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Attachment, Regardless of Age

by on Sep.08, 2009, under Attachment, Separation

I don’t know a person in the world whose breath was not taken away by the story of Jaycee Dugard’s homecoming. Isn’t it every parent’s worst nightmare that her child will be stolen from her, never to be seen, hugged, kissed again? It’ would be like someone reaching into your chest and pulling out your heart.

Of all the press this story has gotten, of all the horror stories that continue to surface, of all the details that are being revealed, of all the insights that mental health workers have shared, none has impacted me as much as ones that addressed what people might expect from Jaycee as she relaigns her hideously broken life. Here’s the thought that knocked me down: It would not be surprising, experts said, for Jaycee to express sympathy for her captors. I read this and felt total revulsion. How could Jaycee feel for sympathy for that highly disturbed and, yes, evil human being?

But then I saw it: attachment. Jaycee Dugard actually grew feelings of attachment with her captors. So powerful is the human creature’s need for attachment that even in the most warped of cases, it can still develop. Whether you are one year or eleven, attachment happens. It is a need.

Many years ago I worked with a child who had been continuously sexually abused by her own mother. Awful, hideous, horrific would be the understatement of the century. A while after I was done with my internship, I ran into the child, seven years old. For the sake of idle chit chat, I asked about her mother. The abused child replied, “Oh my mom is great!” Great? That abusive, evil woman was great? There it was. Children attach to whatever they can grab, so powerful is the need.

One day, hopefully, this little girl will be able to face and detest the abuse to which she was subjected by her own mother. And one day, and likely after a long time, after having had tremendous support and having rekindled her mother’s endless love, Jaycee will relaign her attachment to where it belongs.

There is nothing so powerful as the attachment of child with parent. It is as basic a need as drinking water. It is a cord of amazing strength and durability, but it must be nurtured, massaged, and highly respected. It is parent-child attachment that forms the foundation that enables the child’s to trust, to go forth in the world, to take risks, and to form other attachments. Let’s hope that all of our children’s attachments are healthy ones.


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