In this episode, therapist Robyn Gobbel joins me to discuss the lessons we’ve garnered from our knowledge of treating trauma, the principles of attachment theory and our understanding of how the human brain and body functions to allow you to unlock an effective, yet underutilized parenting strategy. We’ll discuss the advantages of addressing the root cause of your child’s behavior, rather than focusing on the behavior itself.
This process starts with you – understanding yourself, your triggers and doing the work to re-parent your inner child. We’ll offer strategies for getting started and tools you can use – at any stage of your journey – to help you intentionally rewire your own brain and nervous system and help you bring yourself back to center.
We’re focused on stopping a behavior, that isn’t what trauma informed care is supposed to be. Trauma informed care is supposed to be about: let’s look at why this behavior is happening.
Dr. Sarah (00:20):
I can’t tell you how many parents come to me thinking they are screwing something up and worry that that means they’re inevitably going to screw up their child too. But when we truly understand attachment theory, we realize that the goal of parenting is not to be perfect. And that can take a huge amount of weight off of our shoulders. And it opens us up to the freedom of believing: I do not need to be perfect to be everything my child needs. Joining me today is Robyn Gobbel. Robyn is a therapist, trainer and consultant who has over 15 years of experience in family and child therapy. She specializes in complex trauma attachment and adoption, and she’s the host of the podcast, Parenting After Trauma with Robyn Gobbel, where she teaches people, how to harness the power of neuroscience so they can cultivate deep resonant connections, understanding your child’s basic needs to be safe, seen soothed and secure gives you access to a cheat sheet of sorts. When we look past their behaviors to the underlying cause of why they are behaving in a particular way, we can start to treat the root cause of the problem and make real and lasting change. I really enjoyed speaking with Robyn and I hope you enjoy our conversation too.
Dr. Sarah (01:41):
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Dr. Sarah (02:15):
Hi, I’m so excited to welcome to the podcast, Robyn Gobbel. She is a licensed psychotherapist and she supports families and professionals through all sorts of ways of speaking and community engagement and you know, trainings. And she is like a wealth of resource on trauma informed parenting. And I’m just really so grateful for you to come on the show and talk to us a little bit about trauma and attachment and parenting and all the hard stuff that we, we really have to talk about.
Yes. Well, I am thrilled to be here. Thanks for inviting me. And I am just, I can’t wait to see where this goes.
Dr. Sarah (02:56):
Yeah, me too. That’s the best thing about these conversations? Like you never know where it’s going to go. Well, so let’s, let’s start at the beginning then. So like how did you get into this work? Tell us a little bit about, you know, how you found yourself here.
Yeah, I was, I’ve been doing this kind of work since I’ve been working, essentially. And been one of those people that always wanted to work with kids. I’ve always been super interested in attachment, like in graduate school. I did all of my papers on attachment, you know, and I really knew nothing about it, but it was reading books and writing papers. And so always I’ve just had this like, draw towards attachment. Some of that was like the times, like I was getting my professional degree when attachment was getting a lot more air time. There was, you know, reactive attachment disorder was being talked about. We were talking about holding therapy, traumas and tragedies were happening. So I was curious about it and launched into the professional world, again, only ever wanting to work with kids. All of my trainings always been about attachment trauma.
And then I also discovered this kind of unique niche of, I work with a ton of adoptive families. That’s the majority of the families that I work with actually happened to be adopted families. And so my I’ve been a therapist for 15 years and that’s really just been, all I’ve ever done is work with families who are looking for support specifically around increasing safety and attachment inside their family experience. And then probably about, I don’t know, six, seven years ago, I realized that the work that I was so fortunate to do in the office and the trainings and the professional mentors, I was so lucky to have weren’t widely available. And I wanted to really make an impact in that, like making sure more families, more therapists, more professionals could, could really sink their hands into attachment. And by that time I found relational neuroscience and all that, all that really good stuff. And so I started speaking and teaching and training and blogging, and I’ve had the really good fortune in the past couple of years to transition to doing that kind of work, exclusively teaching and training and PR program development and all that, all that kind of stuff. Just to get this out to even more families and more therapists, so families have more therapists that they can turn to.
Dr. Sarah (05:34):
That’s so amazing. I mean, I feel like that is sort of my motivation too, is like, I feel like I have these secret pieces of information that are not secrets and I didn’t invent them. And it’s like, why it’s like, I’m reading them in a book is I’m going through graduate school. And I’m like, this makes so much sense. And then I’m watching it play out in real time with all of my patients who I got my really working with adults with trauma, looking at, I worked with adults with sort of really chronic and pervasive childhood attachment based traumas working with I ran a DBT program at a hospital in the city for awhile. Like, and I was working kind of with these adults whose childhoods looked really unstable, insecure, chaotic, lots of misattunement. And we were kind of reverse engineering that system and creating more safety, more security. And I, and then when I became a parent, I was like, oh, it was a light bulb moment.
