Pathwork and Healing My Attachment Avoidance Disorder

The first morning of the DARe training on attachment disorders was engaging for us all. I felt stimulated, alive, and connected in such intellectual engagement with the leader and with others in the class. I must take this felt sense of energy in. And I recognize that my aliveness in such intellectual engagements is a feeling in my entire body, not just an intellectual exchange going on in my head. In such awareness perhaps I can stop denying that I experience deep feelings! Easier said than done, however.

After lunch Pat and I went for a walk.  Pat: How do you feel after the first session? Gary: I feel disoriented, in a way pulled off my moorings, loosened up, perhaps. Yes this is a bit scary, but I also see it as positive.  I volunteered to be part of a demo this afternoon. If chosen, I wonder what that will be like. Somehow I think being disoriented – somewhat undefended – is a positive state for going into such a session. We’ll see what unfolds.

The first afternoon presentation was on polyvagal theory (Steve Porges’ work) – the physiology of the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve that, unlike the other cranial nerves that are located mainly in the head, goes down the body and connects the brain to the heart/lung area as well as the gut. Apparently there are two sides of the vagus nerve: the ventricle side (front side of the spine), more recent in mammalian evolution, that goes to the heart/lungs and regulates social engagement and emotions, connecting the brain with heart, lungs, throat, and facial expressions; and the dorsal (back of the spine), earlier in mammalian evolution, that goes to the gut and relates more to the “freeze” response and shuts emotions down. This latter side puts on the vagal brake in the mammalian system.

So this is what many of the Mid-Atlantic Pathwork helpers have been attracted to in “vagus nerve” modalities of therapy. The theory is to recognize these two vagus systems and reconnect to the positive side that connects us to our emotional and social side. It is pointed out that mammals have highly evolved social behavior – mammalian life is not all “survival of the fittest.” The problem we humans face in society with our pervasive competition and war, it is suggested, is due to our unconscious regression to the older dorsal side of the vagus nerve system and a suppression of the higher order functions of the newer dorsal side of the vagus nerve that promotes cooperation and healthy socialization. To use this vagus-nerve theory to improve one’s life involves letting the patient experience, via visualization and body awareness, the positive emotions he or she is capable of in this more recently evolved side of our physiology.

The second half of the afternoon dealt with my attachment style: Attachment Avoidance Disorder. And everything that was mentioned by Patti our teacher for this type fit my life experience – absence of affect, schizoid escape to my head, challenge of allowing co-regulating with another (always wanting to self-regulate), narcissistic tendencies, not relating to having my own needs, inability to ask for help, etc. She said that when one comes out of such a style there can be a lot of grief regarding all that has been missed in life – once opened up the client can cry for a year. I certainly believe this – a sense that if I surrender to all that is inside I may never stop crying. I am reminded that Enneagram THREEs (my type) are heart-centered (vs. head or body-centered) and the awakened heart for a THREE leads to deep feelings and grief for all that has been missed in life.

One of the exercises for healing the Attachment Avoidance types is to create an experience of being welcomed into the world, something that was missed in years zero to three of the infant. In essence, this therapeutic process is one of creating positive experiences, giving a taste of what such positive experiences feel like in the body. It is assumed it seems in this therapeutic modality that once tasted, one can then access such positive states at will. Here is where these therapeutic approaches seem to deviate from foundational Pathwork teachings about negative intentionality and our human commitment to staying separate since the Fall.

Fortunately I was not chosen for the demo. I could tell that there was a spirit in me that was fighting against connecting with Patti. It would have been challenging for me in a demonstration to give myself over to Patti’s coaching. Deep down I have my defiant, “NO! I will never connect with another, even if it kills me!” So I could be “nice” and “cooperative,” in a demo, but it would not have been real. I could see that on some level I would not truly allow myself to trust Patti in this process. The theory is that if I would only surrender and allow myself to taste this positive experience of healthy bonding in my body that in the future I would be able to choose such an attitude in the future rather than unconsciously live from my patterned life of attachment avoidance.

I am reminded of the Pathwork teachings on bypassing. – trying to experience “pleasure supreme” by going around rather than through my attachment avoidance defenses, negativities, and, above all, rather than truly healing my negative intentionality through a process of purification and transformation. This “trying on” “positive experiences of bonding” seems akin to taking an LSD trip where we experience a temporary state of bliss and a taste of Oneness with the All, but do not attain growth to a more permanent stage  of higher consciousness where we can live in the bliss of Unitive consciousness. One does not live his or her life on LSD. Our job in life is to fully enter into our incarnation and from an experience of being “merely and utterly human,” come, by the free will of the mature, positive, adult Ego, to purify and transform the issues that block us from bliss and joy.

Once again the elegant and rich cosmology of Pathwork resonates deeply with my Soul. My negative intentionality is real. I cannot will it away. I can only come up against it, feel the pain that it causes to myself and to others, and then, in an act of experientially-based Faith (a Faith built up bit by bit as I risk a little letting-go in my life and experience in this little letting go the Goodness of the Cosmos and the reality of Love), come to “let go and let God” in the Big issues of Life carry me across the threshold by Grace. Yes, this is a life-long process as I spiral ever more deeply into my inner beingness and come to face more profound negativities and levels of negative intentionality rooted in younger and younger experiences of my karmic incoming state engaging with my environment, an environment intended not to needlessly give me pain and suffering but rather to facilitate my awakening.

I can taste my Joy as I pen these words from the Pathwork cosmology, I can feel my gratitude for all that has brought me here, and I can further trust the lesson from Paul’s letter to the Philippians recorded in Philippians 1:6:  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Shared in love, Gary