Introduction to Dr. Poole Heller’s The Power of Attachment
Pulling from her 25 years of Attachment Theory research, Dr. Diane Poole Heller (a pioneer in attachment theory) authors her seminal book on trauma resolution titled ‘The Power of Attachment.’ In the following six-part series (beginning with the introduction of Dr. Heller and her work), we will provide a summary of each of the book’s chapters over the coming weeks.
We hope that readers will benefit from many claims to be the most poignant and comprehensive look at how trauma shapes us from infancy. But more importantly, how we can restore ourselves from said traumas, heal, and build long-lasting, meaningful relationships with everyone we love in the process.
What is Attachment Theory?
Before we delve into Dr. Diane Poole's first chapter of The Power of Attachment, let's discuss attachment theory -- the relationship theory that the book and Dr. Poole's 25 years' worth of expertise are based on.
Attachment theory is a psychological and ethological theory concerning relationships between humans. Attachment theory posits that a primary caregiver's attention, love, and support are needed during infancy and young childhood to develop normal social and emotional development.
There are four types of attachment styles: optimal (aka the Secure attachment: when a child receives plenty of love and attention from their caregivers) l to insecure (aka Avoidant Attachments, where a child was neglected).
Without proper essential and "ideal" bonds between caregiver and child, the mark left by neglect, rejection, and the withholding of love can permanently mark a person, affecting things like their ability to build long-lasting relationships and trust others. Those who fall into the latter category yearn for the love and connection with others but often fail to do so because they have subconsciously 'disconnected' from their attachment system.
So, can we change our attachment styles with which we use to build or avoid long-lasting relationships? If the answer were no, this book would be one page long, and Dr. Poole would have wasted 25 years of her life bumming people out. Thankfully, the doctor's life-long research and application of attachment theory were not all for naught; we can indeed change.
What's more, The Power of Attachment's entire premise is just that: how we as adults can learn how to have meaningful, lasting relationships despite complicated formative years that may have negatively impacted our attachment styles.
The Origins of Dr. Diane Poole Heller's Expertise in Attachment Theory
Like any good origin story worth its ink, Dr. Heller's begins in the most unlikely of ways.
Just a mere days before she was wed to her fiance in 1988, Diane was driving at a moderately high speed of 55 mph on the highway.
Driving down the highway, she glanced at the passenger side of the dashboard and noticed her wedding topper, a family heirloom of her mothers-in-law that she had just been gifted, was sliding off of the panel.
Afraid that the precious, irreplaceable gift given to her by her future mother-in-law would fall and break, she unbuckled her seatbelt and lunged towards the endangered memento in an attempt to catch it before it hit the floor.
In her attempt to grab the wedding topper, Diane accidentally pulled the steering wheel along with her body, causing her car to veer and crash head-on into an oncoming vehicle.
While lucky to be alive, Diane was not unscathed. In her crash, she suffered severe trauma to her face and sustained a traumatic brain injury. Nonetheless, she miraculously soldiered on and, three weeks later, walked down the aisle on the originally planned date.
However, it was soon after the wedding that effects from the crash started to become apparent. In the weeks and months that followed, severe symptoms included constant feelings of being disconnected from her immediate surroundings. Pain, disorientation, long and short-term memory loss, and post-traumatic induced flashbacks of the trauma she suffered during childhood (that she had previously no recollection of), began to seriously and negatively affect her everyday life. Determined not to let these severely debilitating symptoms of the car crash defeat her, she began to seek help.
She sought help.
It wasn't long before she found the help she was looking for after meeting Dr. Peter Levine, the pioneer of Somatic Experiencing, a naturalistic and neurological approach to healing trauma. Working through the somatic healing and guidance of Dr. Levine, Diane found the treatment was not only undeniably beneficial but it was also exceedingly fascinating. So much so that she began to study under Dr. Levine and adopt him as her mentor. This chance meeting and tutelage led to her 25 years of studying and furthering the ethological thesis we now know as the theory of attachment.
Her unique past experiences and unmatched knowledge in the theory of attachment have supported her personal and professional goal to help herself and others overcome their past traumas and to build relationships with others even in the face of "isolation and dissociation that can accompany traumatic experiences" (pg. 3).
Over her many years in the field of healing trauma, Dr. Heller has helped thousands rehabilitate and overcome their past trauma. She has since made it her life's mission to spread the undeniably effective treatments based on the theory of attachment on a global scale. The book "The Power of Attachment" is the realization of this mission.
In her seminal book, The Power of Attachment, Dr. Heller posits and answers important questions such as:
- "How do we heal broken connections to ourselves and others, and how can we come back to a sense of wholeness?
- How do we integrate our diverse experiences and all the parts of ourselves that feel so broken and fragmented?
- How do we emerge from incredible loss, fear, and powerlessness to regain empowerment and resiliency?
- When trauma robs us of our physical self through dissociation or loss of boundaries, how do we become embodied and safely connected again?
- How do we reclaim our birthright to feel grounded and centered, to feel connection and compassion, to have access to all the facets of our humanness and our spiritual nature?"
The answers, according to Heller, of course, come by way of applying her learned methods of attachment theory. We can heal our attachment wounds as we decipher our early attachment history and explore our different attachment styles to determine our dominant patterns.