No person can avoid, actually, factually, being human. But a person can be unconscious of those things that make us human – including our flaws and complexities, our interconnectedness with each other and the ecosystem, and our mortality. A person can choose unconsciousness of those things in the most willful and damaging of ways, cultivating “success” without inner growth, “status” without a generative legacy. I have carried the ugliness and violence of this administration as stress in my body since 2016, and I am not alone in that. Relief sweetened my sleep last night. I’m ready for evident self-awareness and conscious humanity in office. I hope the next four years are just the beginning of a better world for us all, people animals plants land water air, no exceptions.
I recently read an article about the long-term impacts of institutional neglect in Romanian orphanages. The consequences of life without early attachment-bonding could scarcely be starker. Attachment theory, hearkening back to John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, is one of the most powerful concepts in the field of therapy. I think about it a lot, albeit not with the strict categorical breakdown of attachment styles—secure, avoidant, resistant, disorganized—as I find those limiting. We humans are too complicated, ever-evolving in our hardships and strengths, our risks and resiliencies, to say that we are one thing or another. Interpersonal dynamics reveal our complexities. One person can leave us feeling secure, another can disorganize us, but even secure relationships can have their moments of feeling abandoned, and therein lies some of the work of commitment. Then, too, we are also biological, not merely relational, and research increasingly demonstrates the impact of, for example, the microbiome on mood, which can impact our self-presentation and the responses we get from others.
I also think that attachment is an ongoing process as we encounter different types of relationships in our lives, and that early positive experiences, so formative, can nonetheless fail to protect us against later negative ones. Working for a mercurial employer, sometimes warm and sometimes belittling, can leave a person in a compromised psychological state, cowed and demeaned, as one example I’ve experienced firsthand. Then, too, the chilling, heart-breaking still-face experiment reminds me of the distress that can come when romantic relationships fail, when one person demonstrates continued investment while the other ceases to. Similar to a baby’s response—which is, after all, a human response, at its most transparent—an adult’s emotions can encompass confusion; familiar bids for closeness that used to be returned; distress when efforts fail; and, sometimes, total shutdown to avoid further pain. Like the famously misunderstood stages of grief, such feelings can cycle, too, and layer. We are mammals, and mammals are social. Is attachment only about safety and bonding within primary relationships? No, it’s also about being alive, being human, feeling recognized as meriting care and experiencing connection to others in a world of mutuality where we can survive and thrive.
Because I think so much about therapy, and also about contemporary culture, I have lately been thinking about racism through the lens of attachment as human mutuality. Not adult to baby, not parent to child, not caregiver to dependent, but person to person—that version of attachment, the version that I perceive to be ongoing across a lifespan. As humans, we present our faces to one another and show each other that we care or don’t. Blank faces can feel deadly, nullifying one’s existence—and that’s only one type of adverse response. The face of racism can be blank but also hostile, hateful, leering, condescending, and other damaging things I’m failing to list. But it seems to me that what’s consistent about racism, whatever face it wears, is its failure to interact in a human-to-human way and to register the deep and destabilizing distress of another being who rightfully looks for recognition and respect, and who finds none. Over and over again, down centuries. And I’m talking about all forms, in all places, all indigenous persons, all persons of color. The first-hand pain of racism isn’t mine to speak about, and so I’ll stop here. Until it’s addressed, and redressed, though, that betrayal of humanity remains.
Text and image copyrights on this site are held by me. I value your time and appreciate your reading. There are many things to do in a day, and I’m often ambivalent about posting my monthly contribution to the overwhelming world of content we live in; for a little more on that, see my updated About. Ambivalence notwithstanding, this month marks my 6th year of blogging. Feel free, as always, to share this post. Take care, and give care. EA
Growing up in a city I saw lots of graffiti, but one message sank into me. Words full of social despair, a betrayal so big, its reach seemed to stretch in all directions.
FUCK ALL Y’ALL
That spray-painted scrawl, reduced here to orderly type, was phrased as defiance but felt like naked pain writ large. If this was the message of a young black man, what became of him after? Did he somehow meet with a balm for his wounds?
This country is full of cities and towns and suburbs, shelters and tents and alleys, resounding with betrayal both voiced and unvoiced. Prisons and cemeteries. Desecration of human rights. Families broken, hearts riven with loss.
At a peaceful protest last week, we were asked collectively to take a knee, a gesture now haunted for me. A timer was set, 8 minutes and 46 seconds, so that we might understand more viscerally what a long time that is. Our breath filtered through masks. For an unimperiled crowd, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is restless. For cruelty, for terror, for torture, for murder, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is remorseless.
I haven’t watched that important video—for a number of reasons having to do with my personal feelings about privacy, dignity, media, and desensitization—but I saw a still of the man, an officer of the law, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. That hand in that uniform pocket. Please, vote for sweeping change, and do all the good you can.
Text and image copyrights held by me. I value your time and appreciate your reading. There are many things to do in a day, and I’m often ambivalent about posting my monthly contribution to this overwhelming world of content; for a little more on that, see my updated About. Meanwhile, feel free to share this post. Take care, and give care. EA