Dr. Sarah (06:35):
I was like, oh my God, like, this is what parents need to know to be able to create the secure attachment with their kids, to help create relationships that are based on safety and attunement. And like you mentioned, neurobiology and relational neuro you know, being able to understand your child’s nervous system and how to communicate safety to their nervous system with your body and your affect because no one is talking about this, like not enough, like not enough, like we live in these echo chambers where we’re like, everyone’s talking about this in our worlds, but then I like dip out of that echo chamber for a minute. And I’m like, oh wait, no, a lot of people have no idea about this. And it’s like, how do we get more people to know about this? Because it’s pretty important stuff.
I agree. It’s become like the best kept secret. And I think actually there’s a lot of ways we do that in the mental health community, is we keep our hands on things really tightly that it’s not, that’s not serving us in the long run that we can get creative and look for ways to make some of the things we’ve been so fortunate to know and embody and practice because of all of our privileges and see if there’s ways that we can get them, make them more accessible. So people who don’t have access to something like even like, you know, regular outpatient therapy. So, yeah.
Dr. Sarah (07:57):
Yes. And especially now where it’s like, you can’t get a therapist, if you want one, like, it’s really hard to get therapy right now. And so we have to find other ways to get this information to families.
Dr. Sarah (08:10):
Although, get a therapist. Definitely still get a therpist.
I absolutely am obviously a big fan of therapy. My life has been changed by therapy, I’ve watched people’s lives be changed by therapy. And I also realized like, I did my entire professional career up until two years ago in Austin, Texas, which is like the therapy Mecca of the Western hemisphere. There’s more, everyone has a therapist. There’s like more therapists than Starbucks. Right. I mean, there’s Starbucks everywhere, you know. It’s like every week there’s a, everybody does therapy in Austin, Texas, and it was still inaccessible to the, you know, and then I leave Austin and kind of go out into the real world, not this little Austin bubble. And it’s like, oh yeah, like therapy’s not accessible in the best of times. And certainly that’s gotten just more pronounced in the last 18, 20 months because of the pandemic.
Dr. Sarah (09:06):
Right, because the demand for it has just exploded because everyone’s in a collective crisis.
Dr. Sarah (09:11):
And the therapists are too. And so therapists are struggling. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (09:19):
Yes. So this feels like a, I mean, the very good segue to talk about trauma, because we’re all kind of feeling that right now in a very unusual, unprecedented way where it’s like. I don’t know this is a total tangent, but I don’t know if you, we are not practicing individual work, but I’ve never in my, I’ve noticed a big shift in the way I do therapy, even in the pandemic. Because a lot of times, unless I’m doing parenting work and I do more, self-disclosure when I’m doing parenting work because I’m a parent and I can relate. And it feels important to share that reality. But you know, if you’ve ever been in therapy, you probably have noticed that your therapist hasn’t shared that much about their experience. And that’s, there’s a reason for that. And it’s, there’s a, there’s a function to that.
Dr. Sarah (10:01):
But also, you know, I don’t live the same experience as most of my patients, right. Like I don’t, but since the pandemic it’s different because we’re all in it together. We’re all going through this together. And I noticed that I actually do a lot more self-disclosure about how I’m coping with the pandemic because hi, we’re two human beings sitting in a room, or now in this case, sitting on a computer screen together, but we are living the same experience. And I think it is important that we talk about that shared human experience and the pandemic has been a trauma in a lot of different ways for different people. And I don’t presume to say that everyone is experiencing it as traumatic or that, you know, it’s, but, and it’s also, that’s not the only thing that can be traumatizing. Like we, we, yes, we might be in a collective trauma as a society, but that doesn’t mean other, other traumas aren’t happening or have had happened that are impacting the way that we parent. So can we talk a little bit about like trauma informed parenting and like what is that?
Yes. I’d love to talk about trauma informed parenting. Cause I have feelings about what that is and even just calling it that and then also yes. Looking at, just exactly like you’re saying, like we’re in this kind of collective experience as a nation and as a, as a globe. And how do we balance that collective experience while also acknowledging that for some folks, the trauma of the past 20 months has been, you know, wildly different than for other other folks. Right. so what is trauma informed parenting? So for I am actually going to go on a little bit of a tangent there cause I’ve stopped using, when I can, a lot of language like trauma informered. Because what I have experienced, especially in teaching and training and being, especially with large groups of people is like being trauma informed is so important.
So, so, so important. And there has been this way that it’s been shifted into just the next behavior management tool. Like if I get XYZ, you know, intervention and it’s trauma informed, there’s still this hope underneath it for so many people that this new intervention that’s quote unquote trauma informed is finally going to quote unquote work and it’s going to stop this behavior. And that’s not trauma informed, right? Like we’re focused on stopping a behavior. That’s not that isn’t what trauma informed care is supposed to be. Trauma informed care is supposed to be about, let’s look at why this behavior is happening. But then I was getting all these questions too I teach and I teach in front of, in front of educators and professionals. And without a doubt someone would raise their hand and say, well, like, but what about the, what about the kids in my classroom or the kids in my caseload who haven’t had trauma?
