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Addiction, Attachment and Bullying

I’ve been reading Dr. Gabor Maté’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts lately. It’s so wonderfully chewy, full of satisfying personal stories and neuropsychology. Dr. Maté has an amazing ability to portray his downtown eastside patients, almost entirely hardcore injection drug users, as human beings worthy of respect and unconditional positive regard. This shouldn’t be amazing. This should be standard practice. Every human being deserves respect and unconditional positive regard. There is a story inside everyone, and in general, the rougher the outside the sadder the story inside. But it is remarkable, and inspiring.

Dr. Maté outlines the biological and neurological underpinnings behind addiction in a detailed but accessible way. He shows how early experiences, from mild maternal depression or unresponsiveness to major trauma and abuse all change the way the brain develops. These changes then predispose people to addictive or maladaptive behaviour later in life. If you weren’t totally convinced of the importance of attachment parenting after reading Dr. Sears, you’d be fully convinced after reading Dr. Maté.

Lack of attachment and responsive parental care clearly lead to addictive behaviour in adulthood, but I wonder what the relationship is between lack of attachment and bullying. There was a great deal of talk around bullying at We Day, and with a local teen taking her life recently it is on everyone’s hearts and minds these days. Obviously the standard “ignore them and they’ll go away” advice is woefully inadequate. Something is going on. Why are kids so drawn to attacking others? Why do some kids get labeled as victims? Is it the effect of peer attachment, as Maté and Neufeld discuss in Hold On to Your Kids? Or is bullying another side effect of the brain changes caused by a lack of attachment and parental care in early childhood?

I’m only about halfway though The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, so maybe Dr. Maté discusses this very possibility later on. If so, I’m looking forward to it. I have this intuitive feeling that the lack of family attachment and too many stresses on parents in our modern society is the root of all evil: consumerism, bullying, lack of concern for the environment and addictive or manipulative behaviours of all kinds. Maybe all we really need is love, especially when we’re babies.

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  • Amanda March 7, 2013, 9:11 pm

    Hi Michelle, I have been reading lots of your posts lately since you moved to Bowen and I am a fellow mama. Well this one has brought out a comment in me. My mom practiced “attachment parenting” and “gentle discipline” in my childhood. She cringes when I raise my voice in an authoritative tone with my own kids. My older sister was my mom’s first child. Adopted at 6 weeks old. Never put down, never left to cry, never unloved for a minute. My sister suffers addiction. No attachment to parent will fix it. I could go on over every reason I think drove my sister to it, but it would be just like me trying to pinpoint her amazing strength that makes her a survivor and beautiful human. We are all human suffering the human condition. There is no rhyme or reason.