Attachment Theory and “The Risk of Rescuing”?.: The Roadmap for Healing D.I.D

My wife and I are finishing the 7th year on our healing journey from her dissociative identity disorder. When we first began this journey, she begged me to stay away from the professional and popular literature because she and the girls liked how I was helping them: they were afraid I’d change how I was doing things if I read what others were doing. But eventually I began to read what others had to say. It was then that I understood why they hadn’t wanted me to read some of the destructive things that people suggested when helping sufferers of d.i.d. But 2 years ago I came across attachment theory literature, and this was completely different.

When I began reading attachment theory literature, I realized that somehow I had naturally followed this theory. Maybe it was hard-wired in me, and once I took care of my own issues, I was able to ‘do what comes naturally.’ I don’t know. But whatever the case, I found the scientific theoretical backing for so much of what I do to help my girls heal from d.i.d. But as I continued reading the professional literature about d.i.d. that claims to be pro-attachment theory as well, I noticed that they seemed to have compartmentalized their theoretical paradigms. Instead of making attachment theory the bedrock of their therapeutic methodology, they pick and choose parts and pieces and mish mash it with other therapeutic paradigms.

Now if you want to read directly about attachment theory and also how it is mixed with d.i.d. therapeutic methodology, please see some of the links I provided in my other attachment articles. To be fair, I think the uneven application of attachment theory to d.i.d. therapeutic methodology by the experts is partially because attachment theory between adults has not been studied nearly as much as with young children. When I read the literature, the experts are VERY confident of their understanding how attachment theory works with children, but their confident tone fades quickly when they begin talking about how it works in adults. But I love this quote by John Bowlby in an earlier article of mine: “Human beings of all ages are found to be at their happiest and to be able to deploy their talents to the best advantage when they are confident that, standing behind them, there are one or more trusted persons who will come to their aid should difficulties arise.”

Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, understood that no matter how old we are, we function best IF we know someone will rescue us should we need it. Is that not what he says? Here it is again: We are at our best IF “there are one or more trusted persons who will come to their aid should difficulties arise.” But the problem is many therapists don’t really believe it. They are still holding on to our western myth of independence.

Recently I re-read an article by Rob Spring who directs PODS over in the UK. Here is the article if you want to reference it:

pods-online.org.uk/riskofrescuing.pdf

When I read Rob’s article, he is so patronizing that I had a hard time getting thru the first part. Yes, he’s counseled a lot of people who were in “over their heads.” Heck, for the first 5 years of our journey together, I was ‘over my head’ too. But as a spouse I didn’t have the option of saying, “Wife, you are f@#%-ed up. I didn’t make this mess. You take care of your own issues” (sarcasm off). I decided that as long as I was staying in this marriage, then it was in her, my and our best interest for me to do everything I could to help her because in the long run it would help me and us too.

But beyond the patronization that oozes from the beginning of Rob’s article, the much bigger problem I see is Rob’s real theme: the supposed risk of rescuing. If you read Rob’s article, he becomes extremely cynical and ASSURES us that IF we rescue someone who has d.i.d, they will begin to take advantage of us. In fact Rob flat out states: Rescuing sets up a pattern of behaviour that precludes new adaptive and positive ways of behaving. The survivor is confirmed in their belief that they are powerless and unable to care for themselves. Rob then goes on to state a number of “truths” based upon his unfounded hypothesis. He assures us that if someone is rescued they will cynically start to see it as a way to the power they never had as an abuse victim. Rob assures us that rescuing someone will also increase behavior that prompts rescuing. And then Rob turns his cynicism toward the rescuer and assures us that the would-be hero will have his/her ego stroked by “the need to be needed.”

As I read Rob’s article I was fairly appalled, but it is the prevailing sentiment in therapeutic circles. He is not alone. Rob claims to understand attachment theory in other articles. But Rob and others have NOT applied attachment theory to their western biases. If we go back to Bowlby’s quote, EVERYONE needs to know that if they get into a mess, someone has his/her back. In my article on proximity maintenance, I discuss what attachment theory tells us about this subject. Let me shout it from the rooftops: when I willingly, sacrificially rescued my girls, they validated attachment theory NOT the prevailing cynicism in the therapeutic community!!! The girls didn’t become MORE unstable, they became LESS unstable as they finally had someone in their lives that cared enough to hear their cries for help and get off his ass and do something to help them. And on my part, I didn’t ‘get off’ on some imaginary high when I rescued them. It was exhausting, but the result was worth the effort. At this point in our journey I rarely rescue them except for normal things in life. And you know what? Now they rescue me too when life overwhelms me. I finally have a partner in this marriage who can see when I’m hurting and who will reach out to me.

