How to Repair Attachment Conditioning?
Re-creation of the developmental arc
A person’s mind grows along progressive developmental stages. The later stages grow out of the prior ones, and are stacked “on top” of them. For this reason, it’s crucial to address the most fundamental stages first. Without healthy foundations, later developments won’t take hold properly.
For this reason, it is recommended that repairing early attachment conditioning has to come before other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. After the insecure attachment conditioning is successfully treated, we have reliable and effective emotional regulation strategies, a coherent sense of self, and general coherence of mind. This serves as the foundation upon which to do further work like trauma processing, treating relationship disturbances, self-development, or even deeper meditative inquiry.
The Emotional Repatterning Meditation (ERM) and its application to insecure attachment
ERM is a visualisation meditation, whose primary goal is to repattern old negative emotional memories with new positive ones. In the case of ERM applied to the goal of attachment repair we focus specifically on the attachment-level memories which all taken together comprise the Internal Working Model of Attachment (IWMA).
Additionally, we also encourage perspective-taking which helps bring about insight, wisdom, and empathy. This last piece is the cognitive or wisdom piece which is a helpful accompaniment to the primary repatterning of the IWMA.
This is the sequence:
- Enter a relaxed state.
- Trigger the emotions and body-sensations from the schema you want to work on, by bringing up a present-day issue.
- Establish an imaginary scene where you felt the same way in the past. Bring up the necessary “actors” (e.g. parents, siblings, friends, teachers, partners; and yourself at a younger age)
- Before you run the scene, predict what’s going to happen according to your past expectations from the schema.
- Then “run” the scene with an alternative, positive outcome. You can change every aspect of the scene like a movie director. Really notice how this is a new possibility, that this is not what your memory has predicted.
- If it seems unrealistic for any of the “actors” to act the way you’d like them to, replace them with new, imaginal ones. (imaginal parents, imaginal friends, imaginal romantic partners, imaginal co-workers, etc)
- If you notice resistance or discomfort with the scene itself, that’s a great opportunity for deep healing! Go back to step 2, using the resistance itself as the schema.9. Stay in the scene as long as you need to in order to feel really at peace.11. Now come full circle and see the original suffering that has been processed. You can generate compassion and camaraderie towards those who still suffer in this same way.
If you notice self-blame or anger arising at how you were treated in the past, that is a great opportunity to take your agency back. With the help of the other actors, confront the people who caused past hurts in your scene. They then apologize and acknowledge the suffering their actions caused.
Stay in the scene as long as you need to in order to feel really at peace.
Extend the “action of triumph”. Notice the sense of mastery that comes with resolving this scene. Move forward in time and see the effects your newfound confidence and competence have on your life
Now come full circle and see the original suffering that has been processed. You can generate compassion and camaraderie towards those who still suffer in this same way.
As a final step, do a “mindful review” of the insights gained in the meditation and reinforce them, feeling the insights and impressing them again in the body and mind.
It’s helpful but not obligatory to keep going with micro-hits of ERM during daily life in order to further deepen the memory reconsolidation.
Often parts-work is also integrated for those who need it. This is more often the case with people with disorganized attachment.
Note, we engage the body the whole time. The somatic piece is very important. Emotions are what bridge the body and mind.
We repattern semantic memory, not episodic memory (Bruce Ecker)
Consistent with the work of Bruce Ecker and Coherence Therapy, in this work we repattern the emotional learnings and their meaning (semantic memory). We don’t lose or forget our actual episodic memory (memory of events not the interpretation of their emotional meaning). We can understand the goal of Emotional Repatterning Meditation (ERM) as
1) identifying the problematic schema (a piece of emotional learning) and
2) then triggering it to make it labile (Leslie Greenberg), then
3) repatterning over it with a dissonant and positive emotional experience which can’t be held at the same time with the original negative schema. This renders the old self-defeating semantic memory (schema) null and void.
An example of this is: You identify the schema of defectiveness. You then do ERM and have your inner parents validate the difficulty of that, console you, and then show you how you are a joy for them and how there is nothing defective about you in their eyes. This is felt and experienced vividly thereby consolidating the learning.
There is nothing exotic about this method. This is just a guided meditation that imitates the way that parents console children and help them move through upset and the negative experience that all of us experience in childhood. Some of us did and some of us did not experience the parental support to metabolize these difficult experiences.
Qualities of the Imaginal Parents (IPs)
Primarily there are two “moods” of the parents: Compassion and Sympathetic joy.
Compassion is the engaged, and attentive desire for the suffering of others to decrease. It is “what love does when it sees suffering”. It is important to note that compassion is dissimilar to pity. Pity is condescending. Compassion is not. Compassion is attentive, active, responsive accompanied by the willingness to take action to diminish suffering. Said differently, compassion is the optimal response to suffering. So, this is the compliment mood of the IPs to the suffering that we experience when we trigger ourselves making the old negative schema labile. This starts the process of memory reconsolidation. To receive compassion is responsive and calibrated to the experience of suffering but it is also interestingly inconsistent with the continued entrenchment of the negative schema. That said differently, experiencing attentive, and well-calibrated compassion by the IPs is at odds with the negative schema. We keep reinforcing the positive experience of parental compassion which “pushes out” the negative schema.
Once we are sufficiently soothed, the mood of the parents’ transitions from compassion to sympathetic joy. We reinforce this dissonant and positive repatterning of the old negative learning further by experiencing parental sympathetic joy at our overcoming the upset of re-experiencing our old negative schema. Then, the IPs redirect us to rejoice in our healing, and feel into the new freedom and ease which we now embody. Here with the support of the IPs sympathetic joy we develop and strengthen our character strengths. We feel into our competence and confidence. This is seen and celebrated by the IPs. We let this affect us deeply. Building on this confidence and competence we step out into our adult lives and envision a positive “movie-trailer” of our lives in the future. We see and feel into our ability to have our desired impact on the interpersonal and material world. We grow a greater sense of self-efficacy and related capacities. We see this play out and are accompanied by the joy and support of the IPs.