The tension between attachment and authenticity

In the Myth of Normal Gabor Maté writes about “an eventual clash, between two essential needs: attachment and authenticity” which generates the most widespread form of trauma in society (pg 144). By the former he refers to the imperative to seek closeness to caregivers from natal dependence through to adulthood and by the latter he means the capacity to know our feelings and act in a way which embodies their reality. This is how he describes the clash on pg 147:

The seed of woe does not lie in our having these two needs, but in the fact that life too often orchestrates a face-off between them. The dilemma is this: What happens if our needs for attachment are imperiled by our authenticity, our connection to what we truly feel? What happens, in other words, when one nonnegotiable need is pitted by circumstance against the other? These circumstances might include parental addiction, mental illness, family violence and poverty, overt conflict, or profound unhappiness—the stresses imposed by society, on children as well as adults. Even without these, the tragic tension between attachment and authenticity can arise. Not being seen and accepted for who we are is sufficient.

In the therapeutic section of the book he writes “That some attachments may not survive the choice for authenticity is one of the most agonizing realizations one can come to” (pg 476). His point is that as adults we act in ways which reproduce these childhood of patterns of subordinating authenticity to attachment; it’s possible to retrieve the reality of our experiences and leave these patterns behind but the terrible corollary of this is that these attachments might not survive the healing.

There are broken attachments which can be at the heart of who we are and how we relate to the world. Recognising they can’t survive isn’t a denial of this centrality but rather a reflection of the traumatised mode of relating which enabled them to assume this importance. As Maté writes, “this reverses and vindicates the tragic, mandatory choices we had to make in the opposite direction as we started in life” (pg 476).

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