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

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)


Taken from this article, we read:

“The propensity [inclination] to care for the needs of others is regarded by attachment theory as another major component of human nature….Whereas the attachment system is a normative safety-regulating system that reduces the risk of the self coming to harm, the caregiving system is a safety-regulating system that reduces the risk of a close other coming to harm….From a normative perspective, the caregiving system alerts individuals to the needs of others and motivates them to provide protection, comfort, and assistance to (and promote the overall adaptive functioning of) those who are either chronically or situationally dependent on them….Thus the caregiving behavioral system will be activated most strongly when a close other is facing adversity or personal challenge.  However, the caregiving and attachment behavioral systems (within an individual) will be antithetical [sharply contrasted in character or purpose] to each other, such that sensitive and responsive caregiving is likely to occur only when the caregiver’s own attachment needs have been satisfied and the attachment system is deactivated….That is, when a caregiver is feeling secure, he or she will be able to devote attention and resources to the needs of others; but when the caregiver’s own security is threatened and his or her own attachment system has been activated, caregiving behavior (the ability to respond to the attachment and exploratory needs of another) is likely to be impaired to some degree.”  (Collins et al 2006, pp. 154-155)  [Bowlby 1969/1982, 1988 is referenced within this text]


There is a LOT of information here.  When it comes to considering how our parents might have been unable to take adquate care of us, these words become very important:  “...the caregiving and attachment behavioral systems (within an individual) will be antithetical [sharply contrasted in character or purpose] to each other, such that sensitive and responsive caregiving is likely to occur only when the caregiver’s own attachment needs have been satisfied and the attachment system is deactivated….”

This is a description that seems to indicate that naturally, or ‘normatively’ there is a switch that appropriately turns these two systems, attachment and caregiving, on and off in relationship to one another within individuals.  I believe that is especially possible with the insecure-disorganized attachment patterns that nothing works right.  The attachment needs are never fully satisfied so that the attachment system can be deactivated while the caregiving system becomes activated.

I will also state here that those of us who suffered from the lack of secure attachment in our brain formative years, who never had a secure base or a safe haven in the world in the first place, are the ones who are ALWAYS most in need of experiencing this kind of secure attachment.  We are also, at the same time, the LEAST LIKELY to ever experience a truly safe and secure attachment.

Our patterns of experience, as they became formed in our brains and in the operation of our attachment systems that originated during early trauma, do not match the patterns of more securely attached people.  We therefore find ourselves participating in all kinds of troubled relationships (trauma dramas) as we try to attach to others who also formed insecure attachment patterns (of one kind or another, one degree or another) as a result of being raised with insecurely attached parents.

Our children always suffer except as we are able to partially meet their needs.  Trauma has communicated information about its existence into the very fabric of our bodies, brains and minds and shows itself through our insecure attachment patterns.  Because our attachment needs are rarely if ever satisfied, we can never fully give our attention to others so that we can truly care give to them.

I just recently realized that for the 35 years of my life I had children under the age of 18 under my care, it was not so much attachment to them that kept me from abusing them, and that allowed me to take as good care of them as I did.  I think now it was because I could somehow numb myself to the absence of having my own attachment needs satisfied that I could care give to them at all.

I know from experience that those of us with severe early trauma histories, that suffered from inadequate caregiving and had no secure attachments, have a risk for disaster when our children leave home that far surpasses what we are told about ’empty nest syndrome’.  In my case, once my youngest left home, my entire world and my being collapsed as if through implosion into a black hole.

I thought after awhile that it was because my attachment needs were being fulfilled through my mothering universe.  I don’t think that’s what actually happened.  I think I could focus so completely on care giving to my children that I was completely unaware of the terribly feelings related to my traumas and insecure attachment system needs — that I had effectively cut myself off from having to experience — because my attachment system WAS switched off, so that my caregiving system could be switched on.

I say this as a powerful word of caution to anyone who has their life centered on caregiving to children even though their own childhood was filled with malevolent deprivation, trauma and abuse.  It may be that the more effort we put into taking care of our children means that there is a massive amount of personal information about our own insecure attachment systems that we are not paying attention to.  We are, therefore, at grave risk of crashing like few others can once our children are gone from our home.

I can also say that finding this particular way to care for our children in spite of the damage that was done to us is a far cry better than the alternative might be — like in the case of the way my mother mothered.  My children are far less damaged than they could have been if I hadn’t somehow been able to manage to turn my own attachment system’s needs off while I took care of my children.

(This deactivation of an insecure attachment system with its corresponding pain, and an activation — or switching on — of the caregiving system might also be related to people’s need to care for LOTS of animals, like with animal hoarding.)


