Seeing the Invisible

Attachment experiences between caregiver and child are powerful sculptors of personality,
and become key determinants in how an individual relates to self, other and emotions over
a lifetime. When a child’s early attachment relationships are characterized by recurrent
“errors of omission” – neglect, deprivation, misattunement, and lack of affection,
recognition and/or affirmation — that child can develop areas of psychic darkness or
invisibility, in which parts of the self that are not seen and mirrored become dissociated.

Such children, and later adults, may struggle with chronic and profound feelings of
emptiness, detachment, unbearable aloneness, identity diffusion and avoidant attachment
patterns. Because such attachment wounds are, by their very nature, absences, they can
easily go undetected, leaving individuals who have lived through them with incomplete life
narratives. Such “invisible” traumas are hard to heal because they are hard to see, and
left unrecognized, can become self-perpetuating, both relationally and intra-relationally. In
this paper, we will explore the case of a woman who grew up in a family rife with errors of
omission. In addition to struggling with an avoidant attachment style, she also lived
through cycles of re-enactment — both with others and within herself — in which her
emotional needs went unrecognized and unmet. Relational and intra-relational
interventions aimed at forging new attachment bonds between 1. therapist and client, and

  • the client and an “invisible” part of her are illustrated. Recognition plays an essential
    role in creating these bonds and sparking deep emotional processing of grief.
    “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • (The Little Prince, Saint-Exupery)
    “The existential need for recognition and the functional need for effective action on behalf
    of the self are powerful motives; they are both manifestations of transformance.”

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