The Squeaky Wheel

How to protect your psychological health, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem.

Can You Fix Psychological Damage Sustained at Infancy?

The quality of your relationship with caretakers in the first months and years of your life can have a big impact on your adult relationships. Read More

Big questions

It is hard to hear that all attachment difficulties are caused by relationship with the first primary caregiver, usually the mother. Attachment to a child is also a back and forth situation as the responses from the child encourage the bond as well.

I was a child and I have a child that may have mild Asperger's, or it may be ADD, which may run in the family. But also, both of us came out of difficult birth situations. I had a wonderful pregnancy. My child at the very start after birth was bonding with the baby nurse and was not interested in me after I was not allowed to hold her or care for her in response to her cries. She was grabbed out of my arms every time she started to get a grasp on nursing me and was ripped violently and painfully off my breast and plunked in her cot by the maternity nurses. The baby nurse would hold her and rock her and they would lock eyes and she would not be given to me when I was told to get her, and then I would barely have her and she would be ripped out of my arms again. She cried, but with anger, also. You could hear it in her cries. I wonder if she was angry at me as well, and the fact I saw her crying and was not able to pick her up, only talk to her. I could hear her crying down the hall when I was told not to leave my room. I was very weak from a birth that caused severe internal injuries that weren't treated, so it felt like walking a mile to reach her at the end of the hall and took forever. I would get there and be told to turn around. I had too little energy to fight and was only able to get black tea with sugar for myself while in the hospital. When I took my baby home finally, as soon as I was allowed, I was very weak and without support and I had a very hard time being emotionally available, but I made sure I spoke and sang to and cared for my daughter, however, I did not feel joyful and bonded. I carried her non-stop at first, because she would go blue sometimes if I put her down, and she had been rushed into the NICU only two hours before they sent her home with me. She had a hematoma and it was not discussed with me and I was too afraid to ask. She seemed to be looking for someone else. She responded much better to everyone else she saw, visitors, and would go off with them immediately. She seemed to want to, focusing on them, only becoming demanding for me when she wanted to nurse. I was exhausted. For years now she has been in my pocket, she does not sleep well without knowing I am nearby, she has dyslexia and I believe undiagnosed dyspraxia, but she potty-trained easily at 18 months (was never wet in the night as a baby and never had accidents ever) and she is very social, and happy, and loving, and healthy, and intelligent, and she is known for her sweet but not manipulative persistence, but when she was a toddler I was never to be played with, I was simply her comfort at night and after she came home. She played with other people and never seemed afraid to go off with anyone else and never went through a fear stage with strangers. She never turned to me for comfort if she was hurt and I still have to ask her why she doesn't come to me even though I am always there for her. I nursed her until three (common in my family) and spent many hours snuggling her in bed at night before her brother came, telling her stories I made up from things she wanted in her stories, but the birth of her brother was difficult for her in relation to me, but she loved him the way I loved my brother when he came. We have bonded but it was a very different experience from my second child, and it has only been in the last couple of years I felt as bonded as with my other child I had four years later, even though I have always loved her and felt anxiety that it didn't feel the same for me/is more difficult and I am more hesitant, as the other one despite all the attention. In fact, I believe loving him has helped me learn how to love her and love again in general, because my love for him was a true bond from birth, like the love I had with my younger sister and brother when they were born. My daughter at three and a half said she didn't know she was lonely until her brother came along. Sad, but understandable. She was very happy to have him. I think we have a pretty good relationship now and are close. We talk all the time. I asked for the nurses' notes after my son was born as I received my notes from my daughter's birth and saw that outright lies had been written about the birth developments by the doctor. I did not know when my son was born that the nurses at my new hospital would write notes about me and I sat down and cried when I saw all the beautiful things they had written about me. I was so happy because both the doctor and the nurses had been so good to me and I was so impressed by them, I did not think about what they were thinking of me. I only knew it had been such a different experience in treatment and allowed me to immediately bond with my child. I just knew I was in a safe place because my doctor understood me even though he could not wrap his head around what had happened to me, and the first nurse was so nice, and because I went in and went into full labour fast with a big baby I didn't have time to explore my apprehension.

When I was a child I was not social, I didn't know how to socialize, as a baby/toddler/small child I know I was flat in the showing of my emotions. I know my mother loved me from the way she speaks, but I also know she struggled with me. I would say I was a very boring child on the surface. I was in my own head and still am in many ways. I am very demonstrative with my children but a private person out in the world. However, I have love in me. I am not unemotional, in fact I am deep, it is just less publicly visible. I think that my surface flatness is hard for a parent, but I knew my father loved me very much, even though he was difficult sometimes. I trusted his love more despite the fact he was a more difficult parent. My mother was more critical as I grew, even though she took good care of us. I felt safer emotionally with my Dad. That was more important. I have always felt safer with men even if they were not safe to be around, like I could handle it better. I believe my dad had huge success as a teacher largely because his students felt very safe with him and strongly guided by him.

