This page is a continuation from *COLLINS ON RESPONDING TO NEED – Part Three

as it deals with information contained in the following writings:

Nancy Collins of the Department of Psychology, University of California, University of California in Santa Barbara is one such expert.

Her homepage can be found at:  http://nancy.collins.socialpsychology.org/


I will be working in my writing today with information that can be located at:

Collins, N. L., Ford, M. B., Guichard, A. C., & Feeney, B. C. (2006). Responding to need in intimate relationships: Normative processes and individual differences. In M. Mikulincer & G. Goodman (Eds.), Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex. New York: Guilford.  (pages 149-189)


These authors do an excellent job of describing how attachment patterns work in adult to adult relationships, which are assumed to occur between equals.  Their points also describe how adult attachment patterns would optimally be working as they relate to their children, not as equals, but as immature beings who are completely dependent upon them for all their needs.

The term ‘dyadic’ refers to interactions between two people.  Between adults operating as equals, the dyadic interactions between them do not take on the awesome job of building a partner’s brain.  We can then read the following statement from the above Collins article differently in relationship to parenting activities than we would read it for children.  I believe a large part of what causes so much difficulty related to inadequate parenting happens because the parent’s own three systems of attachment, exploration and caregiving are not in balance within themselves and do not operate in their own lives correctly in ANY situation.

“In order for attachment bonds to function effectively, the attachment and exploratory behavior of one partner must be coordinated with the caregiving behavior of eir or her attachment figure.  Indeed, Bowlby (1969/1982) referred to attachment bonds as a “shared dyadic programme” (p. 377) in which careseekers and caregivers play complementary roles and in which the behavior of one partner commonly meshes with that of the other.  The caregiving behavioral system is thus an integral component of attachment bonds….Just as infants are motivated to remain in close proximity to their primary caregivers, caregivers feel a strong urge to remain close to their infants and young children; they routinely monitor their infant’s whereabouts and remain ready to respond on short notice should any threat arise.”  (Collins et al, 2006, pp. 155-156)


In healthy infant to caregiver relationships this ‘shared dyadic programme’ operates constructively.  The caregiver’s needs are met as they take care of their infants and young children.  Collins is making it clear that this is not an attachment situation where the adult is having its attachment needs met.  In order for a parent to effectively take care of a dependent infant or young child their own attachment needs CANNOT be met by the little person they are offering the care giving to at the same time.  These are mutually exclusive operating systems.

The adult’s attachment system must be shut off in order for, and during the time period that this adult is providing adequate care to its offspring.  If the adult’s attachment system is NOT deactivated, adequate caregiving cannot be activated, and the infant or young child will not be appropriately or adequately taken care of.

Infants and young children have clear, definite and definable needs.  Caregivers with versions of insecure attachment patterns will not be able to, in my opinion, have their own attachment needs satisfied ‘good enough’ that their attachment systems can deactivate completely as they attempt to care for their children.  I believe that all manor of maltreatment, neglect and abuse are a consequence of this fact.

My mother’s treatment of me is an excellent example of how bad this can get.  Her disorganized insecure attachment system could never shut off.  She could therefore, except for the basic physical needs of her family, care give to her children.  Because of her psychosis about me, the very worst of her disorganized insecure attachment disorder surrounded all of her actions (even her thoughts and emotions) as they related to me.

For whatever reasons her mental illness formed and operated the way it did, when it came to taking care of me her ACTIVE disorganized insecure attachment system never itself shut off, and I carried the burden of that fact as it prevented her from caregiving to me.  Our ‘shared dyadic’ program never meshed.

In the case of my own parenting of my children, my disorganized insecure attachment system never shut itself off in any normal way like an adult’s attachment system is supposed to do so that a parent’s caregiving system can kick in.  I believe that mine was ‘shut down’ but not ‘shut off’ because I found a way to close myself off from the operation of my attachment system.  I just plowed forward in spite of this fact, determined to take care of my children.

My children and I shared a dyadic program between us, which is what does form the patterns within an infant’s brain.  But it was barely ‘good enough’.  I will describe in detail in future posts how these mother-infant dyadic interactions are supposed to mesh, what interferes with optimal patterning, and what happens inside the infant’s growing body and brain in response to these patterns.


