attachment and separation

Attachment and separation are concepts related to both physical and psychelogical domains. A child is both attached to, and separates from, mother, in both physical and psychelogical ways. The experiences of both can be either pleasant or painful to various degrees. Generally speaking, the infants physical attachment to mother is pleasant. That pleasant attachment becomes the ground upon which further attachments in life are built. If a child’s attachment to the primary care giver, usually the mother, is painful, then that becomes part of the psychelogical calculus that goes on around forming attachments, and separations. In a paradoxical kind of way, painful attachments can make for pleasant separations. We are pleased when pain goes away.

An original meaning of the Anglo-Latin word ‘attachment’ from about the 14th century is ‘arrest of a person on judicial warrant.’ There is a linkage between attachment and arrest, in that when we become attached we are, in a manner of speaking, arrested by the object of our attachment. To say something is arresting can mean it is captivating. For example, the person I met at dinner last night was so arresting.

Attachment generally has more to do with acquisition; we acquire something, or someone. We can acquire beliefs and biases, preferences and sets of behaviors; we acquire a sense of connection, a sense of support, a sense of identity, a sense of family. We become arrested by what we acquire. Our acquisitions become our attachments, and our attachments becomes our acquisitions. Acquisition means something we have gained, own, possess. Whether it is a job, a friend, a lover, a car, a home, a set of values, an expectation or a set of priorities, they are acquisitions to which we become attached, or by which we are arrested.

Separation is a term that comes to Modern English from 14th century Latin and means ‘to pull apart.’ In a sense, it is release from the arrest. To the degree our sense of identity is attached to our acquisitions, be they material or psychelogical, there will be more or less pain in pulling apart the connection between identity and acquisitions. For example, if our identity is predicated on the love of our spouse, losing that, having that pulled away, torn apart, is a significant threat to that identity. Couples tend towards attachment for it’s sense of security in maintaining a sense of identity. Popular songs are replete with lyrics that suggest without you, I am nothing. We want to not only be arrested, and attached, we want to be acquired as well, as if bought. Couples often speak in terms of ‘you are mine.’ Ownership is the outcome of acquisition. I acquired it. I own it. To be pulled apart from the arrest of being owned can be a relief. Again, separation can have it’s joyous side just as attachment can have it’s miserable side. To be attached to a narcissistic spouse can be miserable. To be separated from that attachment can be a relief.

Attachment and separation issues when applied to our emotional state of mind is very sticky. There is an ‘adhesion’ that comes along with attachments Even when we have emotionally separated from an attachment, there can be residue adhesion. By way of analogy, imagine holding a cube of butter and throwing it away. Still, a film of butter remains on the hand.

Attachment styles generally fall into 4 categories: Secure, Avoidant, Anxious and Disorganized. It is not unreasonable that separation also has these same categories.  All of our acquisitions, both physical and mental, and all of our attachments to such acquisitions, which is the basis of our personal identity, is going to be arrested, and taken away. If birth is the beginning of acquiring material things and psychelogical constructs, then death is the pulling apart, the taking away, of those acquisitions, including that acquisition of ‘self, or ‘I.’  Life is replete with attachments and separations, gains and losses, successes and failures. We need not approach such inevitable and fundamental life experiences  as avoidant, anxious or disorganized. We can learn to approach it from a secure position.

From the Latin securus, security means ‘free from care, quiet, easy.’ Some hundred years later it meant more ‘to make safe.’ Accepting two fundamental ‘truths’ of our existence can help develop that sense of safe easy quiet. One fundamental is uncertainty. The other is impermanence. There is a direct correlation between uncertainty and possibilities. As uncertainties go up, so do possibilities; as uncertainty goes down, possibilities decrease. It’s not unreasonable to feel more secure with more possibilities. It has been said that change is the only constant in life. The upside to this is the guarantee of change. We are not stuck, fixed, calcified, cast in stone. The possibilities of transformation exist, and in that can be a profound sense of security. If sailing on the seas and the wind direction unexpectedly changes, there is security in knowing one has the possibility to change the sails. There is security in knowing that possibilities exist.  

“The limit of your present understanding is not the limit of your possibilities.”

 – Guy Finley


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