Normal Reactions to Abnormal Expereinces

When I began to learn about Attachment Theory in school, I felt a familiar language being spoken. Although I have been consciously growing and healing these last 4 years, I was unaware that the process that I was going through actually had a name. To learn that the process in which I have been understanding myself actually has a theory attached to it was quite comforting to me.

It’s easy to pathologist someone as depressed, anxious, co-dependent, etc. I think it’s important for many people to have an understanding that these behaviors, emotions, and reactions are normal given their early childhood experiences. Many circles call this “having a normal reaction to abnormal events”. When I first heard this, I remember feeling seen, heard, and as a result – validated. My reactions were debilitating me, but in hearing this I realized that I wasn’t inherently defected. Instead, I realized that I had lost my way because I was given a faulty road map.

This video for the Still Face Experiment is a snap shot of how our parents, caretakers, and guardians interactions with us shapes how we react to them, the world, and in turn ourselves. A mother staring blankly back at a child represents a mother not responding to the infants cues. In daily life, parents and caretakers easily miss infant cues when the adult is busy, stressed, traumatized, addicted, or in any other way distracted or unable to. Being fully present to an infant 100% of the time is impossible, however, the more an infant’s cues are misread or unread, the more the infant will adopt a stressful reaction. This can lead to a sense of worthlessness (“I don’t matter”) and/or helplessness (“I don’t like asking for what I need”) and a myriad of other issues as the child grows and seeks to be seen.

In my case, I grew up in a large family. My parents were raised in physically abusive homes and neither received much affection. Although I did not experience physical abuse from them, my family didn’t know how to connect on emotionally healthy levels. There was a lot of blame, teasing, and criticism; and if I was hurt, it was because I brought it upon myself. Because my parents worked long hours, I was handed off to whoever could take care of me at the moment. My older sister says that when my mother would return from work, she would hand me off to her and I would turn my back towards my mother in a subtle resistance of going to her. I can image that as an infant, I probably experienced a lot of guessing if my needs were going to be met, and how to go about signalling for it.

I think it’s important to add that I’m not seeking to blame parents or caretakers. In your healing journey, you may experience anger towards those who raised you. I think this is normal and healthy. However, being stuck in blame and resentment can be unhealthy and how long you need to feel this way is different for everyone. My hope is that at some point, you will grow a space in yourself that can make peace with the past, understand that you are not flawed, and learn to be kind, loving, and nurturing to yourself.


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