Imagine a young child (we’ll call her Janey) who one day was told that she was going to a day camp, but instead was dropped off at an orphanage. No warning was provided for this terrible abandonment. The teenage mother had been left by the girl’s father, and without financial resources, she simply could not cope.
Janey originally came to me seeking treatment for panic attacks related to a fear of flying. Unfortunately, flying was required weekly for her corporate job.
By tracking her verbal and body responses, I was able to see that the “fear of flying” was really a window into a much more complex history of Disorganized Attachment.
We were able to discover her fear of flying was really connected to an early childhood impulse to jump off a high-rise building when visiting her mother. By creating a safe relational field with containment in our therapy sessions, she was able to process her anger and helplessness related to her abandoning parents, she was gradually free of anxiety medication, and no longer afraid to fly.
She had also developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – she used to tap the light switch several times before leaving a room. This disorder may have been a masked attempt to gain control from a childhood with no control. We worked on repairing trust in the therapy sessions, introducing Corrective Experiences, such as giving voice to her anger towards her parents, and “installing a Competent Protector,” represented by her Great Uncle John – who had died before he could rescue her as promised – and kind foster parents who wanted to adopt her and her younger brother. We continued to emphasize their caring behaviors in a way she could receive so she could embody them as resources.
She was trapped in being the “good girl,” trying not to lose again his Attachment figures. Dealing with negative emotions was critical, especially in an environment that was accepting and containing (an element of Secure Attachment).
Once trust was established in the therapy session, her obsessive-compulsive behaviors disappeared.
Over time, with a new foundation of Secure Attachment, she was able to repair her marriage with her husband, which was on the brink of divorce. She now gives talks to social work organizations on how to improve services and create a more securely attached environment for their young population.