The Living Force
Timothy Wilson's mention in 'Strangers to ourselves' of attachment models, especially the avoidant type, piqued a forgotten search for ideas on this dynamic. I find the below quoted paper by Stan Tatkin Psy.D., to explain well; a dissociative replacement of the parent (+ others) and reveals the missing or hard to achieve interpersonal dynamic held with this disorder.
Perhaps we can state that the lack of attachment between parent and child entrains the attachment avoidant to live within the sympathetic domain. Rarely having access to the higher level social system, developing prosody of voice, mirror-neurons and empathic connection. Severity of nonconscious imprints depending on when in the nurturing process the parent looses interest in child connection and regresses, many attachment deficient or narcissisticly derogating mothers may well provide nescessary mirroring while being physically connected during breastfeeding.ADDICTION TO "ALONE TIME" ‐‐ AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT,
NARCISSISM, AND A ONE‐PERSON PSYCHOLOGY WITHIN A TWOPERSON
Comparisons have been made between severe avoidant attachment and disorders of the self such as
antisocial personality, schizoid personality, and narcissistic personality. Each of these disorders, including
avoidant attachment, can be grouped together as one‐person psychological organizations. Individuals
with these disorders operate outside of a truly interactive dyadic system and primarily rely upon
themselves for stimulation and calming via autoregulation. The chronic need for “alone time” can take
many surprising forms throughout the lifespan which directly impact romantic relationships.
Clinicians may well be aware of connections that have been made between attachment theory
and personality theory.
Although there is much to say about the clinging group, this paper will focus on the group of
individuals that distance. This group is acutely sensitive to significant others who are physically or
emotionally advancing on them. The advance is automatically viewed as intrusive. This strong reaction to
approach triggers a host of seen and unseen distancing defenses, all of which are psychobiologically
reflexive and non‐conscious by design. In other words, this exquisite reaction to being advanced upon is
embedded in the nervous and musculoskeletal system and has its psychobiological roots in the earliest
For references and the whole paper:One of the common characteristics of the distancing group is a natural gravitation toward
"things" and a reflexive aversion toward a primary attachment figure, such as a spouse. The gravitation
toward things – as viewed in the distancing group ‐‐ is an outcome of early parental neglect and dismissal
of attachment values and behaviors. The avoidant’s need to withdraw from primary attachment objects is
euphemistically referred to as the need for "alone time." Alone time takes many different forms but
almost always reflects a return to autoregulation. The metaphoric use of addiction may be appropriate as
the avoidantly attached individual’s adherence to autoregulation is ego‐syntonic. The awareness of this as
a disability is kept away through an aggrandized belief in his or her own autonomy. In actual fact, real
autonomy never developed due to the considerable neglect that almost always pervades the history of
this personality/attachment profile. He or she will not depend on a primary attachment figure for
stimulation and soothing. Their credo is “no one can give me anything that I can’t give myself, and better”
or “I’d rather do it myself.” Individuals in the distancing group primarily reside in a one‐person
psychological system that is, by definition, masturbatory.
I am suggesting a connection between avoidantly attached individuals and the dissociative nature of
autoregulation. In the absence of attachment behaviors initiated and maintained by the parent or
parents, children will rely on an autoregulatory modality instead of an interactive one. In order to
maintain autoregulation, the internal over‐focusing on self‐stimulation and self‐soothing itself becomes a
dissociative process. The state shift necessary to go into interactive mode requires the broadening of
sensory processing and motor output. The autoregulatory state is more conserving of energy in this
regard. It is also a state that suspends time and space which is why it is so comforting to neglected and
The Avoidant child is offspring to the dismissive/derogating parent who is unconcerned with
attachment behaviors and values (Slade, 2000; Sroufe, 1985). This gives rise to a deconditioning of
proximity seeking and contact maintaining behaviors within the child. The child turns away from
interactive regulation and toward autoregulation, which is a strategy for self‐soothing and selfstimulation.
Margaret Mahler (1975) discovered that a normal child in the practicing subphase can
tolerate physical distance from Mother by maintaining a fantasy of her omnipresence. This provides the
child with a necessary, albeit false sense of security for extended play within the outside world. The adult
Avoidant is able to maintain a dissociative but stable autoregulatory strategy that depends on a fantasy of
a partner’s omnipresence. This pseudosecure tactic can metaphorically envisioned with the phrase, "I
want you in the house but not in my room unless I invite you." (Tatkin, 2009) This sentiment expresses the
Avoidant’s need for continual but implicit proximity to the primary attachment figure minus the problem
of explicit proximity which is experienced as intrusive and disruptive to the autoregulatory strategy.