“Of course, effective caregiving involves more than simply monitoring a partner’s [including a child’s] whereabouts and remaining alert to signs of distress.  In its optimal form, caregiving includes sensitivity and responsiveness to another person’s expressed needs and signals [especially crucial to healthy infant brain development], and it should include a broad array of behaviors that complement a partner’s attachment and exploratory behavior….Thus, according to attachment theory, caregiving serves two major functions:  (1) to meet the dependent partner’s need for security by responding to signals of distress or potential threat (providing a safe haven); and (2) to support the attached person’s autonomy and exploration when not distressed (providing a secure base).”  (Collins et al, 2006, p 156)


In my case, this statement brings up some interesting thoughts for me:  “…effective caregiving involves more than simply monitoring a partner’s [including a child’s] whereabouts and remaining alert to signs of distress.”  My mother was insanely obsessed with me (not the REAL me, of course, but the me she had in her head).  She monitored my whereabouts nearly all of the time.  It was invasive.  It was abusive.

For all the thousands and thousands of hours of my childhood that I was forced to stand at attention in corners (from before the sun came up until after it went down, day after day), forced to lay in bed like I was in a coffin for days and days, forced to perform obsessive housekeeping chores within her presence, even forced to ride in the back seat of the car directly in line with her eyesight in the rear view mirror (talk about being under the evil eye!) so that she could focus her glare on me any time her eyes wandered from the road in front of her — when she was driving or riding as a passenger when my father drove.

During all these times was she exercising some distorted version of monitoring my physical being?  (Also related to her complete obsesseion with my state of cleanliness vs dirtiness, and with her belief that I WAS a liar.)

And the opposite of optimal also occurred in relation to “remaining alert to signs of distress.”  She remained alert to any sign that I was NOT distressed so that she could intervene and reinstate my state of distress.  I am not joking here.  That was her mission, to punish me.  In order to ensure maximum effect for all her efforts to make bad Linda good, she ‘spared me’ from feeling safe, secure, content, or happy as much as she possibly could.  I can see as I write this that my life with her was like in an opposite dimension where everything that should happen between caregiver and infant and child was reversed!

She had a maniac’s maniacal focus of attention on me.  If you think about the best that a mother could offer her infant child that would contribute to its well being, and then consider that my mother’s psychosis meant that the best thing she could do for me was to turn me from being evil into being good — an impossible set up for failure, I realize — but still, in her own insane way she believed she was mothering me better than any other mother on earth could.  She was doing the most fantastic job of punishing me possible, for my own good, because only this kind of mothering, accomplished to perfection, MIGHT possibly save me.

So me being relaxed, safe, secure, happy, content was NOT what was going to save me.  Only by making me as miserable as she possibly could did my mother think she was contributing to my ultimate well being.  She believed that she WAS responding to my need:  My need to be saved from the eternal damnation that I had already received in some previous lifetime.  “Gee, mom.  Did you think you were bigger than God?  Did you think you could overcome what you already believed was His decision in condemning me to hell as he supposedly gave me to the devil in the first place?  So that I could kill you as I was being born?  If you just did a good enough job of punishing me you could beat God somehow, overthrow God’s (supposed) verdict?”

Dang!  How DID I survive that?


Please read the comments to this section.  It provides an example of what happened if I ever let my guard down as a child, or ‘suffered the illusion’ of even momentary safety.  It is also an example of how good feelings can become tangled up with tragedy for abused children so that good-feeling experiences later in life can become trauma triggers, themselves.  It also is an example of how what experts refer to as ‘flashbulb’ memory formation related to trauma also happened to me in good experiences because they were so incredibly rare that they were almost traumatic experiences themselves because they were in such stark contrast to the usual ongoing experience of my life.

It is interesting to me that in spite of her God-devil psychosis, I have no memory of my mother using the word ‘sin’ until she joined the Assembly of God church when I was in 10th grade.


