READ EXCERPT: 'Mean Mothers' by Peg Streep

The other group of children – those who didn't exhibit the kind of behavior expected – were categorized as "insecurely attached." Insecure attachments can be avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized in nature. Children of mothers who are repeatedly unavailable or repeatedly rejecting demonstrate avoidant behavior and adapt avoiding physical and emotional closeness with them. Children of mothers who are only sometimes available and who aren't reliably attuned adapt by being ambivalently attached. Because they don't know what to expect – is she going to be the nice mommy or the yelling one? – these children develop anxiety and insecurity about the maternal relationship and, as adults, a sense of all relationships as being essentially unreliable.

The last category of insecure attachment is the most problematic. When a child's needs are unmet and she finds her mother's behavior frightening or chaotic, she may develop a disorganized attachment. Disorganized attachment is most closely associated with parents who are physically or emotionally abusive, and it is the type of attachment which engenders the most conflict within the child and is most destructive to the formation of self. As Daniel Siegel writes, " In this situation, the child is 'stuck' because there is an impulse to turn toward the very source of terror from which he or she is attempting to escape." This impulse explains those horrible instances of child abuse when a child is injured by his or her mother but, in pain, still calls out for "Mommy."

Mary Ainsworth's work was expanded by her student Mary Main whose research confirmed why there were ghosts in the nursery: Using the Adult Attachment Interview, an adult's recollection of how she was treated during childhood accurately predicted how she would relate to her own children. The way parents made sense of their own early childhood experiences, revealed both in the content of their answers and the coherence of their life narratives, is the factor which most accurately predicts their own children's security of attachment. Without intervention – either through therapy or a relationship in which new patterns of emotional connection could be established – insecurely attached children would grow up to be insecurely attached adults who would, in turn, end up raising insecurely attached children themselves. The patterns continued, despite differences in temperament and other personality factors.

The securely attached daughter will become a securely attached woman who is emotionally available, perceptive and responsive. The insecure-avoidant daughter will become an emotionally unavailable adult, unperceptive, unresponsive and rejecting. The insecure-ambivalent daughter will become an unreliable mother—sometimes there for her child, sometimes not. She will be unlikely to recognize her child's boundaries and her behavior will often be felt as intrusive by her child. Children with disorganized attachment – who have incorporated what one researcher called "fright without resolution—are likely to parent in the same way. The daughters of mean mothers I've interviewed all describe relationships which fall within the continuum of insecure attachments; all of them confirm that their mothers' mothers were, to one degree or another, incapable of consistent and attuned mothering as well.

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