For the Avoidant, external disruptions of the autoregulatory state are experienced ‐‐ to a greater
or lesser degree – as a shock to the nervous system. First there is the sensory intrusion aurally, visually, or
tactically by an approaching person which may be experienced as startling, followed by a social demand
to state shift from an autoregulatory‐timeless (dissociative) mode to an interactive‐realtime mode. One is
more energy‐conserving and the other more energy‐expending. For the distancing group, both are
experientially non‐reciprocal, meaning neither state involves expected rewards from another person. In
autoregulation, no other person is required or wanted. However, during the initial shift to interactive realtime
mode the other person is viewed as demanding with no expected reward or reciprocity.
While state‐shifting comes easy to a securely attached child, it is significantly more difficult for
children on either side of the attachment spectrum. For the ambivalent child (aka angry/resistant), the
shift out of interactive‐realtime mode is more difficult and may take more time to achieve. For the
avoidant child, the shift out of autoregulatory‐timeless mode is more difficult and takes longer to achieve.
A little girl is playing in her room with toys. She is in a timeless and spaceless state of mind. This is a very
enjoyable play state but one that is autoregulatory and one‐person oriented. She is self stimulating via her
imagination and interaction with her internal and external objects. Suddenly mother calls her to dinner.
The call is a shock to her system as it is experienced as interference to her dissociative process. It requires
a state shift whereby she must move out of a low‐demand autoregulatory mode and into a high‐demand
interactive mode with others.
The child, once engaged interactively, may adjust and even enjoy the interactive process.
However because autoregulation is the default position, she will soon move out of interaction and back
into a dissociative autoregulatory mode once interaction is withdrawn. The shift back into interaction
becomes a problem once again.
Henry and Clare are on a drive for long vacation. Henry, who is driving the car, stares silently ahead while
Clare becomes increasingly discomforted by the lack of interaction. Her bids for interaction fail. She
begins to wonder why Henry isn't engaged with her. She is hard pressed to understand how he can
manage to be so quiet for such a long drive while she struggles with the silence. Henry, on the other hand,
is without discomfort because he is operating within a one‐person psychological system wherein he
autoregulates (dissociates). In other words, he is playing alone in his room with his toys and things and he
is unaware that he is with another person. Claire on the other hand is painfully aware she is with another
person and as such is feeling quite alone and quite possibly persecuted by the disengagement of her
It is important at this point to make a distinction between what is commonly thought of as
disengagement and to what I am referring here. Ordinarily within the intersubjective field of a two‐person
psychological system, there exists a mutual, psychobiological “expectation” of moment‐to‐moment
interaction. This interaction is primarily nonverbal. When nonverbal cues are missing, participants may
mistakenly identify the problem as a lack of verbal interaction. This is especially so for more verbally
oriented individuals. Research on the still face demonstrates a critical time period of nonresponsiveness
by one member of the dyad and the negative effects of the nonresponsiveness on the other participant.
The rhythmic beats of the exquisite interaction are dropped, so to speak, which creates a disturbance in
the field such as a breach in the attachment system. Typically this breach is corrected and repaired quickly
enough and often enough as to maintain a stable sense of attuned reciprocity.
Attachment and personality organization involves biological substrates that alter
neurophysiologic organization both on a structural and functional level. The predilection for
autoregulation is not merely a preference, although it can be. Primarily it is hardwired into the nervous
For the avoidantly attached individual the ball naturally rolls in the direction of autoregulation. This
default position of autoregulation is mystifying to the more interactive partner. He or she cannot
understand how the avoidant counterpart can forget him or her so quickly or suddenly seem so
disconnected: engaged one minute and disengaged the next. The partner may feel as if they have been
forgotten ‐‐ and in truth they have. The individual who has an avoidant history is in some ways better off
than the more secure partner. The avoidant partner maintains a pseudosecure relationship that is
internally based on a fantasy of his or her partner's omnipresence. The dissociative aspect of
autoregulation screens out minor intrusions, such as bids for connection and interaction. In this sense the
avoidant can maintain an unawareness of breaches in the attachment system. However, when partners
approach them physically they inadvertently trigger a threat response within the avoidant partner that
results in attempts to withdraw or attack. Once again, the avoidant has a very difficult time shifting states
particularly from autoregulation to interaction.
7 Copyright ©2006 – Stan Tatkin, Psy.D.