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Alphabet Soup for The Relational Soul

Rachel Alexander Dec. 18, 2020

{4 minutes to read}  What is in a word? A lot, I think. Although a rose by any name may smell just as sweet, I find that when I frequently bump into and miswrite the same particular words, it may be alerting me to something. Dyslexia, possibly, but that is not my point.

There are two important words I regularly double-check, often enough to cause me to pursue their connection.

Attach and attack are so close as to be word-siblings. Perhaps the Cain and Abel of word siblings. The Edgar and Edmund of Shakespeare’s King Lear; characters whose connection is indicated by the close and common letters used to make up their names.

Attach and attack have so much in common, particularly in the field of divorce mediation — a field very much at the intersection of attach and attack, both of which imply an essential relationship between two entities.

At·tach verb

  1. fasten; join.
    “he made certain that the trailer was securely attached to the van

  2. attribute importance or value to.
    “he doesn’t attach too much importance to radical ideas”

At·tack /əˈtak/ – verb

  1. take aggressive action against (a place or enemy forces) with weapons or armed force, typically in a battle or war.
    “in December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor”

– noun

  1. an aggressive and violent action against a person or place.
    “he was killed in an attack on a checkpoint”

In infancy, we live or die based on the quality of our first attachments. We are entirely at the mercy of those into whose care we are born. Human infants are among the most helpless of all species — and for the longest period of time. In the early months of life, if we are not adequately cared for, we perish. Our survival does not so much depend upon access to sustenance or shelter, but on the attachment to the other who secures these things for us. The quality of our early attachments to caregivers nourishes — or complicates — our development into more autonomous adults. Often it does both!

In very early attachment we literally are cannibals, nursing from our mother’s breast. We are nourishing from the very body of another person. Attachment not only has the highest stakes, there is an intensity of oneness, an innate hunger for the other that is bodily, preverbal — a knowing akin and inseparable from our very aliveness.

Regardless of how educated, well-traveled, or generally sophisticated our grown-up selves are, we are all elementally composed of attachment, our earliest experience of it being fierce, dependent, foundational.

Fast-forward to divorce — when attachment can transform into aggression, fury, panic, and attack.

And it can be one of the most regressed and vicious attacks that we see.

How strange and close these words are! Attach can encompass gripping for dear life; attack can mean fighting for one’s life. We have pointed out that the child’s version of both has this quality.

Much is required of us humans, navigating our design flaws and marvels, making self-compassion mandatory, withering the virtue of blame.

Even in adulthood, there is nothing casual about attachment. We take it quite seriously, invest in it with abandon, and feel threatened to the core if an attachment is imperiled. How murderously rageful we can become regarding our attachments! As we appreciate the primal nature of attachment, we can begin to respect the swift and stunning shift from attaching to attacking the object of our attachment. Linguistically, when word and concept provenance are so closely bound, we can recognize an almost Euripidean tragic inevitability, something predestined by the Fates rather than our personal failings. Much is required of us humans, navigating our design flaws and marvels, making self-compassion mandatory, withering the virtue of blame.

The relationship of attach and attack, their overlapping origin, points to the complexity, yearning and conflict inherent in being human and being together.