About the Author
James Rapson, M.S., LMFT, is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the U.S. Association of Body Psychoterapists, and the Center for Object Relations in Seattle. Mr. Rapson is a veteran therapist who combines hard-won personal insight with clinical experience and scholarship. The journey of healing and growth in his own life has been greatly amplified by the courageous men and women with whom he has the privilege to work. Mr. Rapson's focus on human connection, coupled with his penchant for innovation, has led him to develop programs such as Group of Dads, Couples in Motion, and The Shared Vision Project. James' collaboration with Craig has led to the development of numerous seminars, workshops, and classes.
An avid learner, James draws from a diverse background that includes early career forays in the worlds of music, software engineering, theater, and religion, as well as even earlier exploits on the football field and wrestling mat. These days his wrestling is mostly limited to matters of the mind and heart, though he continues ot play piano, write poetry, and take the occasional raft trip down a northwest river. He has a private practice in Bellevue, Washington.
Craig English, M.F.A., is an award-winning writer with extensive experience in both nonfiction and fiction. He is founder of the much-published "Commoners" writing group in Seattle, Washington. A dynamic lecturer, teacher, and workshop leader, he draws from the wisdom traditions of both East and West to deliver a message that is warm, tough, funny, and poignant.
Mr. English performed as a professional actor for twenty-five years, with numerous credits on stage, television, and radio. He has cofounded such diverse projects as a groundbreaking Montessori middle school and a highly-regarded Shakespearean theater comapny. Among his interests, Craig counts hiking, kayaking, skiing, drinking tea, cooking, reading, and laughing.
Craig and James first met in 1965 on a grade school playground in Santa Barbara, California, and discovered that they shared a similar offbeat sense of humor. They have marked the stages of life together with comic books and ping-pong marathons, dreams of kissing the perfect girl and becoming rock stars, college hijinks and geographical relocations, through buying homes, raising children, and earning some gray hairs along the way. They are, forty years later, still best friends.
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Excerpt from Chapter 1
How to Make a Nice Person: The Enduring Effects of Anxious Attachment
Take a puppy away from his mother, place him alone in a wicker pen, and you will witness the universal mammalian reaction to the rupture of an attachment bond-a reflection of the limbic architecture mammals share. Short separations provoke an acute response known as protest, while prolonged separations yield the physiologic state of despair.
... and down they forgot as up they grew.
IT ALL BEGAN WHEN I WAS A CHILD
The comedian Steven Wright joked that, while he didn't think that being born by C-section had really affected him, "...every time I leave my house I have to go out through the window." Our culture has come to accept the notion that the way we feel and behave is related to the way in which we grew up. It will probably not, then, tie you into knots when we suggest that the psychological roots of the Nice Person originated in his or her childhood.
Nice People come in a wide variety of packages and from quite diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. But they all share a common foundational loss, going back to the earliest days of childhood. From this loss springs the anxiety and fear that drive the Nice Person's behavior.
The loss that we are talking about is the lack of reliable, consistent, and attuned love from the mother (or primary care giver). This loss prevents the formation of secure attachment, which is the healthy bond between mother and child.
A LITTLE ABOUT SECURE ATTACHMENT
Like an invisible umbilicus, the bond of secure attachment provides a conduit for the unobstructed flow of emotional nourishment to the child, while similarly allowing for the needs of the child to flow to the mother. When the attachment is secure, the child feels comfortable needing mother and depending on her, and as the baby grows older this comfort can be extended to other caregivers. Eventually, the secure attachment that began with mother will blossom into the self-assuredness that will allow the child to form healthy and openhearted intimate relationships in adulthood.
Secure attachment is the emotional foundation for a calm and confident psyche in the growing child and adult. In order for secure attachment to develop, a baby must believe that his or her mother will:
- Be there when she is wanted or needed
- Be able and willing to provide what the child needs
- Offer love enthusiastically and consistently, without rejection or withdrawal
- Love effectively by staying "in tune" with the child, not being intrusive or demanding
No mother, of course, can do these things perfectly at all times. Even a woman who is ideally suited for motherhood will have her strengths and weaknesses, as well as her good days and bad days. But research has shown that babies are resilient and will internally compensate for mistakes, lapses, and disappointments.
Even so, the "good-enough mother" has to be reliable enough, responsive enough, attuned enough, and warm enough for the baby to feel securely attached. She must also be able to handle and contain the baby's normal aggression and rejection without withdrawing or retaliating herself. If she cannot reliably do these things, the child becomes anxious and insecure, fearing that this all-important connection with mother is threatened by things that are innate in the child: neediness, anger, aggression, and desires to be separate. If things don't improve, this anxiety becomes firmly fixed in the child's body and psyche.
AVOIDANT AND DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT
At the other end of the spectrum are two attachment styles that represent general failure in the mother-child relationship: avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment. Avoidant attachment is the result of a chronic emotional neglect, and leads a child to routinely reject opportunities for connection and nurture from a parent. Even though these children need reassurance and encouragement, they act as though they don't, and seem unable to be nourished by it even when such comfort is available. As adults they likely will minimize the importance of close relationships.
Disorganized attachment forms when the child is regularly overwhelmed and terrified by the parent. These children face an intense internal paradox: their instinct is to seek soothing from the very parent who is terrifying them. Desperate to maintain a bond with that parent, they fragment internally, repressing their overwhelming rage and fear. When they become adults, these raw emotions will randomly reappear, causing great disruptions in their relationships.