The Collins article talks about how important the ability to care give also is in adult intimate relationships:  “…healthy and secure intimate relationships are possible only when relationship partners are aware of their vital role as caregivers to one another.”  (2006, p 155)  I suspect that when insecure attachment patterns are present in a relationship, this caregiving between partners can become imblanced, as well.  I would also suspect that in cases where one partner never caregives the other, their own attachment needs are never satisfied and their attachment system, then, never switches off.

If the opposite situation exists where one partner refuses to ever depend on the partner or accept care giving, it may be that the way they deactivate their insecure attachment system is to deny it the same way I did with my children so that chronic and inappropriate caregiving acts as a defense against ever feeling the needs of unmet attachment created by a very insecure attachment system within them.


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

Links in the series separately:







**Attachment Styles and Caregiving from Collins Article


One thought on “*COLLINS ON RESPONDING TO NEED – Part Three

  1. I can only say how it was for me. I learned early on in motherhood, that making your children into emotial partners was the most severe from of abuse, scarring them for live. Having been the emotional partner mainly of my mother and at times also for my father i could relate to that. Having been damaged inutero made me into a superempath, so Peter Levine claims. I could feel through doors what the mood of my father was and whether i would risk being abused if i entered through that door. My only secure bond was with God and Angels. So i raised my children in a mostly dissociated state, from my soullevel. Again and again this would collaps into uncontrollable rage, suidical depressions and even abusing my children. The only thing better then my parents was my deep remorse and my verbal apologies afterwards, always letting my children know that what i did was completely wrong. As my complex ptsd caught up with me through my pregnancies, i had no way of being responsible and not having children. Which also would not solve the dilemma, as they are happy to be alive, regardless of having me as their mother. But i full acknowledge damage has been done. And i do not support comparisons in how severe someone’s damage is. Damage/trauma is just that and any level may be as hard/difficult to support as it is for me. Having been unable to fully repair myself, familyrelations are a perpetual cycle and keep falling apart. Something i also cannot change. I have invested much in gaining knowledge and insight and in practices and therapeutic methods, while they have not and have none. I have always acted from extreme responsibility. The simple fact is i am a parent, thus i am responsible. Knowing firsthand what the neglect by my mother did to me, i tried to keep dissociating, thus abusing myself, consciously as to let my children keep their mother in their lives. Nothing of this was ever completely functional. When my children left the nest, it was not so much them leaving the nest, as them getting so occupied with work, society, partying etc. that they became as neglectful of me as my mother was. With the only difference that i do believe them, when they say they love me. Which i never did with my mother. But in both cases i was the daughter and the mother from my perspective, but never felt to be the daughter, the mother, the wife, the partner from the perspective of them. Which in turn triggered the trauma of the most severe abandonment/abortion/murderattempt/abuse etc. However much i tried to explain, none of them ever seemed to get it. And possibly not having been through my experience, means they are not brainwired to understand. People like/love me when meeting/feeling/sensing my soullevel. They try to take my energy like energyparasites, or vampires, as Judith Orloff calls it. And in time i start running on empty and become more and more dysfunctional until all collapses again like a cardhouse.
    Yet in this collaps, there is also the eye of the storm, the calm. Around me everything may be raging, accusing and guilttripping me but in this eye i am tranquil and at peace. And it is here that i finally can feel the love again for my children in my heart, which i missed so deeply when in a dissociated soullevel state, beyond being human. In the eye it is ok when different emotional states, parts of myself, occur at their own volition. Sometimes tranquil, the next time deep sadness, then again fear/terror, then again the deep longing for death, for relief, to be done with it all. The despair of believing it to be impossible to ever get through this.
    The way i feel/think there are no guilty ones. Not my mother, nor my father, siblings, children, expartners. It is sad and tragic and mine to bring to healing. Only mine!!! And when or if that happens, all will be affected, in the present as well as in the past and the future. I will then have succeeded in clearing my bloodline. That may take me more lives then this one. Which makes it hard to stick at the discipline, to not give up, to stay responsible.
    For now i need to learn more compassion with myself. The hurt parts as well as the superresponsible mother. I often, mostly gave more then i had to give. And all of a sudden the tables were turned and i knew those days were over, i had nothing more to give, unless it was met with reciprocity. No judgement, no blame. It just is as it is. For now 3 of my 4 children do not have me, their mother as a mother in their lives. And possibly that is even good for them. They are adult and they get to make that choice. I am adult too and i will get over being deeply hurt by their decisions/actions. Unlike getting over that earliest hurt, that seems to be much harder and possibly impossible.

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