Thoughts About Human Attachment

by Becky Lewis

elephants demonstrating attachment behaviors

In my own generation, scientific research is starting to catch up with something that has always caused agony for orphans and adoptees, even if they could not articulate it. Humility and grief are my responses. I wish I had understood the experiences of others around me as I grew up. I wish I could have made a difference for them.

We, as adults who forget what it was like to be infants, are learning about the ways that our biological drive for human attachment impacts us.

Nicolae Cousescu, dictator in Romania for decades, had many orphanages, in which the orphans, including infants, received very little or no human interaction.

Bottles of formula were propped up for infants to drink from when they were hungry. The problem was that for an infant to even figure out what to do in response to its own drive and feelings of hunger, another human has to invest time, presence, emotion, mirroring, protection, and value in them so that they will know what to do.

And even if the infant did somehow drink some formula and stumbled onto the connection that it changed its hunger feelings when it drank it, why would the infant WANT to drink, with no humans who care enough to even be present?

Even if the infant just regularly drank formula, like a robot, without wanting to or not wanting to, the infant will die without human attachment. This has to do with many other mechanisms that run throughout the nature of being human, like octopus tentacles.

When Nicolae Cousescu was overthrown and executed by firing squad in 1989, outsiders were called in and found the children and infants in orphanages. They found the dead infants and children, and the records of many more dead. They observed the behavior and developmental stuntedness of those who did manage to survive. I recently read an article in which a man in his 30s, who survived one of those orphanages, was interviewed. I will not trivialize his words and his life by trying to summarize them.

The below website was created in response to an attempt by some to look back and paint the Cousescu years as a "golden age" for Romania. The assertion by the website is that Romania and Romanians need to hold themselves accountable about the atrocities that occurred during Cousescu's dictatorship.

What atrocities do we allow to occur around us, right now, today, in the United States? What atrocities could not endure without us keeping our heads down, doing our work, and not asking questions?

Even though the above is a very crude, nuts-and-bolts attempt at explaining "attachment," it is crucial information. When humans lack secure attachment, at the very least, we consciously or unconsciously believe that we are not allowed to need things and that we are at the mercy of other people to decide whether or not to meet our needs.

We have to go ahead and learn the mundane nuts and bolts of meeting our own needs. We have to learn that we are allowed to do so, and that we are definitely worth the investment in our self-care. One large trigger and mechanism for learning these things is grief.

I honestly believe that these people, struggling to survive, are primed for learning an intensity and richness of life, through grief, healing, and connection with others... that those of us who never lacked for attachment, nor for other things, will never fully understand.

YOU are your best investment. YOU, and those who can see you accurately, are all you have.