Attachment Theory and Affect Regulation: The Roadmap for Healing D.I.D.

I want to continue my miniseries how the journey my wife and I have taken to heal her dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, unknowingly followed the tenets of attachment theory. Today I want to explore what the theory says about affect regulation and how it is a key component for healing d.i.d.

Affect regulation, if I understand it correctly, describes “the growth, development and connectivity of our emotional brain” ( Another website says it’s the ability “to produce an appropriate emotional response to any given situation” ( But if there’s one thing I’ve discovered as I read d.i.d. literature and websites is that most d.i.d. sufferers have poor affect regulation.

As I have read blogs and guidelines for healing and trauma therapy websites, the expectation seems ubiquitous that the d.i.d. sufferer will probably experience depression, suicide ideation, self-injury, and a host of other co-morbid issues. Most will need to take anti-depressants and anti-psychotics as therapists desperately try to help the sufferers regulate themselves during the healing process. Many will be subjected to inpatient hospitalization as well.

But my girls have by-passed most of this. To be fair, it’s still been a very hard emotional road of recovery for them and me, but the marked difference in my girls’ experience has always baffled me until I learned more about attachment theory.

One of the tenets of attachment theory is that the attachment figure provides another with 3 needed things throughout life: 1) proximity maintenance (being close whenever needed), 2) a physical and emotional safe haven to alleviate distress and 3) a secure base from which the person can explore the world and develop their personal abilities and capacities (Shaver). These 3 things help a person form a positive outlook about others, about him/herself and about life in general. And it is around these that a person learns major, positive affect regulation. If I understand this concept correctly, the attachment figure not only models good affect regulation, but promotes the necessary environment for the child to develop the same. In other words I’m the calm in my girls’ storm. I not only am an example to them of how to deal with stress, anxiety and past/current trauma, but I provide them the safe harbor to do the same.

All 7 girls (including Karen) in my wife’s network were all over the negative spectrum of attachment types: avoidant, ambivalent/resistant, and disorganized as each entered my life. As I became each one’s attachment figure, she looked to me for her security needs as she faced her various fears from past trauma. Each also looked to me to help her establish relationships with the other girls because they were distrustful and thoughtless of each other. And she looked to me for praise and comfort. I became the epicenter of their healing journey. Sometimes it was exhausting. Sometimes when one would ask me to ask another girl something, I would get exasperated thinking “Ask her yourself!” But slowly the calm I provided them brought stability to them as well.

Yet what I provided for the girls was more than just a chance to heal. I provided them a chance to reorganize the way they view life. Young trauma victims tend to have a negative outlook on life without a strong attachment figure to help them interpret the trauma. Once I became that for them, they were able to re-interpret the past pain and loneliness into their new reality: that of a loving and safe relationship in which they found themselves. Their negative outlook on life turned decidedly positive.

We learn to cope with life best when we learn it as a young child in the safety of strong parental (or other) relationships; and yet, attachment theory says that need for secure attachments continues throughout life. As the supporting spouse or family member you have a chance to be the calm in the midst of the storm as your loved one heals and transforms her/his outlook on life.


Sam, I Am

Note: I do believe there’s a second, extremely powerful reason for the lack of affect regulation issues my girls have experienced. It’s part of the d.i.d.-specific method my wife’s therapist and I use for healing traumatic memories. (note Kathy’s support of attachment dynamics)


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heathers Helpers
    Apr 30, 2015 @ 21:09:21

    A truly excellent blog posting Sam! I will look at more tomorrow but THANK YOU for leading me here.


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