Attachment Theory and Ambivalent Caregiving: The Roadmap for Healing D.I.D.

As my girls and I have traveled together these last 5 years, seeking their healing from dissociative identity disorder, I found myself unknowingly validating the tenets of attachment theory. John Bowlby began to formulate this theory of “the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans” after WWII, and it seems to have become the predominate view of our time.

Attachment theory recognizes that 4 basic attachment patterns arise in children up to age 18 months based upon the primary caregiver’s behavior. A securely attached child’s caregiver responds appropriately, promptly and consistently to the child’s needs and cries for help. An avoidant pattern arises from a caregiver who gives little or no response to the child’s needs and cries for help, discouraging crying and pushing independence. The ambivalent/resistant pattern comes from a caregiver who is inconsistent in his/her responses to the child, swinging from appropriate to neglectful. And the disorganized child often is subjected to an abusive caregiver who frightens the child or is frightened herself. (Wikipedia)

As my girls and I have traveled this road, I began this journey as an attachment figure who was inconsistent. To the little girls I was always appropriate, but I spewed a lot of anger toward Karen because of the neglect I had received as a husband for 20 years. My issues caused wild swings in me from loving to pouting to angry. As a result I caused the girls to be ambivalent, especially Alley who was trying to defend everyone.

But once I dealt with my issues and grasped the larger picture of how my actions would either speed or hinder my wife’s healing, (and thus affect my own happiness), I became a solid caregiver. And as I learned to respond appropriately, promptly, and consistently to everyone including Karen, it freed all the girls to become securely attached to me. They no longer had to guess what kind of a mood I would be in from moment to moment. And that is when their healing began in earnest. My consistent actions now gave them the freedom to focus on healing as I gave them a secure base from which to do so.

I know that attachment theorists are not nearly as strident in their proclamations about the clear-cut categories as people move throughout life. And yet it seems that as my own style moved from an unhealthy kind to the secure one, I watched my girls mirror that change in their own pattern as well.

But because of my wife’s disorder, she has rarely responded to my needs, discouraged my cries for help, and thus pushed me to be independent. Thus, I have watched myself jump from various, unhealthy attachment styles in response to her inability to respond to me. It’s nearly unavoidable for spouses not to sustain some level of secondary trauma from the trauma of the d.i.d. spouse. This leaves me to call upon my past, mostly healthy childhood to carry me thru until my wife becomes healthy. I’m very concerned when I get my wife thru the healing process, that I don’t let all the hurt and pain I’ve experienced from her disorder sweep our relationship into a new direction of dysfunction. And so I fight against these unhealthy attachment patterns I see in myself until my wife can become a consistent caregiver to me that a wife ought to be.

Attachment theory has added a new level of understanding to the dynamics that have flowed through our traumatized marriage. The theory helps me understand and strive to become an even better attachment figure for my girls as I help them heal. But the theory has also helped me understand how my wife’s inability to provide me with the same care has caused my own struggles. And with knowledge hopefully comes wisdom to act and do the right thing as I guide my girls thru the healing process.


Sam, I Am


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. missmultiple
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 17:38:17

    A very good explanation, better than any I have heard so far.


  2. K
    Nov 30, 2015 @ 16:19:19

    Still reading your very honest journey and learning that saying out loud that I’m not alone is very important.

    Thank you again


    • Sam Ruck
      Dec 01, 2015 @ 06:54:51

      Yeah, I tell the girls ‘you’re not alone’ a lot, last night in fact. The more I say it, the more they say it, the more it slowly sinks in until it begins to replace the sad truth of the past.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: