Attachment Issues


Many Asian and indigenous cultures revere their ancestors. In significant ways, our ancestor’s experiences live on in us: in our genes. The burgeoning science of epigenetics (the unfolding of gene expression) suggests what these cultural traditions around the world have known for many years is true: our ancestors continue to influence us from within the very cells of our bodies after they have left this world. We inherit our nervous system from them, especially through our maternal linage.

Studies on rats have revealed that granddaughters of traumatized grandmother rats have inherited the reactive nervous system of their grandmothers as if they, the granddaughters, were the ones who received the electric shocks. A nervous system affected by trauma tends to be very sensitive, often anxious, and alert to the environment – a worthy survival strategy. Studies of the grandchildren of holocaust survivors revealed the same patterns.

There is a sunny side to this inheritance. Those granddaughters may be more sensitive to their environments, more reactive but also highly alert, socially astute, and empathic. Sensitivity has its gifts. Moreover, life is inherently dynamic, creative, and interactive. Whatever we experience in our lives, for good or ill, shapes who we are and changes our genetics. It is interesting that identical twins are born with identical genetic material; however, if a little sample of DNA is taken from those identical twins at age 25 years old, there will be differences in their genes. This is epigenetics unfolding in our individual dance with life. Each person is changed by life and his or her response to experience. And because life is dynamic and shapes who we are there’s so much hope for each of us: hope for transformation, growth, awakening and healing. Understanding how epigenetics affects each of us individually and how these innate tendencies affect our relationships with our self, others and with the world is invaluable.

Likewise, the significance of early attachment sets a template for how we interact in our lives with ourselves, other people, and the world. If we are born into a nurturing and relatively stable environment we will tend to trust the world and ourselves. Our attitude towards relationships and life will be trusting. We will be more resilient. If we are born into difficult or neglectful circumstances we will feel less secure and trusting towards ourselves, others, and life. But this pattern can change. Resiliency can be learned.

Attachment begins before we are born. Our mothers experience, mood and environment profoundly affects us from conception on. The womb is our first home. Different hormones and neurotransmitters are released within the body of a stressed mom to be as compared a more serene mom to be. Hormones and neurotransmitters affect the development of the fetus. Birth is a powerful transition experience and profoundly influences attachment and nervous system function as well.

Less than wonderful beginnings may leave us with a need for healing, to regain what we did not receive and to claim our birthright of a full and meaningful life. Healthy relationships with people and animals, self-care, the earth, and therapy can reclaim this birthright. Connection with others, ourselves and the natural world is offered to us every day as we learn, grow, and heal.