All the links are contained together here:  +CAREGIVING IN ADULT ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS

Links in the series separately:







**Attachment Styles and Caregiving from Collins Article


4 thoughts on “*COLLINS ON RESPONDING TO NEED – Part Four

  1. Where was your father in all of this? Why did he not step up to protect you? And if your mother became psychotic as a reaction to a drug taking during delivery, why was there no action taken to protect the children? Did you ever try to find whether others suffered a similar reaction to the specific drug? Some drugs can forever change the braincircuitry, never to be healed on its own, necessiating taking drugs the rest of one’s life.

    My oldest sister, 15 years my senior, before mostly loosing herself in victimhood, has now accustomed herself to say, those were different times, our parents acted. And i know in a sense she is right. Our parents never had the choices available to us, nor the methods of healing, nor the research to further knowledge and insight.

    I am the youngest of 5 and also always the dark sheep, accused of anything, never allowed to be sick, never supported for any disease or when having psychotherapeutic consultations. Yet i was the only one she could really talk to. My second sister she always put on a high pedestal. Yet i have now come to learn, she also, was never properly mothered and was also the caretaker of my mother.

    I understood much of my mother, never engaged in blame. Yet this pattern of accusing and shaming me to the point where she said i was crazy because i had the genes of my father, or i was so crazy i deserved to be abused by my first husband, who made an attempt to beat the child in my pregnant belly to death, i never understood.

    It is a pattern though i am grateful for. It taught me to keep my mouth shut, when similar feelings arise towards my own children. I refuse to engage in blaming them. But know and accept, they still get deeply hurt by the way i am.

    • About a year ago I tracked the hospital I was born in through its three purchases and changes during the years since I was born there in 1951. I spoke to the head OB/GYN anesthesiologist who told me that yes, probably 5% of women suffered what my mother did under the influence of Twilight Sleep – and yes, the drug was most likely used at Queen of Angels Hospital in LA in 1951. He said this percentage is considered “acceptable” with any drug.

  2. Linda, Wouldn’t it interesting if you could have actually asked your mother these questions? I’m sure her only answer would be physical violence towards you. Just reading them reflects her severe delusions!

    The place your mother’s craziness losses credibility with me is in the fact that she was able to care for your siblings in a more “normal” way. She knew the right way to raise your siblings. She knew it was not appropriate to scream at them and beat them on a daily basis. She had her public face where she played the good mother. She was able to “play” the good mother because she knew (loosely) what a good mother should do. In private (and unfortunately, there was so much privacy), she took all her frustrations out on an innocent child. Did she know the consequences of treating you malevolently in public? I think so because she knew it was wrong.

    I know your siblings were profoundly affected by your mother’s treatment of you. They lived in a war zone but you were in the war.

    • My mother’s childhood play life was nearly completely consumed with playing alone with dolls within the universe she created with her own imagination. Every year, as she told us, she asked her mother for a baby sister. Her mother would say, “We’ll see.” And every birthday and Christmas my mother would receive the gift of another doll. She still had her whole china doll collection when she married. My father still had his Model T. My mother made him get rid of his car and he made her get rid of her dolls.

      Then she began having ‘doll babies’ of her own, and I’m not at all convinced that her mind ever knew the difference between a real live baby and a doll. If I think about it in terms of her sitting each one of her 6 children in a separate chair and then assigning them a personality and a role to play in her imaginary family, I was the doll who was all bad, my one sister was the doll who could do no wrong. Her Alaskan ‘boys’ each had a role and a personality assigned to them.

      She just treated each of her dolls according to her thoughts ABOUT them which had nothing whatsoever to do with us being real, individual people. She did not have the ability to relate to people as people. How she treated me in public was more related to what was ‘proper’ (being raised in Boston, proper was important). Borderlines have a very rigid framework for public vs private, and she played that part to perfection.


      I remember one summer afternoon when I was about 11 years old and we had all gone to a restaurant by Fire Lake (in Alaska) to eat lunch. (My mother made a point of taking us off of the mountain, as she put it, and into restaurants to eat about once a month so nobody would ever think we had been raised in the ‘sticks’, and so that we could practice our public manners.) On this day as we were leaving the restaurant an incoming female customer paused as she held the door open for us to come out. I remember she looked at each of us 3 girls separately, her eyes meeting mine and scanning around my face. She then said to my mother, “What beautiful daughters you have.” She looked directly at me, in front of my mother, and said, “You have such perfect eyebrows!”