Or what about the kids in my house that haven’t had trauma. What do we do about them? And then I was realizing, oh, again, like, we’re kind of using this as a behavior management tool. That’s reserved for people who have had trauma, as opposed to looking at this bitter picture. That’s like what we have learned from the trauma informed community. What we’ve been kind of forced to get clear about is that behavior is like a manifestation of our inner experience, right? Like what’s happening in our inner world, what’s happening in our autonomic nervous system. Our past experiences are now experience, all that comes together. And one of the things that happens as a result of that is some sort of observable behavior. And that’s true about all of us.
Dr. Sarah (13:55):
That’s true about every single one of us.
Dr. Sarah (13:59):
Uh Huh. I talk about this all the time when like our kids are having tantrums, which is not a trauma response. Right. You know, like we’re not your child’s not traumatized because they’re having a tantrum that’s a developmentally appropriate behavior for a small child when they’ve hit their maximum, right. Affectively,Regulatory, they’ve just, they’re done. They’re exploding. Whatever they’re doing while they are emoting in this way is the, is the behavior right? And that’s not the thing to focus on, actually. You can get really distracted focusing on that, but you need to understand why is this behavior happening? What’s going on in their body? What experiences have they had building up to this tantrum. But it all feels similar. And I think that’s why you’re right. I think it’s brilliant that you were making distinction that basically this idea of like trauma informed parenting. And I guess I kind of use it, use that phrase because I, I’m actually not talking about trauma I’m talking about, because I don’t think trauma informed parenting has to be done for people who have experienced trauma. It’s more like I didn’t have a better language for describing the wealth of going under the behavior because that’s rude, that’s trauma. And in the trauma informed world, it’s all about going beneath the surface and understanding what’s under there.
Yes, yes. 100%. Yes. And then what I was finding was because people were continuing to like silo these two things apart, like, well, like when I talk to educators, these students have had trauma and these ones haven’t. And so these, you know, these apply to those students, but these other students are still going to get, you know, behavior charts and the stoplight system or whatever, whatever you want to say. Right. And so that again, that just made me get so curious, like what’s the disconnect here, like where what’s hard for people to see that no, this actually applies to all kids and all humans. And then the more I dug, the more I dug, the more I dug, I was like, oh, because we’re actually still using this as a behavior management technique. Like we’re just, we’re using new tools. See beneath the behavior as a new tool, still though the motivation to stop the behavior. As opposed to using the tools, to help people feel better and be responsive and respectful of their like autonomic state in the moment, knowing that better behavior would emerge from that.
And I feel like when you put it that way, then it’s like, well, obviously that applies to everyone. And I say that with the deepest respect and humility towards folks who have experienced horrifying trauma, right? Like I’m not attempting to minimize that in any way, shape or form. But what I think has happened is that we, because we accidentally turned trauma informed care into a behavior management technique, as I actually think that does a disservice to folks who have really experienced, you know, really severe trauma. And if we can understand that seeing below the behavior and understanding and supporting and connecting with the autonomic nervous system, that’s not about being trauma informed. That’s just about like the neurobiology of being human. Then we can look at how trauma impacts and influences that, which it absolutely does, significantly.
Dr. Sarah (17:30):
Yeah, it does. And I think that’s why people who, and it’s like ambiguous trauma, like yeah. You know, that like things like a pandemic where it’s like, I have so many people in my practice who are like, it’s, you know, almost two years in and they’ve forgotten, they’ve forgotten that there’s a pandemic and they’ll come and be like, thid is going on. And I keep doing this and I can’t figure out why I’m doing this. And I’m having these really. And I’m like, well, let’s understand it. Don’t forget to like zoom out and remember we’re in a pandemic. Like we’re all kind of having this low level cortisol and adrenaline drip into our bodies every day. Like it’s a cumulative and it’s it’s, but it’s ambiguous. You can’t quite put your finger on it. You forget that it’s there. It’s. So it’s hard to notice when it’s informing or affecting how you’re showing up with maybe your kids or your spouse or yourself, like your inner dialogue.
Well, and then also, because another thing that like sympathetic arousal does by design is it pauses our ability to be self-reflective right. That that’s being in sympathetic arousal and fight flight specifically in sympathetic arousal. It’s not safe to spend a lot of time pondering your own inner experience. Like we don’t have time for that. So a by-product of being in kind of low grade chronic, you know, lack of safety that’s happening in our world right now is that we do start to lose some self-awareness some, self-reflection some awareness of like, oh yeah, everybody’s really stressed out. It just starts to feel like it’s our normal because yes, it’s our every moment. But it’s also, we’ve also stopped being as like aware of the bigger picture, because that is the that’s what happens when you’re in chronic sympathetic arousal. Exactly. It’s completely adaptive. Yes.
