There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Helen Keller:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”
Safety and security is something we long for as babies and some say before that, in the womb. We all experience different levels of security growing up, some people feeling more secure and others less (“nor do the children of men as a whole experience it”). This is the basis of attachment theory in psychology. This theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby. He first used the word “attachment” when he theorized that children are more likely to feel secure, connected, and loved if their parents are able to be attuned, in the present moment, to the child’s internal world of emotions and needs. This is one idea about where security and insecurity in this world come from.
In later research, Mary Ainsworth, found that while some attachment styles may be coupled with a sense of security and safety, others attachment styles may be paradoxically coupled with insecurity and anxiety. In this theory we come to understand that our early relationships with our parents or caregivers affect how we behave in our relationships as adults and with our own children. It’s really fascinating.
In The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, Daniel Siegel, MD, writes that when parent and child are attuned, the outcome is a state of resonance that allows the child to “feel felt.” This state of resonance helps build regulatory circuits in the brain that support the child’s resilience and ability to engage and connect in meaningful, empathic relationships later in life.
Here’s the thing, even if we grew up with insecure attachment profiles, we can “earn” the security later in life. In other words, we are active participants in our own health and well-being and can “retrain our brain” to “keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate in strength undefeatable.”
One way of doing this is by becoming aware of what we’re avoiding. While avoidance in life can be healthy (e.g., putting our hands in fire or being in an abusive relationship), for the most part it is a source of sustained stress in life.
Very practically speaking, there are all kinds of ways to avoid (e.g., shopping, drugs, alcohol, internet, sex, etc…). Avoidance may come in the form of coming home every day and switching on the tube or jumping on Facebook because talking to your partner is uncomfortable. Or at work, letting the mind drift to surfing the net or answering unimportant calls and emails because the work in front or you seems overwhelming. Even depression can be viewed as an unconscious escape from feelings as it can numb them out. All this avoidance is likely coming from some place of insecurity.
Experiment: Here’s your task for the week should you choose to accept it. Find one thing that you avoid, don’t choose the biggest thing, just something that you avoid. This could be a conversation with a partner, a task at work, being with yourself, exercise, going to sleep early, there are a myriad of choices. Choose to really experience that once this week. In other words, as an experiment, expose yourself to it this week and see what comes up. Get curious about it and treat it as an experiment without expecting miracles, but more to see what it is like to “keep your face toward change.”
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.