Later, in the mid- eighties, another researcher, Mary Main and her colleagues, in the University of California, Berkeley, studied the video tapes of infants and mothers who were very difficult to categorized. Going over 200 videos she discovered a fourth category which was named: disorganized/disoriented attachment. These babies seemed to exhibit a total collapse of any kind of organized strategy upon reunion with the mother in contrast with the first 3. They would collapse onto the floor, go into a trance, or cover their mouth as if stifling a scream. When the researchers turned their attention to the mothers they found that these mothers were not only insensitive to the babies’ needs, or unable to read them, but they were frightening to the babies, so they could not approach these mothers for comfort. Parents can be scary to infants in three ways: they can be abusive, mistreating them. Or they can regularly be made anxious by their child, withdrawing from the infants as if frightened. Or they could regularly respond by dissociating from consciousness in the child’s presence. Posterior research has discovered that this 4th type of disorganized attachment is an identified risk factor for serious psychopathology such as dissociative disorders, major depression and PTSD. Security of attachment, resilience and the ability to raise secure children were all correlated with the individual’s capacity to adopt a reflective stance towards experience, both of inner experience, as in capacity for insight, as well as the capacity for empathy, in reflecting and connecting to the inner experience of others, going beyond the external behavior to the feelings, motives and thoughts of the other, as discovered by Peter Fonagy Ph.D, and other researchers, simultaneously. (Wallin, D.J. 2007).
Other research based on this theory has linked early separation from the parent with a diminished sense of self-worth, higher levels of anxiety (Leonardi & Kiosseouglou, 2000), feelings of abandonment, sadness, social withdrawal, detached or aggressive behavior (Glasgow & Ghouse-Shees, 1995, Nazario 2002).
According to Dr. Diane Poole Heller, PhD (2015), an international attachment treatment expert, the concept of attachment is not related to any cultural or ethnic background, but rather it is based on a universal innate biological blue print. We are as human beings all wired for connections and secure bonding as established by research on the social engagement system of the autonomic nervous system by Dr. Stephen W. Porges, PhD, professor and investigator of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois.(Porges 2001).
Returning now to our concern with the prolonged separation of immigrant parents and their children: since the primary attachments in early childhood form the child’s internal working model, or perception of self, others and the world around him, they might influence how the immigrant youngster experiences both the separation from the parents as well as his reunification with them and further even, acculturation and the social forces in the new environment. It is possible then, that adolescents who have insecure, or interrupted early attachments will be made more vulnerable to making risky choices of behavior, experience difficulties developing trusting relationships and will go through greater difficulty reconnecting to the parents that left them as they reunite with them. All of these reactions depend as well on the quality of care the baby received from the caretakers in charge of raising the child in the absence of the parents. Furthermore, on whether perhaps the caretaker had always been the main attachment figure in the life of the infant, instead of the mother. Therefore, the experience of separation from the mother was not as central in their development. The next important aspect of the situation is how the child was made to understand the decision of the parent to leave the family – a generous sacrifice to help them, or abandonment, or perhaps it was not explained. So, there are many complex factors to consider in weighing the emotional effects of the experience of separation, as it will be discussed later more in depth, in the section on treatment options.
At this point it is important to differentiate for the reader experiences of insecure attachment or separation from the current Reactive Attachment Disorder, (RAD), (DSM-IV) which is a very serious diagnosis given to a small population of children who experienced severe neglect, or abuse in infancy between birth and 3 years of age when under the care of adults, usually because of being institutionalized, such as the case of some orphans, or whose parents or caretakers had a severe mental health disorder and therefore were unable to respond to the infant’s needs, or responded with abusive reactions Such a child is then unable to form lasting relationships. This diagnosis corresponds more closely to the disorganized/disoriented mode described earlier by the researchers.
On the other hand, a secure and successful attachment with a parent or caretaker who is attuned and responds to the individual needs of a child has been connected not only to the ability to create intimate relationships that are based on trust and being able to experience the world as safer, but in studies of the brain and research in the new field of interpersonal neurobiology, research has also established the connection between secure attachment to the ability to handle stressful situations with resilience and the ability to self-regulate negative emotions such as anger and fear. Thus we seem to be neurologically hardwired for these fundamental experiences of attachment between the child and the caretaker. (Siegel, D. 2003, 2011, 2012)
Nevertheless, even in the case of insecure attachment histories, this does not mean a sentence to failure in developing intimate relationships. Corrective experiences in life such as emotional connections with new and supportive important figures in life and appropriate attachment psychotherapy can produce changes in these patterns of relating to others and the internal models associated with them. (Wallin, D.J., 2007)
Dr. Diane Poole Heller, PhD, emphasizes that all of the attachment styles connected to our childhood history are adaptations to those early experiences and as such they are susceptible to transformation and repair. Similarly, she cites studies supporting the fact that parenting of the child does not need to be perfect in responding to the child’s needs (as it never is) to produce the outcome of secure attachment.