      I heard about that later. How vain and conceited I was, how I thought I was better than everyone else, that I was really truly ugly on the inside, that I couldn’t fool my mother like I had fooled this woman, that if anyone had to raise me like she did they would know the truth about what a horrible person I was……and on and on and on for months after this. Why did she not haul off and whack me across the face in front of this woman? Why did she wait until she was out of public view? Was it because she wanted to absolutely control what other people thought of her and how they saw her as a ‘perfect mother’? What was going through her mind even as that woman was speaking those words to me? Obviously hatred of me. Or hatred of the other bad half of herself that she had invested in me and projected onto me?

      The memory — of standing on the short nap carpet of that restaurant entry way, surrounded by varnished knotty pine boards that ran floor to ceiling, having just passed the jukebox that my mother had only a few minutes prior put money into to play the “Big Bad John” song in honor of my brother, touching my sister’s bodies as we stood at a standstill in that small space as the woman holding the door gazed upon us girls — listening to this woman’s words spoken directly TO ME — like I was alive, I existed, I was a person — feeling warm and glowy inside as she spoke those words to me — and forgetting completely for those few seconds about my mother and about what would happen to me after those words were spoken — is a memory that is emblazoned within me.

      Even though I had to pay the usual and common price of much ongoing pain and suffering from my mother’s reaction to that instant, that woman gave me what became one of the most precious gems I could then carry within me for the duration of my childhood. She had given me something that had actually for a split-second made me feel good about myself inside of myself. My mother, no matter how hard she worked at it, could never take that gem away from me. That woman’s comment was given directly to the me that was and is Linda.

      It’s interesting to me that when I lost all my hair from chemo, my eyebrows did not grow back. Every day I have to draw them on, and often I think about this woman and how she gave me that most precious gift.


      What was this? Obviously abuse. Where did it come from? I see no way to understand it except that it came from a sick, sick mind. When I get to the point in my writings of exploring how the competition behavioral system intertwines with the attachment and caregiving systems, I will describe how the predatory nature of my mother operated through her competition (for resources) with me. How deprived and scarcity-based was her inner world that her mind, her whole being would focus on me as being in competition with her for whatever resources their were in her world? (My father’s attention was a big one.)

      If her psychotic break indeed happened during labor, she would have had no idea that I was going to be born a daughter. If however, it was at the point that I was actually born and she knew I was a girl that her psychosis originated, then the whole ‘the devil sent me to kill her in labor’ aspect could have been applied in retrospect concerning the events prior to my birth. I still believe that she was given the drug Twilight Sleep during our labor, an extremely dangerous drug for any woman who had a fragile psyche prior to delivery. It induced psychotic hallucinations in every woman under its influence. Healthier woman could ‘forget’ the psychosis along with the pain of delivery afterward. Not so with my mother.

      My sister just told me she has pages of writings she discovered in her possession my mother wrote in 1984, supposedly connected to family history, within which my mother takes off on a very strange rambling discourse of how when she was growing up her grandmother and mother would close themselves behind doors and talk for hours and hours while my mother was shut out, alone, on the other side. I want to read those writings.

      I do not believe that even given the circumstances of my difficult birth that my mother’s psychosis would have evolved the way it did if I had been born a boy. I think deeply implanted (infesting) her psyche was a prohibition against being angry at the men in her early life. A girl could simply become the ‘bad Mildred’.

      As far as how she treated me in public, mothers are ‘nice’ in public. Children are ‘proper and nice’ in public. I do not believe my mother had the ability to think above, around, or outside of herself consciously. She could not ‘second guess’ except on an unconscious level so that she followed the social rules — in public, as a psychotic Borderline would. She was an automatic rage and hatred machine toward me. Everything about my being alive was some kind of a trauma trigger to her. How conscious was she? Did she know she was making her choices?

      Oh, but could that ‘pretty eyebrows’ woman have simply reached out and taken my hand into hers and led me away from my life with my mother, into another, better world.

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