One of the best things about getting home again after having been away is going through the post. Five days is barely long enough to accumulate much, but the harvest was nicely padded out by a couple of Amazon packages that I had almost forgotten about. I had ordered a couple of books by Matthieu Ricard and both arrived together. The first – Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill – looked as satisfying as a packet of biscuits with a cup of tea, so I tried that first.

The second – co-written with his philosopher father – will need more time.
Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk who gets rave reviews, but the book frustrated me. I tend to graze on books before bothering to read them properly only if they look sufficiently interesting. Dipping into various chapters, I was not finding anything I was looking for. Ricard’s solution to any unhappiness seems to be to nail the ego to the cross, to blow away all hurt and anger as just a useless manifestations of a bruised ego.  It all sounded as if one should care about nothing, nor mind how people treat you, which is fine if you are a saint or a doormat, but was not going to provide me with any quick fixes, nor help me find a way through relationships that trouble me. However then I came across this:

“Whether or not we benefit from affection and love at an early age […] greatly influences our ability to give and receive love later in life, and simultaneously our degree of inner peace. If we consider the categories first described by Mary Ainsworth and applied by Paul Shaver and his colleagues to adolescents and adults, a “secure” person will not only enjoy a high degree of well-being but will be naturally open to and trusting of others. She is open to emotions and memories, exhibits high “coherence of mind”, and is nonhostile during disagreements with others and able to compromise. She generally copes well with stress. An “anxious and insecure” person will lack self-confidence and doubt the possibility of encountering genuine benevolence and affection, while yearning deeply for it. Such a person will be less trusting, more possessive and jealous, and will fall prey to nagging suspicions, often on a purely imaginary basis. She is excessively ruminative and vulnerable to depression, and tends to become overly emotional when stressed. An “insecurely avoidant” person will rather keep others at bay than risk further suffering. Such a person will avoid becoming too intimate with others, either in a fearful way or by silencing all emotions in his mind and retreating within the cocoon of self-absorption. He has high self-esteem, but his self-esteem is defensive and brittle; he isn’t very open to emotions and memories, and if often bored, distracted, “compulsively self-reliant”, and not very caring.

According to Shaver and his colleagues, the emotional style of parents, principally the mother, influences considerably that of the child. If the mother has an “avoidant” style, there is a 70 percent chance that the child will “learn” the same style while interacting with his mother. The same is true for secure and anxious styles. The best gift one can thus give to a child is to manifest loving, open, and peaceful qualities oneself and to let the emotional alchemy work its way.

Are such emotional styles acquired during the first years of life engraved in the stone of unchanging traits? Fortunately not. Phil Shaver and his colleagues have also shown that insecure anxious and avoidant persons can change considerably toward a more secure emotional style precisely by being exposed to affection and other positive emotions.

How can we help deeply wounded persons? By giving them enough love so that some peace and trust can grow in their hearts. How can they help themselves? By engaging in a meaningful dialogue with a human and warm hearted psychologist using methods that have proven to be efficient, such as cognitive therapy, and by cultivating loving-kindness, compassion and mindfulness.”

Now this I could agree with wholeheartedly.  I was interested to see that Ricard recognised that poor attachments could cause great distress and, moreover, that he thought that more was required to repair the damage than merely breathing through the anxiety and loneliness that hangs around like fog in a hollow.


I was not lucky enough to have secure attachments to either of my parents.  This is not something I feel angry about now – I’m not sure I ever did.  But it is something that sometimes makes me sad.  I am keen not to repeat the misery of the anxious and avoidant attachments I grew up with, and find it distressing when patterns seem to repeat themselves with people I meet.  I can still be inclined to try to solve those anxious or avoidant relationships by myself when I know that they can only be solved by the two parties involved together, and I often carry on trying long after most people would have jumped ship.  I know that I am capable of secure attachments, which is something of a miracle, and I am fortunate enough to enjoy them with my husband, my children, and with some of my close friends.  Not all, though, sadly. 


I found this learned and very informative article written by one of Paul Shaver’s colleagues (see above) and which presents an excellent overview of the research into attachment in adult relationships. 



A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research, R Chris Fraley, University of Illinois



Although the article talks about romantic relationships most of the time, I think what it has to say applies to all relationships.  I particularly liked this on-line quiz which tests your attachment style in relation to your mother, your father, your romantic partner, and your closest friend.   You could answer the questions in relation to any friend, though.  It probably will not tell you anything you could not have worked out for yourself if you thought about it.

Most friendships and relationships will begin with only a small amount of intimacy. Some stick there – through the choice of one of the two people involved. Others progress, but the progression is difficult for most people, and extremely difficult for some. The more the intimacy in a friendship builds, the more potential there is to be hurt. Particularly if your past experience of intimacy is a relatively unhappy one, it can be difficult to make the transition to secure intimacy. The bridge between can feel desperately unsafe, frightening, and too big a risk to cross, even if the terrain on the other side really is secure and safe. Quite a lot of two-steps-forward-one-step-back, tiptoeing around, testing the ground.I tend to imagine that every such bridge is a Tacoma Narrows bridge which will collapse as I try to walk across. I fear rejection. I don’t think I am alone.


I spent most of yesterday in caves, more about which later, but I was thinking about all the myths associated with caves, and also about the popular Mars and Venus book.  I began to wonder if men who exhibited Martian characteristics of needing time in their cave were not those men whose early attachments were anxious or avoidant.