Sunday, 22 February 2015

The ties that bind

Many words have been written about attachment – theories related to personality, relationships, patterns of employment and even hoarding. Some of the most famous psychology experiments have used children to help us understand our attachment styles. And unsurprisingly some researchers have linked attachment style to suicide.

So what exactly do we mean by attachment? It is more than connection, which can change from moment to moment, but a connection that is time-bound – to the present, past and future. We remain attached to people, things, ideologies and places because of the memories they hold, or the future hopes they nurture.

The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is."  C.S. Lewis

Our whole identities can become intertwined with the things we become attached to. We can also become attached to the idea of past or the idea of future. In Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s book The Time Paradox, they play with some interesting theories about mental health, behaviour and human beings’ relationship with time. It is a fascinating exploration of how our attitude towards time affects so much of what we do.

Being away from home recently, at times I became acutely aware of my attachments – a mug I always drink out of, a pair of shoes I forgot to pack, the river that runs through my town, the people that I love. We all have to spend time being away from the things and people we are attached to and generally our attachments are secure enough to sustain some coming and going. However, we can clearly see that when a person’s mental health becomes fragile, attachment behaviour can become extreme.

People can become obsessive about not leaving the house without some object or talisman – not just because they would miss it, but because they come to develop a belief that something terrible will happen to them if they don’t have it. Those with borderline personality disorder traits can often become this way about their relationships, needing constant contact with a loved one, without which they suffer unbearable feelings of abandonment. A person experiencing high levels of anxiety might always need to know their loved ones are safe and can become attached to certain rituals which make them feel safe.

For someone considering suicide, attachments add weight to the push and pull between life and death. Excruciating loss of attachment can make life meaningless and the anticipation of loss can feel like so much of a threat that death offers peace from this constant torture. Taking this to its extreme, loss of attachment to your own life, your meaning, your purpose and your future can all lead to thoughts of suicide.

Our need to belong – to something or someone is instinctive. Some philosophies maintain that our lives would be more peaceful if we were less attached. I agree with that on some level because loss is painful and disruptive. But these attachments, the love of anything or anyone is what keeps us connected to life, to our own lives. Loss only hurts because we love the thing we lost.

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”      Ernest Hemmingway

A life without any attachment can become a life without love. I’d rather take the risk. I’d rather love a favourite mug, even though one day it might break. I’d rather love the people I care about, even though I have no control over when they might be taken away from me.

Part of our work, is about helping people to become attached to their own lives again. It matters. It matters how we spend our time because none of us have an infinite supply.

Dr Murphy - signing off. Oh and if you are interested in The Time Paradox you can check it out here 

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