure or familiar in unfamiliar situations and are often unwilling to take the risks required for learning new things. Bonding with a newborn is absolutely essential in the development of a healthy tactile system. Light, feathery touches and deep massage and hugs assist the infant and child in learning to distinguish between various stimuli, which assist with regulation. As children mature and age, children tend to seek out deep pressure, light touch or avoid completely, dependent on how these early experiences with touch were laid down. The skin is directly connected with the sense of proprioception because the skin’s receptors register the pressure and intensity of an impulse. Less than adequate tactile input as an infant can lead to sensory defensiveness, challenges with arousal modulation and emotional dysregulation.
What can happen when an emotionally dysregulated child matures into an adult
Without proper intervention as a child to assist with sensory processing and emotional regulation, children may grow into adults, developing depression, anxiety, addictions, poor self-confidence, poor motor control, feeling socially awkward and fearful. Developing intimate relationships may also present into adulthood, as continuous fear and anxiety run rampant with individuals with particular attachment templates. Fear will rear it’s ugly head through the interactive playground of relationships, where we fear can be taken away. This will often present in possible scenarios. Fear of rejection from the other person, may cause a person to leave a possible relationship before it even takes off. Due to attachment difficulties, the fear of not being good enough or worthy will often crop up. Acting out as an adult is the “inner child” looking for validation through choosing partners who will either mirror back the lack of love they felt they didn’t receive. The fear of abandonment prevails in almost everyone, whether real or perceived. Lack of proper attachment may cause an individual to continuously develop thoughts or worry “Will my partner leave me?”
The responsibility falls upon the adult to “fix” or remedy the way in which the pathways were laid down. As adults, once we are able to identify our attachment “template”, it creates a starting place of healing the old wounds, which contribute to emotional dysregulation, poor interpersonal relationships, and eradicating unconscious fears.
"Try not to confuse attachment with love. Attachment is about fear and dependency, and has more to do with love of self than love of another. Love without attachment is the purest love because it isn't about what others can give you because you're empty. It is about what you can give others because you're already full." -- Yasmin Mogahed
© 2019 by Jodi Lawyer, M.A., OTR/L. Helix Healing Path. All rights reserved. You may quote, copy, translate and link to this article in its entirety, on free, non-donation based websites only, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website. All other uses are strictly prohibited.