Tuesday, January 12, 2016


This set of three ideas, which are arranged to justify the acronym ARC, are basically Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency.  It is a “components-based framework which is designed to address vulnerabilities created by exposure to overwhelming life circumstance taking place within the early caregiving system.”  I’m working from the PDF you can download here:  http://www.traumacenter.org/clients/Intertwining_Nature_of_Attachment_and_Trauma.pdf  

It’s only five pages including a short bib.  It was meant to get at the reasons that many adoptions failed, so this is not a psychoanalytical one-on-one way of approaching the phenomenon, but a practical way of developing attachments to what they call a “family,” and also call a “container,” that is safe, regulates new challenges, and develops the whole idea of self-regulating skills, which is new to me.  I mean, most authorities want to tell kids what to do, not teach them how to decide for themselves.

Quoting:  “When attachment systems [note: “systems” rather than devotion to one person] are compromised or distressed, children develop adaptations that keep them safe.  However, a consequence of these adaptations is often a failure to adequately develop key competencies.”   For instance, one of my birth family’s solutions — two generations back when they were homesteaders — was intense family loyalties to the point of limiting contact with outsiders and foregoing the sort of explorations that would challenge the family’s style.  This created secrecy and limited skills in establishing friendships with “different” people.  Going off to college or developing career paths were scary propositions, but education was a high enough value to be one way out.  Up to a point.  Few of us would be defined as "failures" but we may have compromised.

My escape route

A friend had over-controlling and abusing parents.  As a pre-adolescent he developed a compensating “family” of peers, boys who witnessed his physical damage, joined him in emotional solidarity, and encouraged consoling physical embrace.  It kept him alive -- but not others -- and even supported a considerable intelligence in the face of erratic education.  But there was no way to access and redirect the control and abuse of the adults.

The ARC writer says, turning away from broken parents, “ARC is a strengths-based model, which emphasizes the importance of building or re-building safe relational systems.  In the context of that safe system, the model focuses on skill-building, stabilizing internal distress and enhancing regulatory capacity in order to provide children with generalizable skills which enhance resilience outcome.”  I take it that the idea lends itself to Al-Anon, which helps kids survive and maybe even manage adults in their lives who go out of control because of drug or alcohol use.  It helps to build self-talk in the kid, so he can say to himself, “It’s not my fault.  I’m entitled to protect myself.  I will think of ways to escape and alliances to make.”  This kind of self-reassurance will be useful throughout life.

Foster family

More detail about ARC.

1.  Attachment means the caregiver should know and manage their own emotions to keep from suffocating or deserting or punishing.  They must learn to work at a meta-level where they can ask, “What’s going on here?  What are the clues?  What would be the best way to react?  How am I feeling about this and how do I manage it?”

2.  Attunement is making empathetic bonds, one-on-one, with the child.  Solidarity.

3.  Predictability and consistency, routines in the face of normal disruption (company, travel, special events) are vital.

Self-regulation” “building blocks”:

1.  Helping the child recognize his own feelings, esp. if he has been invested in concealing them for the sake of safety.

2.  Managing arousal so as not to freak out when bad things happen in spite of all efforts.  Skill in describing, using strategies, referring to role models even if they are fiction.

3.  Sharing emotion.  Learning how to communicate how one feels.

Three “competency” targets, though there are more.

1.  Since “executive functions” and “problem-solving” may have been suppressed and punished, they can be restored and expanded by building a sense of personal agency and seeing that their actions have appreciated value.

2.  Growing a sense of self in spite of the probably accurate scientific understanding of a “self” as a constantly changing and re-gathering of elements is no small task.  Normally it is supported by a family identity, a sense of community belonging, and close sympathetic attention from one special person, but it can be fragile, shattered, or armored by trauma.  One needs role models, friendships, experiences, and a steady stream of small successes.

3.  This particular item is for the clinician presented with a problem kid:  be sure to consider across a range of domains and developmental levels.  It would be easy to miss something.

The claim is that this approach to what the animal humanitarians call “finding one’s forever home” does work well enough to keep doing it and getting better at it.

A barnacle gosling leaps into the world from the cliff nest.

Now the swerve:  attachment theory is not romantic.  It's not about pity and cuddling.  It is biological, survival-based, often ending in death, blindly choosing who will live.  Those who live will build the future and then survive in it, or be the victims of it.

This video is as vivid a metaphor for a human child entering the world as I can think of — and I can hardly stop thinking of it, both the danger and the courage, and then the incredible miracle of 3 out of 5 surviving it.  But this is a “best case” scenario in that both parents are there to meet that gosling, which is as literally resilient as any animal can possibly be.  

This is entirely opposite to the idea that a baby must be guarded in a soft pastel environment and played Mozart to develop his or her brain.  It is entirely against the idea that everyone can fight through life with universal success when we know it is full of desperate events and very hard bumps.  Just trying is no guarantee.  No one can dominate life events.  Only survive them: consider the Roosevelts, even Teddy. 

The gosling’s sib who ended crumpled on the stony cliffs is the little boy washed up on the beach after being dumped out of his previous niche.  Both the victim and the surviving little gosling were so attached by instinct to parents that they staggered off after them into the unknown, only three days after hatching and immediately after taking an epic leap/fall.  Lots of other creatures like to eat little goslings; for instance foxes, which have learned to listen for the loud encouragement of the parents as an invitation to eat at least crippled and dead goslings — maybe nab a live one, nicely warm and squeaking.

These geese are shoreline creatures who can eat shelly seawater dwellers, swallowing them whole and crushing them in their gizzards.  How a little chick manages to do anything of the sort is a mystery.  Maybe something like a child managing to survive in a drug household, swiping left-over munchies in the morning-after chaos of unconscious addicts.  Even a toddler can attach, forage, and learn to be engaging — or invisible.  But it’s tough to even know they exist, much less help them.  Once they are found, often dead but sometimes only badly traumatized, ARC has ideas about how to help.

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