However, another issue at play, which is where I feel my issues with bonding and attachment lie: I was physically and verbally and sexually bullied from elementary school through all of high school and some teachers were abusive as well, including outright encouraging all of it. Family support didn't make me feel better, but of course, I didn't tell most of it either. The bullying was encouraged by educators who resented my father. I was raped once during high school but it was not violent and had far less impact than the teacher who looked me sexually up and down with hatred in his eye because my mother would not leave my father for him. Besides, I had learned to dissociate, which is perhaps why the nurses treated me the way they did? Going into the world as an adult I ended up in a relationship with a sociopath and probable psychopath, who is now teaching religion and ethics and other-abled children in a high school. He charms and convinces everyone he is a victim, threatening anyone he victimizes. He divides people to conquer. I know he drugged me to control me, making me think I had cancer, but I became better after he left. I didn't trust anybody and ended up trusting the most dangerous people. I had been taught to give of myself without expecting anything in return and I was always kind no matter how badly I was treated because I believed there was good in everyone, and to me it was just a question of who was the most trustworthy, not that there was anyone completely trustworthy. The better people seemed, the more likely they were to criticize and condemn me, and that was more dangerous to me than physically abusive people. But is there someone who should be completely trustworthy? I don't think that is possible. And does life experience create insecure attachments, not just first primary caregiver? And what about mothers who rush a child off the breast? Do their children have insecure or confused attachment? (Because I find that with kittens.) When is it okay to stop breastfeeding and how? Should children be left in care? How does the child's treatment in care affect secure or insecure attachment? How does autism affect attachment style?

Does the child's behavior at the start affect the bond and therefore the attachment? Or perhaps the support for mother affects the support for child, affecting the child's attachment from sensing of security or not? Does the amount of control (not just support) a mother has during the birth experience affect her ability to bond with the child?

Why is it all blamed on mothers and why aren't mothers taught this information from pregnancy? Is it because they are supposed to come to it naturally? Then why do we not support mothers as primary caregivers? If their maternal experiences are damaged how are they to know how to create secure attachments? Why would there not be discussions of this with soon-to-be and new parents? Is our society encouraging of secure attachment scenarios?

I believe playing with a child from birth is an important way of creating a bond, and I see it in many seemingly healthy parent-child bonds, but my child did not respond to play attempts by me, and possibly I was the same with my mother. Perhaps, because both my mother and I were exhausted and unwell after the births, we did not feel the true emotion and our children knew this. I, as a baby, and my child, were not focused on our birth parents, but was that because of our own birth (health) issues, or because of our mothers, or because of the circumstances of our births, and later did life experience help or hinder attachment style?

While on the subject, I have known several male children whose fathers seemingly loved them like the dickens, and then when the male child went through a bout of serious ill health that was life-threatening, the fathers seemed to lose their love for their children and even seemed to be outright hostile towards those boys after they recovered and as they grew up, causing emotional issues for their sons. Often divorces occur when health issues come up with children, and men often leave. It is blamed on men needing to create healthy children through procreation, and perhaps wanting to move on to spread their seed in a "better" place (person), and not having the ability to rise to the occasion, but we expect mothers to always love their children no matter the experience of giving birth, the circumstances, their own past experiences and security or lack of it, or the health issues.

How do men feel about their children and themselves if an offspring is healthy or unhealthy and how are the men supported by other men/society given these scenarios. Do they feel shame or do they only feel ill-equipped? How is the father-child attachment/bond supported by society?

Big questions (forgot to mention)

Both my children are very well-received and are very loving with me and others and seen very happy, healthy and joyful. My daughter makes friends the most easily and both are able to reach out and make connections with people of all ages and my daughter seems to have a very clear perspective of her place in the world and her own clear perspective on everything, so I am hoping she is okay and wonder if when she becomes a woman if issues will come up but do not expect them to. We have big discussions about many things and I am pretty sure she will always be sure-footed. it seems in her nature. Perhaps attachment issues are also affected by who we are born to be, and maybe from birth my daughter was able to search for what she needed, even when it may have seemed elusive from me. Also, she is getting better about sleeping habits and we are a very close family, my children have other family relationships where they feel deeply loved and loving friendships, and my daughter especially, had those from young, once I moved closer. My son has had fewer in that respect as we are further away again, and perhaps is less well off because of it. I believe because of my own experiences I am well-equipped to teach and guide them in the world now, but I am always looking for information to guide me also.

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Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. more...

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