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A Crisis of our times: Societal Attachment Disorder

July 4, 2011 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Attachment theory, first set out by the English psychologist John Bowlby as a result of studying the emotional deprivation in children rendered orphans by the Second World War, describes the dynamics of long-term relationship between humans. Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur naturally. Children with attachment disorder are severely limited in their capacity to develop healthily due to the hugely debilitating effect that the absence of attachment and love has on the development of their sense of self, particularly acute in the early years of life.

One of the Initiative’s Trustees, Pete Mountstephen a Primary head, notes that the absence of trust and belonging in the early years stunts the development of neural pathways. This results in children with ‘attachment disorder’ as their brains have not received essential nurture, and such children, damaged by their circumstances, require specific remediation in order to force open the neural pathways that will enable them to function as full members of a social group. They cannot build relationships or play a full role in the society that makes up their world, not just because they are sad, angry and wounded, but because they are literally stunted by the absence of order and love in their formative lives.

He proposes that our current society, with its huge conurbations and monetarist ideologies, where elders (in the form of Royalty, elected MPs and other representatives and the Church to name but a few) our societal parent figures (if you will), are disenfranchised in their capacity to “parent” our communities as they are ridiculed, viewed with suspicion and at worst even despised. Even teachers, doctors and other professionals, hitherto elders of a sort are swamped with accountability agendas that emasculate their capacity to “attach” our populace and only the vacuous cult of celebrity and wealth rises above the rot to lead us further and further from any attachments we might really form.

In short the elders the media urge us to follow are the most pernicious of false gods and part of the problem not the solution. We therefore suffer from a societal attachment disorder. Our collective neural development is being stunted and our capacity to form the essential attachments of healthy society robbed from us. We are culturally detached and paying the massive price of that.

The remediation is the same as for the individual abused or neglected child, albeit on a massive scale… a longer and very hard road which begins with stopping the negative practices that caused the attachment disorder to begin with and then layers on a healing journey but only once the damage stops.

The agencies that are best placed to effect this healing are the ones that should be parenting i.e. the real elders. Just as a damaged child is re-homed with loving parents to begin the remediation, so our society must be re-attached to appropriate and strong “elders” who can begin the task of reattaching us all.

This is the crux of ‘societal attachment disorder’. It is not just an academic theory, but a staggering evolutionary reality. Who, or what, is defining our tribe? Who or what is bringing us into any sense of fold? We are faced with a 21st Century version of the Parable of the Lost Sheep… yet the scale of what we are facing in terms of the numbers of children and parents with attachment disorder is no longer about the one sheep in a hundred but a sub-group of sheep unable to look after themselves.

For further reading, please see:

Overschooled but Undereducated – John Abbott and Heather MacTaggert, Continuum, 2010

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