Dr. Sarah (19:32):
Right. When you’re in a dangerous situation, it’s not adaptive to be pausing to smell the roses. It’s not safe. You’re going to get eaten by a tiger or something. You have to be paying, you have to be a little bit more focused on survival and your base needs. So, and I, you know, I think that that is happening now for people because we’ve been in this for so long, we forgotten to notice that we’re feeling so stressed. Well, what can we do? Like, okay, we’re remembering now you and me in this conversation that we’re in a pandemic that we’re, we’re probably in low-level fight or flight. We’re reflecting actually now, because we’re feeling safe enough to do that. Right. And we’ve noticed it. So now what do we do? Like how can we chill that out a little bit and like come back to center.
Yes. Well, even just being with you in this moment and watching you go through that little process, you just went through and about noticing, and then you took a breath and you put your hands on your chest and you went right. And so then there’s another moment to notice that like, oh yeah, like giving some language to it, like acknowledging the lack of safety is a way we bring safety. Cause it’s a way we bring congruence it’s a way we bring the sense of being seen. Right. Even if it being seen as I’m being seen as something that’s kind of hard, it’s still being seen. That’s a moment of like safety and rest in our system and to look for opportunities for not only for that to happen. But then also to be very reflective and noticing that it happened like, okay, wow, that felt, that felt good. And then maybe a moment of like, well, I’m not getting, I’m not getting enough of that. How could I get more? You know, where are places in my life where I could infuse little tiny doses of that more often.
Dr. Sarah (21:46):
Yeah. It’s funny. Cause I think, you know, we’re all on our computers, we’re all doing things that maybe kind of distract us out of our bodies. And I’ve actually been telling a lot of my patients to set a timer for every two hours, every two hours, take a breath, like stop, just shake it out and take a breath and regulate that nervous system a little bit. And even for kids, like this was more when like kids were on like zoom school all day long. And I was telling parents like, go in if you’re home or have whoever’s home with your kid set a timer and every two hours have them take a brain break and get back in their bodies for just a minute. Right? Like it doesn’t have to be a whole disruptive thing for their day, but like we have to regulate our nervous system, just like we have to like eat food and you know, drink water.
Absolutely. Well, and even the language you just used is so indicative of kind of our cultural beliefs about this is this, that it couldn’t possibly be disruptive to go in and help our kids get reconnected to our bodies. It’s the opposite of disruptive, right? Like the more we support, like connecting to ourselves and being aware of moments of safety, the less disruptive we’re all going to be, the more successful our kids are gonna be at doing this completely bizarre thing, which is staring at a computer screen all day long, at a 2D picture in front of them, which is hard for the rest of us. But for five-year-olds it’s pretty unbelievable.
Dr. Sarah (23:26):
It’s frying. It’s really, yes. And I think there are kids that are still doing it right now. Like school just started and some of it it’s virtual still. I think that a lot of places are back in person, but last year was weird year. And we doing things as a species that we have just never done before
That’s right. And then we forgot how remarkable it was that we just survived. Right. And I’m not talking about surviving from COVID, which is also remarkable, but the fact that we’re still like in any semblance at all of getting through life in a way it’s so remarkable. And if we could even pause and notice that like, yay me, like, yay, yay that yay that, it’s okay. That I didn’t organize my basement or write a book or go on a diet or learn a new language. Like all these things people are like, you know, I was like, no, I just am here still. And that’s really remarkable.
Dr. Sarah (24:33):
Yes. I remember, I think it was listening to NPR at one point in the, on my, like driving around during Covid, like when this first was like, like a year in and some of them was saying like, it’s not an artist’s retreat, it’s a pandemic. Like yourself a break. Like, and I was like, thank you. I needed to hear that. Like this wasn’t about, I’ve been given the gift of time and productivity. It’s like, no, we’ve been really just cobbling things together to try to make it work, which is totally okay. And adaptive and like thinking about adaptation, I’m wondering if it might be helpful to talk about like the role of adaptation in our neurobiology and in our attachment styles and in the way that we show up in the world, like how, cause I think a lot, I get a lot of questions from parents that are like, you know, I’m screwing this up. Like I’m one wrong move and this attachment relationship is going to be totally destroyed and, or, or I’m I have an insecure attachment style. And so I’m not gonna be able to have a secure attachment style with my kid. And I think, I think there’s a lot of confusion around attachment.
Yeah, there’s a ton of confusion. I mean this in a way kind of brings me back to the beginning of our conversation is like we’re I think in the mental health field, we hold a little bit too closely to you are what we know and we like dribble it out to the public and then like come back to like holding it too tight. And then we end up with kind of this mess. I feel like we have right now with a large misunderstanding about attachment in kind of the general population to the point where this profoundly important research on kids and the humanity really of children has unintentionally even shifted into this new way. Parents can just like self-flagellate themselves, right. As if we need more of that. Right. And you know, we look at some really basic statistics and attachment. They’re like, yes, we know that our in general, 80% of the time children like mirror the same kind of way of being regards to attachment as their primary caregiver.
