Aspects of (in)secure attachment – a team training

The training had been in the pipeline for so long and yet it just did not come about. Busyness on all sides, difficulty synchronising calendars, bottlenecks in budgeting… when would it happen? My contact person and I regularly got in touch in an attempt to prepare a team meeting in a concrete way, but that was it. Now that we had finally been able to find a date, from my passion for the subject I had of course eagerly said ‘yes’. The knowledge must go into the world! People have a right to receive insights that help them better understand their own grief and to understand where ‘bad habits’ come from! So yes, let’s get together with that group and share knowledge!

When I was preparing shortly before, I realised that we had not discussed any compensation for my work at all. I dropped the financial issue into the app. “Would you like to call?” was the answer. After a few minutes the conclusion was: “If I have to agree a fee on such short notice, they will probably say that the training should not take place, so if you insist, we will have to cancel and look for a new date.” We sat on opposite sides of the line together in a deadlock. Was this what we wanted? No. Did we understand each other’s point of view? Yes. We then brainstormed together, focussing on a solution. Providing training that supports both residents and their counsellors in trauma-sensitive attitudes – that is simply adding value and that deserves a fair reward, even if it is difficult to free up budget. Running a healthcare institution in a way that departs from the standard protocol forms and does much more justice to the individual stories – that is simply adding value and that deserves a fair budget, even if it is difficult to find. How might we address the dilemma caused by what was experienced as an overall lack of money? We found a nice solution: I would provide the agreed training and in return we would schedule a meeting with the director of the foundation to explore how my expertise could be used more broadly and lead to a paid training series for the entire organization. A remedial educationalist and a group leader would also be present at the now planned training, so that they too would get an impression of what I had to offer. So we agreed and we were mutually happy with this decision.

The day was there; I called my contact person to say that I had arrived at the premises. He did not answer. I waited a while and called again: “Yes, I will be right there, but we are in a very heated meeting and I cannot leave right now. Have a seat downstairs.” Phew… I clearly felt the tension. A moment later he came down: “Hi! Good to have you here! Yes, it was quite intense and I cannot say a word about it – it was that complicated. Come on, I will take you to the room.” We walked upstairs and I entered the training room. It was noisy and still pretty filled with people. Some had gone out for a cigarette or to get some air, but the tension was still there. I unpacked my bag, connected my laptop, laid out the materials to be handed out and poured myself a cup of tea. I was curious what would happen.

When everyone was inside, I handed out a print of the Mood Meter developed by Marc Brackett. I said that as far as I understood that they had all had a rough meeting and that it makes a lot of difference what your mood is when you work together. That is why I said I wanted to do a round to gauge that mood. A lot came up: worried, irritated, restless, disappointed, pessimistic, pissed off, despondent, tired, shocked, angry… Fortunately, there were also some people who mentioned that they felt calm, relaxed, hopeful. However, the high, unpleasant energy clearly prevailed. I explained that if that sets the predominant mood, it is probably more difficult to pay attention, stay focused, and absorb new knowledge. I said it is nice if there are also people in such circumstances who can stay calm and who can help to co-regulate the restlessness of others, so that together you can return to a more calm, less stressful state of mind.

So already after five minutes we were fully immersed in everything that has to do with secure and insecure attachment, with stress regulation, with balanced functioning, with whether or not you can empathise with what the other person is going through and what they need. It was good to know this; this inventory helped me enormously, because I noticed that the mood was a bit wild and unhinged. They all had had to keep their heads together in the meeting and, after the break that was actually too short, they had not really calmed down at the start of my training. Therefore, I felt no annoyance or impatience when I noticed that they began to go back and forth, responding to each other’s input with teasing and humorous remarks. They had yet to rage. This was not about me; this was about the problem they had been discussing and what it had stirred up in them.

Nevertheless, the team leaders wanted them to learn something from my story and after a few minutes everyone was asked to try and maintain their focus again. I asked them to get up and arrange themselves in alphabetical order and answer three questions in pairs: name, age, and place of birth; the most difficult thing in contact with other people; the main goal in their work. After some puzzling, they all had a conversation partner and they exchanged exuberantly. They were then asked to introduce their neighbour to me, and here, attachment-related aspects also came to light. How difficult or easy is it to listen carefully and reproduce what the other person has told you? How open are you in answering the questions? How vulnerable do you dare to make yourself? Do you like to talk or do you prefer to listen? Does it feel like an opportunity or a threat to tell something about yourself? Do you implicitly encourage the other person to open up by revealing yourself first or do you give socially desirable answers? Do you have to think long and hard about your personal characteristics and ideals or are they perfectly clear to you?

The feedback showed distinct differences in the degree of vulnerability that everyone had been able to muster: self-protection is still indispensable sometimes. At the same time, there were wonderful similarities. It was great to hear that there was so much motivation across the board to make a positive difference for residents and clients. There was also a clear drive to eradicate injustice, to provide quality of care, to encourage trust, fairness and safety.

When explaining ACEs, I handed out the score sheet. To ensure the safety and privacy of all the people present (especially after the frenzied meeting that I suspected was linked to ACEs), I added a small blank piece of paper for people to write their scores on. Folded and then handed to me, they did not have to say anything out loud and even I did not know which score was whose. Still, the scores were impressive. Fortunately, there was also five times a zero, but also a 6, a 7, twice an 8, a 9 and twice a 10. A group of about twenty people and seven people with a 6 or higher… that is quite something. That means there is a lot of spicy life experience in the team, to put it euphemistically. It was therefore not very surprising that halfway through my story some people left. The combination of the meeting and what I had to say was too much for them. The team leaders handled it admirably. It was explicitly stated that everyone was allowed to take care of themselves and that leaving the meeting had no consequences for their position in the team.

One of the team members was Joy, whose story we published as a blog last week. The team listened attentively to her, despite how fatigued many of them were. This was their colleague and she spoke openly about the misery she had endured. Many praised how she uses her own experience in contact with residents and how her raw childhood experiences are extremely valuable in this regard. It was my pleasure to present her with a copy of José Al’s book on childhood trauma, as a thank you for her blog and encouragement for her work.
The training will certainly be continued soon and I look forward to supporting these motivated people in their important work!

Posted in Miscellaneous.