There is lot of talk going on in Indiana about having the highest teen suicide rate in the U.S. If that wasn’t enough, we are in a serious opiate crisis. One hundred people die daily from overdose.
I believe that both these crises are masked by a much more serious crisis, a lack of naturally occurring opioids due to insecure attachment.
Attachment is like glue, it bonds people together, without it we feel, and are, unglued. It’s hard to live unglued, so people reach for a stimulus to mask the pain of insecure attachment. Secure attachment provides natural opioids in the brain ensuring that joy is available for making emotional and physical pain manageable. Facing the struggles of life in belonging with their main attachments transforms stress to strength and trauma to resiliency.
However, when infants, children and adults do not have secure attachment, they live from their stress response system where opioids and other essential attachment chemicals are low, eventually causing emotional and physical pain to feel intolerable. This is the greatest trauma! We could call insecurely attached people the “have nots,” because they suffer in their stress response system while being judged by the “haves,” whose attachment system was organized securely with the chemicals it needs. The “haves” got what they needed to live with security, focus and motivation. They do not need to reach outside themselves for the “opioid” or stimulus they need. The good news for the “have nots” is that the brain can grow new patterns, or maps, at any age through empathy and acceptance from others. After all, relationship is the drug of choice. Through these relationships, they begin to feel safe and honored to open up to “redos” in their attachment system for chemical repair. There is hope!
The truth is, securely attached infants, children and adults are high in natural opioids and other necessary bonding chemicals such as oxytocin for bonding, dopamine for motivation and serotonin for calm focus. These chemicals are naturally supplied and released in the brain when children are securely attached to their caregivers. These people live in a three-dimensional attachment system, which develops and integrates their identity center. These “haves” have the chemistry to do so.
So, our real crisis as an industrialized culture is that we hyper-value performance above the individuality and relationships necessary to develop that three-part system.
On the other hand, infants, children and adults who did not experience the three-dimensional attachment experience, live in what we could call a fourth dimension called the stress response system where opioids and the other wonderful attachment chemicals are low.
We can humanely address the opiate crisis and respect a person’s low chemistry desperation. We can humanely validate what they need to repair their attachment system. We shouldn’t leave them in their stress response system and only criminalize them for it.
Any of us would be “have nots” if caregivers didn’t give us what we couldn’t give ourselves.
Remember that the higher regions of the brain are where the identity center is, which is strengthened by chemicals gained from this prescription: Empathy+understanding+support=feel good chemistry for higher reasoning. Increasing natural opioids must be considered as the answer to reversing this detrimental trend.
Sharon Kuhn is certified/Trauma Informed Care, author, founder Attach, Attempt, Achieve program.