Okay. We know that that’s true. We know that’s remarkable. That’s we know that’s like way outside, like statistical probability and then we turn, we go next to, oh no, because I’m screwed up. I’m inevitably going to screw up my kid. Yes. And I think some of that is the nature of an insecure attachment has flavors of shame just embedded into the neurobiology of it. And so when we kind of awaken some of our streams of attachment and especially our like, like our streams of insecure attachment, it makes a lot of sense for a feeling of shame to kind of come up with that. But then in addition to that, it’s our cultural way of you know, putting so much burden on parents to be perfect and res quote unquote perfect kids. Yes. Which I have no idea what that even is, but I know I’m not doing it,
Dr. Sarah (27:51):
But I, my journey has been to be very accepting of that. And I think that’s one of the things that I’m trying to help other parents do too, is like, yeah, that’s not my goal to be yours either. And giving myself permission to show up as a good enough parent, which really is the goal. You know.
Right and we know that the, exactly, the science tells us that, which is why I’m like kind of geek out on the science. I really like the science to give me permission to be imperfect. I still really need it still feels hard for me to just be imperfect. But if the science says it’s okay, then it’s okay. But the science really does tell us that, like we just need to be quote unquote good enough and really smart researchers who are doing different kind of work that I do have been able to decide what good enough even means. And that the most important part really in a secure, in like moving towards or developing secure attachment, or I like to say actually more like giving our kids experiences of secure attachment. I’m much more, I am much more interested in like the nuanced moments than I am in looking at these like broad sweeping, my kid has secure attachment, my kid has insecure attachment.
Dr. Sarah (29:05):
Right. And I actually, but I think that’s also one of the misunderstandings of attachment in general is that attachment doesn’t refer to the person. The security of one’s attachment is not you. I am a, I am securely attached. It’s actually, it refers to the quality of the relationships within each relationship. And then you look at the patterns across those relationships and that’s where you get an attachment pattern or an attachment. Sometimes people call attachment style, but it’s not who you are. It’s not fixed. And it changes from relationship to relationship. So you might have had an insecure attachment with your mother. Yes. That doesn’t mean you cannot have a secure attachment relationship with your child. It might take some conscious effort on your part to pay attention, to shifting patterns, NASA hard thing to do, but it certainly is doable. I mean, our, literally this what we do for a living is help people change patterns, right? Like understanding how they got there in the first place and finding ways to do differently. But so you can definitely change it. So, you know, you’re not like doomed to…
Dr. Sarah (30:13):
Repeat the same thing. It’s not Groundhog’s Day. Like you have agency.
It’s definitely not Groundhog’s Day, but also even before I think we get to, we can do something about this. It’s actually, we absolutely can, like we are in the business of hope. Right. But I mean, otherwise we would seriously, like why would we even do what we do? Like we’re in the business of hope, but even before we get to, we can change. There’s something so challenging about even wanting change because implicit in wanting change oftentimes is something’s bad. And so this huge place for me with attachment and understanding attachment and like really working in truly an attachment informed way is there’s nothing wrong with any of it. And I remember when I was early in my career, like people were using the words and people still use the words, like, certain behaviors are maladaptive, certain behaviors are maladaptive.
And I remember being, I remember liking that word at first, like thinking like, oh, that makes so much sense. Like we use the word maladaptive and what we understand and that is, this behavior used to be adaptive. And that’s very honoring, that’s very strength space. It really helps us understand where this behavior come from. And now it’s maladaptive. And it’s like, well, except for not really because in every unfolding moment, humans only do things that they, that their nervous system believes is in the best entrance of them staying alive. And so even if we could objectively look at a situation and go like, well, that’s maladaptive in that moment that person’s nervous system believed it was adaptive. It believes it’s doing the very best thing that I can based on what’s available to them in that moment and what all of their previous experiences were.
And so these behaviors that we often associate with insecure attachment people end up feeling a lot of shame around and I have to change this. And it’s like, like the horror of passing on insecure attachment to your child’s. Right? And it’s like, well, let’s just pause for a moment and notice that your own patterns of insecurity with regards to relationship I’m merged from like this brilliant place in your nervous, that figured out how to do what it needed to do to be okay in that moment. It figure it out. Like all of us want it to be safe, seen, soothed and secure, right? Like that’s Siegel and Bryson’s kind of a safe, secure, attachment language. Safe, seen, soothed and secure. If we’re not getting that enough, we figure out ways to get that as much as possible. And those behavior patterns ultimately get labeled things like insecure, anxious, attachment, insecure, avoidant attachment.
