On Secure Attachments Within the Abolitionist Community
Emily S. Cutler
So, here’s the thing.
I haven’t studied attachment theory extensively, but I think the general idea is that if a person develops secure attachments with their family in early childhood - a secure base that shapes their reality and understanding of themselves, relationships, and the world - then that feeling of security will continue throughout adulthood. Their life won’t be perfect but they will have a general sense of safety and okay-ness (it’s 1:47am, I woke up at 5am this morning, and I can’t figure out a better word). They will be able to take risks and face confrontation/adversity without their whole sense of self and identity collapsing.
I don’t 100% subscribe to this theory, but it rings true to some extent.
I don’t have secure attachments to the family I grew up in. I never really emotionally connected with my family and I always felt much more valued for my accomplishments rather than who I am. And I think that did lead to a lot of the distress/crisis I have experienced.
Tonight, I approached my dad to try to convey that. I didn’t tell him about me personally, but I tried very hard to emphasize the social and systemic causes of distress, and how often it is that the person labeled “crazy” is not broken themselves but instead a messenger of brokenness in a system that needs to be addressed. My dad is a radiologist and a big believer in the biomedical model of “mental illness.” He responded to me with all sorts of evidence from fMRI scans and other bioreductionist ideas. I argued back, insisting that power imbalances can have a biological impact on the brain. He wasn’t 100% receptive, but I think he sort of got what I was expressing and it was definitely a step in the right direction.
More importantly, though, I realized that I do have secure attachments, and I have developed somewhat of a sense of security that I have been missing for most of my life. I have a secure base of knowledge in the research, philosophical arguments, Facebook exchanges, personal narratives, and dialogues that constantly take place in this community - all of which serve as confirmation and validation of my understanding and identity. Because of all of the abolitionist/Mad Pride/context-informed perspectives that exist and come into being every day, I can rest confident in the knowledge that I am the expert of my own experience, and I have something valid to say.
I have finally gotten to a place where I actually feel like I deserve to be listened to. (Most of the time.)
The idea behind attachment theory is that people’s secure attachments with their family system allow them to go beyond their family system into the world with confidence in themselves as people with value and something to offer.
I think a lot of us in the abolitionist community who don’t have secure attachments with our family systems. And that sucks - I personally think that is really unfair and awful.
But maybe there is still hope. Maybe there is a way to reverse the narrative. Instead of gaining a sense of self-value from our family system and carrying that into the outside world, perhaps we can gain a sense of self-value from one another and carry it back into our family system.
I usually feel like I absolutely can’t talk to my parents about this kind of thing because they have so much more power than I do in my family system. To them I am often just an entitled idealistic millennial who doesn’t understand how anything really works. But tonight I felt that I had some power. Even if my dad didn’t completely see it that way, I knew for myself that my voice has value.
A huge thank you to all my fellow abolitionists who have played a role in that.