Why Sea Turtles Don’t Get Panic II: Attachment and Anxiety

 Attachment  and Anxiety: So, why don’t turtles have anxiety attacks or for that matter a host of other symptoms that befall us humans?  Panic or anxiety attacks are characterized by an array of symptoms such as rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, sweating, profound nervousness and many other symptoms associated with the flight or flight response. The persons nervous system is responding as if there were a clear and present biological danger where in fact none is present. There can also be accompanying fears of loss of control, a sense of impending doom, a feeling of urgency to seek safety and flee from one’s present setting or situation. Theories abound regarding the source of these symptoms. My own perspective, is that with few exceptions, the source of panic and almost all anxiety is rooted in the primordial vulnerability that lies at the core of each of us resulting from our developmental dependence on our caregivers as neonates as discussed in the previous blogs. Any real or perceived threats to these attachments represent the possibility of death and obliteration. As one writer indicated, to paraphrase, anxiety and panic are the cries of an infants terror.


Sea turtles can never experience this pain since they have never had the inter-generational dependence and consequent vulnerabilities that would predispose to this most human of experiences. So OK, why am I going on about sea turtles? My point, I suppose in all of this, is to help highlight the salient cues, memories and emotional experiences that us humans often need to face that serve to underlie many of our symptoms and sources of pain and dis-ease. The traditional models of pathology from the cognitive and behavioral theorists that dominate contemporary psychology, often fail to take into account early human learning. Often, we are simply treating the symptoms but without addressing the core issues that are at the root of this and other symptoms and issues.

The techniques and approaches that I will be describing in future blogs, will help to lead one deep into their own avoided emotional pain. As one mindfully exposes one’s self to their pain, they will invariably and spontaneously reveal the source of their pain. It is my contention that it not the pain itself that lies at the core of our suffering, but rather it our attempts to control and avoid our emotional pain that creates our suffering. So for example we panic because we are not allowing ourselves to experience the pain or anticipation of loss, rejection and death. Thus, it becomes this dissociated experience that seems untied to any provoking cause or stimulus. So our job is to become awake and present and not spend our life running from, masking, acting-in, or acting-out our pain.

OK, now that I have laid some conceptual groundwork and have hopefully provided some understanding of this perspective, I will start to get into the “meat and potatoes”. I will try to lay out some techniques to help us to mindfully face our avoided feelings including fear, shame, anger, loss, helplessness, loneliness, and so on, that promotes our ceaseless needs to pursue a life of control.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Jerry,
    I’m following your posts with interest.
    Question: Will you take account of the fact (I believe it’s a fact at least) that some failures of attunement between parent and child are inevitable, likewise some experiences of needs not getting met for the infant, and the whole question of resilience and how it develops? And the fact (again in my belief) that different children respond very differently to dis-attunement, even within the same family?


    • mm
      September 8, 2012 1:51 pm

      You are the first to post a comment on my young blog. Thank you for your very thought provoking comment. As I state even in the “Dedication” section of my book,….”all parents, no matter how well intended, are likely to impose some wounds upon their children.” Intervals of dis-attunement are no doubt inevitable. And I expect,even if there was such a think as a perfect parent (which of course there is not, and we have no idea what that would like), that too would probably create some kind of damage. So I suppose, it is all a matter of degree. As long as a child overall has a feeling of security in his attachments, a general sense of validation and attunement, all things being equal, he/she will be OK. And as you indicate, individual differences in the child, notably interact with parental behavior in predicting future adjustment. Kids vary greatly in such dimensions as emotional reactivity, self-regulatory capacity, self-soothing and a host of other innate capacities that can influence the situation. And the childs’ response in turn affects parental response. So for example some children who are more reactive, will potentially elicit more punitive responses in their parents. So, the bottom line is that as parents, we do what we can as best as we can but damage is nonetheless liky to ensue. What is important as therapists, is to recognize that as a result of the special vulnerabilites us humans have as neonates, the relevant cues associated with this vulnerability need to be exposed in some manner since they drive so much of our adult control (avoidant) behaviors.


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