Dr. Sarah (33:12):
Right. Because, and I feel like we should just go into what insecure, anxious and insecure avoidant, why those are adaptive. Like what does that look? Cause people don’t know. I think what these terms really mean and what they actually look like. And I think if they do, they think that’s bad. And so really quick, like, so let’s talk, we’ll do anxious avoidant or let’s do anxious. And then we’ll talk about avoidant. But anxious is basically like, I don’t trust that you are going to reliably meet my needs. You’d sometimes do you sometimes don’t I get enough that I think it’s like, I, I want to lean in, but I’m scared to lean in. So I do this kind of waffling this ambivalence. I want you, but I don’t know that I’ve trust you. Totally. So that’s, that’s the anxious attachment style. You see it when the, you know, the strange situation, the kid, the mom leaves, the mom comes back, the child goes to the mom, but they, they’re not sure how much they want to be near that mom.
Dr. Sarah (34:11):
In that moment, they might be angry. Right. Right. The avoidant attachment style or dismissive attachment style is I sort of consistently hadn’t gotten needs met. I know that I’m going to be disappointed. And to shield myself from that feeling of disappointment of an unmet need, I turn off from that. I shut down the feelings I shut down the needs. I don’t really go there. So I’m kind of a little bit turned down. Yes. And so, and people will look at that and they’ll say those are bad. Those are maladaptive. That’s a problem. Can you talk to us about why those are adaptive behaviors?
Yeah. Yes, I absolutely can. And I also will refer folks to the free ebook that I have because that’s what the entire ebook is about. Like how do we reframe these experiences as exactly that they’re adaptive? So in the anxious attachment pattern, again, like the, well, first we want to remember that the parent, the caregiver is also doing the very best that they can, right? The caregiver is because of their own history, their own experiences and attachment and their own neurobiology related to attachment are, are showing up for their baby in the best way. They know how. It’s just that because of their own history, it makes it very hard. So for example, in the anxious attachment relationship for that caregiver to show up really confidently as them as like this embodied secure individual who can see their child’s dysregulation and just go, oh my sweet baby’s dysregulated, and I know how to help them.
And so, because of their, because that’s a struggle for them, the adult stays in a more dysregulated state themselves. Right. And kind of in a way, merges with the baby’s dysregulation, like the energy like gets all jumbly and then the baby is like and not consciously because babies aren’t having these kind of conscious thoughts, but we’re so brilliant. We figured this out anyway, the baby’s like, wait a minute. My distress is really, you know, stressful for my caregiver, which also really is leaving me, not really, exactly getting my needs met, which is, I just want to be safe, seen, soothed and secure. So what is the best thing I can do to get my parents to be as present as possible? And sometimes that’s to be kind of discontent because Discontentment often does bring parent presence, even if it’s discontent themselves, at least the parents present.
And that’s something that feels kind of stable and predictable to the child and kids like predictability, right. Or maybe that’s actually like over perfectionistic, like I’m going to be the best baby and the best case in the whole wide world. And it’s like this really anxiously driven frenetic, like I’m perfect, I’m perfect, I’m perfect. Cause that helps my parents be really present and really see me. And that’s ultimately all I want is to be seen and safe and soothed and secure. And I will do anything to get that as much as possible. Right. And again, always holding in mind that the parents are doing the very best that they can based on their own neurobiology and what happens for them when their baby has a need.
Dr. Sarah (37:46):
You could follow it back and back. It’s very small transmission of trauma. So there’s that trauma word again, even though we’re not talking about what people might think of as like a big, bad, scary thing happened to me, these sort of chronic misattunements these chronic mismatches in affective states in needs being met or unmet, that’s how we pass this on. So, you know, it just keeps going down the generational lines because we’re always showing every parent wants, I mean, given the most rare exceptions, every parent is trying the absolute best to do for their kid, what they can. If they can’t. And again, so it’s like, it gets kind of murky in this conversation. Cause it’s like, I would talking about the kid or parent, I guess we’re talking about both simultaneously at the same time, we’re also talking about that parent’s parent, like it’s all happening kind of like…
Yes. Well, because they’re there, right? Like as I’m parenting my son, my experience being parented is present. And then, because I was parented, but their experience of being parented was present. So yeah, it does get like real house of mirrors.
Dr. Sarah (39:00):
But it’s like, there’s this, Fraiberg wrote this article called Ghosts in the Nursery. And it talks all about this. Maybe we can post that the show notes. It’s kind of a psycho, it’s very dense, but it’s a really good explanation of this.
Yeah. Yeah. And then in the avoidant one it’s that, you know, it is to be, to have a need to express, like help I need help, please help me is very, very vulnerable. And if that need, isn’t seen, isn’t recognized isn’t, co-regulating a lot, because again, the parent’s own inner, like their own neurobiology with regards to vulnerability being really present, like they’ve had their own experiences that makes that very, very challenging for them to even really resonate with their child enough to know that I need as present. And so then the child has enough experiences of like, oh, I have this need and that’s really vulnerable, but I’m kind of repeatedly not getting sued. I’m not getting seen. And that is so painful that my, not only is it so painful, but it’s also stressing my parents out and making them even more unavailable.