On a final note concerning Rob’s article, at the end he states a positive piece of advice that I think is very good. The most important thing is that whatever stance a supportive person takes, it needs to be consistent. As a husband, I felt overwhelmed for much of the first 5 years, but I knew my wife was too. She didn’t get a ‘choice’; so how could I say, “It’s too much for me”? But those who aren’t spouses naturally have a much lower commitment level. I wish others would join the supporting person to lighten the load rather than simply withdrawing or limiting the help. There’s a natural arc of rescuing, and once we got over the worst part, things began to get better.

So for any of you who have read the cynicism that has infected the therapeutic community when it comes to ‘rescuing’ a trauma victim as needed, let me assure you that attachment theory was born out in our case. I followed attachment theory instead of the arrogance of western independence, and my wife and I were both the winners because of it.

Blessings,

Sam, I Am

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fumbling Through Therapy
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 23:19:19

    At it’s core, DID is ultimately an attachment disorder. And to heal from the damage inflicted to cause such a split would certainly require the creation of new, healthy, safe attachments. My wife practices an “unconditional love and acceptance” approach towards all of our system members, no matter what they are doing or saying. She accepts each part. And the safety that she’s provided has made ALL the difference for us. There are some parts with which she has a substantially better relationship with than myself. She’s able to reason and negotiate and meet needs when I cannot. I don’t believe this is rescuing. I think it is love and secure attachment. And it works.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 17, 2015 @ 17:30:04

      yes, yes and yes! It’s just so unfortunate that so many in the therapeutic community can’t see what you and I can see. They see bits and pieces but they can’t seem to overcome our western culture’s worship of independence and ‘pulling one’s self up by the boot straps.” If you go on to Peterbarach.com He’s a past president of ISSTD and says just what you say about d.i.d. ultimately being an attachment disorder but then they don’t seem to follow thru with the logical cure: deep and safe attachments around which all the people in the system can safely heal and connect with each other.

      Sam

      Reply

  2. flowerofthewoods
    Feb 17, 2015 @ 13:11:09

    Rob’s philosophy is pretty much how my parents raised me. Being unable to rely on someone helping me out when I was in over my head made me feel more powerless, not less — I felt trapped in my weaknesses with nowhere else to go. By the time I entered adulthood, I described myself as being “cripplingly independent,” and avoided new activities, people, and situations just in case I found myself overwhelmed.

    I’m quite thankful that my husband came along and patiently offered his help until I finally got the idea that I could rely on him. It’s had a wonderfully positive impact on my life.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 17, 2015 @ 13:27:56

      Hi Flower,

      To read you saying that makes me so happy for you! Attachment theory would say it’s not about independence or dependence but INTERDEPENDENCE. It’s that middle ground where we are ALL at our best.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your experience.

      Sam

      Reply

  3. Lisa
    Dec 13, 2016 @ 00:02:50

    I have frequent dreams about the need to rescue a little boy from dangerous situations. He is not my son, but his parents are never watching out for him in my dreams and somehow, he becomes my responsibility. He falls into a swimming pool, I alert the people in the pool to grab him as he’s sinking. They pull him up, I yank him out and put him on the pool deck.He appears to be lifeless, has he drowned?? He doesn’t revive until I PROP HIM UP. It happens repeatedly.

    It would be unconscionable to NOT rescue a little one who is in obvious danger. I never regret doing this in the dream, but would be haunted if I had let him sink while I walked away to do something fun for myself.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Dec 13, 2016 @ 09:09:04

      Every time I get on the attachment theory subject, the song, “Lean on Me” comes to mind. It truly is reprehensible that we have pathologized the human need that ALL of us have for love and attachment. And trauma victims need those things even more desperately and yet our entire culture is set against them. I’m so happy I jumped into the pool and rescued my girls! At this point they have ALL learned to swim, but they would have drowned without me. Now they have spread their wings and are ‘flying high’.

      Reply

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