Thursday, September 29, 2011

Attachment disorder and overeating

Over the last several months, I've become interested in disordered attachment. This happens when the primary parent/caregiver is unable to develop a healthy relationship with the very young child. While there are many reasons for this inability, in the end what matters is that the child perceives that the parent is unreliable or unsafe or unloving and that the child is on her own to take care of herself, most commonly in an emotional way, though sometimes in a physical way as well.

In the physical realm, children who are abused learn to hide while children who aren't provided with enough to eat learn to stuff themselves when food is available or they hoard food. This is not uncommon among foster children, for example, whose parents are addicts or alcoholics. These children don't trust that food will be there for them, even when the circumstances change. This is the case for one of my friends.

In the emotional realm, children with disordered attachment learn to soothe themselves in any way possible since many experiences seem unsafe and they do not have a steady adult to rely on. Life in my family seemed very unsafe to me; I perceived, quite probably mistakenly, that my parents weren't paying attention and that I had to be responsible for everyone, including myself. I also did not feel safe in the presence of my mother. I could not count on her to be loving or kind, though she often was. But there was another cold, unhappy side of her that I also felt responsible for. Her fluctuating emotions caused constant anxiety and fear in me, that I dealt with by self-soothing with food and later with alcohol. With enough sugar or drink in me, I could relax, not care that things weren't safe.

In the readings about disordered attachment, I learned that some children become afraid of their mothers. And that happened to me. It was an immense relief to read that this happens to children, for I have always felt ashamed that I feared my mother, who never hit me or physically abused me. But I was afraid of her, nonetheless. I also transferred that fear of powerful people to the men I got involved with, afraid they would hurt me, leave me, betray me. And the ones I picked did. It set up a sad pattern of relationships and a lot of difficulty with intimacy that I just kept at bay with sugar and then with booze and then with sugar again.

My abstinence from sugar is bringing all this up for healing. It's quite the ride.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I understand! I have attachment problems, though I've never been diagnosed with any kind of attachment disorder ,mainly because I'm not a big fan of being analyzed, I still know I have a problem. I was a hider, afraid not of my parents but of my older brother who had anger issues up until he graduated from high school six years ago. I was convinced my parents couldn't take care of me and didn't care. Everyday I woke up was a day of hide and seek with serious risks. I found self worth in baking since it was the one thing my brother liked about me and the one thing that made my parents realize I was there. I transfered my fear of my brother on to figures of authority so now I'm stuck doing what I'm told without questioning. I'm trying to break the habit but it's harder than I ever imagined it would be. Good luck with your journey! I'm rooting for you!