And so a way I adapt to how painful my inner world is and to wanting to do whatever I can to have my parent be as present as possible is I kind of turn off those needs. Like I turn the volume down on them to, you know, for so often when I’m working with these kids in the office or when I’m working with adults, it’s like, they don’t even notice that they have sensations happening in their body because they’ve just turned off any information that’s coming up into their awareness. So that’s brilliant, right? Like what a way to avoid kind of languishing and loneliness and despair, and in being uncomfortable is to be like, just not notice it anymore. So, so, so, so, so brilliant. It’s it was needed.
Dr. Sarah (41:10):
Yes. And I’m actually like, I’m realizing as we talk with us, I’m like, I bet you so many parents are sitting here because this is what we’re wired to do. Thinking about what we’re talking about, hearing the child that we’re talking about in these examples as their kid and thinking, oh my God, oh, I’m messing up. This is, this is terrible. If you are thinking that right now, I want you to go rewind to the beginning of this piece of the conversation and to it again. And when you’re thinking about the child that we’re talking about, don’t think about your child, think about you because this is human experience, right. And it’s not, this is, this is okay that this happens. If, and if you understand how you as a human being and when you were a child were adaptive and figured out how to use your own body and neurobiology and behavior and affect to get your parents to come closer to you to see you.
Dr. Sarah (42:09):
That’s going to help you understand your child so that you can be as attuned to them as possible and understand how to be there for them in a regulated way that will help them be the four s’s. What are they?
Yeah. Safety, seen, soothed and secure. Yeah. I love, I love that prompting, like exactly like and because whenever again, you know, we sit in attachment trainings, right. I teaching them or I’m sitting in them and it’s like impossible not to do two things. Remember yourself as a kid, and then think about how you’re screwing up your own kids. Right. If you’re a parent. Right. And so I usually talk about that at the beginning of kind of attachment trainings. Like just know this is going to happen. Lots of compassion for ourselves. But to go and to try to stay anchored in this as more like you as the child’s and staying in that, and from a really big place of compassion that helps us stay connected to you. Like, okay, so now I’m an adult and I have these like relationship adaptations that are, makes so much sense.
It makes so much sense. And can I stay in a place of compassion about that? Because the only way we have any sort of shifting in our inner world is if we’re in a state of compassion. And so if we want things to shift and it’s okay to, for both to be true, it’s okay to now be an adult and say, you know what, when I was a kid, I did the very best that I could. And some things were missing for me and I, and because of that, I have some, some pain. And so I’m doing the absolute best that I can, and I’m doing a pretty darn good job. And I have some parts of myself that really deserve to get their needs met now. Right. And so can I can both be true? Can I look at my behaviors of insecure attachment?
I mean, I can just say my own, right? Like when my son, I have a 15 year old, when he was little, what, this is not an uncommon parenting thing, but like nighttime parenting, dysregulated parenting, I need, I need, I need, I need parenting for me was so hard. It was so hard. I would get the, of like, this is never gonna end. He’s going to cry for the rest of our lives. I’m never going to be okay. You know, like those are kind of classic thoughts of anxious attachment these feelings of like, it will never end. It will never be enough. Right. And for me to be able to thankfully have enough resource in my own life between like my professional development and my professional colleagues and my spouse, and, you know, living a relatively privileged life allowed me to sometimes notice like, oh, that, my overwhelm at these needs that I have the sense of, I will never meet them. And you will always have indeed, and I’ll never meet your need. And therefore, I feel inadequate and snowball, snowball, snowball. Like that comes from a place in me that really deserves lots of compassion and lots of presence and lots of holding and not shame. If I spend all this time, shaming this parts of myself, they’re still not getting what they need.
Dr. Sarah (45:44):
No. And they get louder.
And you know what, neither is my kid then.
Dr. Sarah (45:46):
Right. No, everyone’s losing and they’ll just get loud.
Yes, yes. So having the guts really takes a lot of guts and it does take a lot of, I think, privilege and resource to pause and say, you know what? That is a part of me that I would like to shift in a way, because my kid deserves something different in the hurting part inside of me deserve something different. That can be true whilealso it being true that I am doing the very best that I can. And my nervous system is reacting exactly the way that it thinks it needs to in those moments can both be true.
Dr. Sarah (46:28):
Right. And I think in accepting that both can be true. We can start to rewire the brain and the nervous system, because I think that’s the next step and an important one. And I think having those experiences in the moment, while also saying I’m safe, my kid is safe, this makes sense. That physiological calming response paired with this experience is rewiring. Do it enough. And you have a new neural circuit in your brain.
Yep. Absolutely. And my kid doesn’t need me to be perfect. My kid doesn’t need me to be perfect. If possible my kid needs a parent. Who’s capable of noticing when things go awry and then making a repair. I mean, when it comes right down to it, that’s basically the definition of secure attachment, right? Like I have enough awareness to notice that we’ve gone astray and then can I make the repair? But also there’s probably a lot of parents listening. I know I’ve worked with a lot of parents that are like, I don’t do that very good. Like I don’t make that repair very well. And so my thought to that is like, okay, well, let’s just notice that let’s just notice that there’s enough pain in your own history. That it makes that, that level of vulnerability really hard. How do we get you what you need so that you could begin to be with yourself in a new way in your kid in a new way too.
Dr. Sarah (48:00):
Yeah. And that’s funny because that’s just talking about this the other day, but repair actually starts with you for giving yourself and then talking to your child about it. Because if you just have, what other, otherwise, what happens is we end up having these sort of like wrote stock phrases for repair that feel really hollow, which translates very much into this, which is a total other issue. But like making our kids say, sorry, versus allowing them to like, get there on their own again, it’s like, w this, where do they learn that if we’re repairing with them with hollow, right. You know, stock phrases, because we were told that’s what we’re supposed to say versus going in to your body and saying, oh, what just happened? Why did this, where am I right now? Can I forgive myself for being here? Is it okay? Can I understand that this is okay, this is adaptive. This makes sense. I am safe. My kid is safe. And now I can go in and say really authentically, even if you’re using those same words, but they don’t, they don’t feel hollow because there’s, they’re authentically coming from you being like, I had a really hard moment there and I lost it. And I’m sorry, it’s not your fault that I yelled at you. Right. And let’s work on, you know, XYZ together.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s I love what you said too. Like, it’s not your fault, right? For kids because kids take it on as like, somehow I’ve caused this and that’s what kids are supposed to do. Like that’s how their brains are developing.
Dr. Sarah (49:43):
Yes, they’re egocentric. I cause the whole thing to happen. I make the world spin.
Right. And so for parents to really like articulate me and you are separate humans and I’m responsible for my world. You’re not responsible for how I feel. I’m responsible for having feelings. I’m responsible for my actions, that emerge from how I feel, and I will work so hard to keep working on like, not yelling at you. I it’s probably gonna happen again in the future, but I want to promise you that even if it happens again, I’m working really hard for it to not happen again, because it matters that much to me.
Dr. Sarah (50:19):
Yeah. This is like a perfect little place to end. I mean, I don’t want to end, but it’s like, we’ve kind of like walked through, why does this happen? What’s going on? How can we reframe it? And then how can we repair? It’s like kind of the perfect arc for parents to walk away. Oh, this was so good. Thank you so, I learned so much talking to you just now. I feel like I’m feeling very regulated and calm in my body.
Ready to go do the rest of the world today. Good.
Dr. Sarah (50:53):
Oh, well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all this with everybody. You mentioned that you have this ebook, The Brilliance of Attachment, which if this episode is leaving you as like tingly as it should, if you were paying attention, like go, I’ll put it in the show notes so people can get that because I feel like that is, that is a very empowering message that like attachment responses, even the ones that we think are quote unquote bad are brilliant, brilliantly adaptive. So yeah, we should definitely, everyone should go get that.
I would love that. I wrote, did this huge series all about attachment and then had a dear friend turn it into something that’s like this beautiful work of art. I could never do that because I’m not visually talented in any way, shape or form. She just did this beautiful job and there is something pretty fun about like, watching your words kind of turn into something so visually beautiful. And it’s free. It’s just a free download because I feel so strongly that we need to stop holding so tightly to this information in the mental health field.
Dr. Sarah (52:03):
Yeah. I have like a video of that I have on my website on like just the 101 of attachment that I’m like, this needs to be free because I just want everyone to be able to learn this basic information because yeah, we’ve got to stop holding it so tightly to our, you know, to the vest it’s this is important that people know this and it’s important. It’s very freeing to know this stuff. Because it does combat a lot of the shame and guilt that happens in parenting.
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for inviting me. This has been fun. It’s so nice to meet and just know each other now.
Dr. Sarah (52:36):
I know, yes. All right. Well, we’ll be in touch. I’m very confident about that. Okay. Take care.
Dr. Sarah (52:51):
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, be on the lookout for my conversation with Robyn on her podcast, Parenting After Trauma with Robyn Gobbel, we dive deep into adult attachment relationships. You see the first step to creating healthy and secure attachment bonds with your child actually starts with you. You actually need to do the work on yourself first to identify what activates you, what your triggers are, and to start your own healing process. If you want deep and meaningful relationships with others, you need to first find relationship with yourself. We touch the surface of that here on this episode, but Robyn and I get into that in so much more depth on her podcast episode, so you really don’t want to miss it.
Dr. Sarah (53:36):If you have a parenting question or a topic you want me to cover on the show, I really want to hear from you. Go to @securelyattachedpodcast on Instagram and send me a DM, or you can go to my website, drsarahbren.com and click the podcast tab to submit your question. And while you’re there, go ahead and subscribe to my newsletter so you never miss a thing. You’ll get updates on events, workshops, speaking engagements, and of course, upcoming podcast episodes. So you scroll all the way to the bottom of the website to find the sign up button, or if you’re on Instagram, just click the link in my bio to sign up. Thanks for listening to this episode. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.
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