CPTSD and Attachment

What is the precise difference, if any, between "CPTSD" and "attachment trauma"?

Decoupling Love and Trust

Trust evidentially, love freely. But the linked pair "loving and trusting" is the attachment disorder called Secure Attachment, and includes neither hookless love nor finite trust. Baseline paranoia can be palliated with "loving and trusting," but better to cure it outright.

It seems to me like secure attachment and dismissive-avoidant are ill-defined, and each of them overlaps with both an attachment disorder and a healthy openness to but not reliance on connection. Dismissive Avoidant is classified as a disorder but mostly just means you've learned how to be self-sufficient, and Secure Attachment assumes that never learning that is healthy.

It seems to me like if one of the standard "attachment types" contains behavior that isn't oriented around the question of whether to join someone's cult or faction it's gotta be Dismissive Avoidant.

Let's unpack some of this.

Attachment Types: A Summary

Wikipedia matches my impression that in adults there are supposed to be four attachment types: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. The idea is basically that there's four orientations towards forming trust-attunement-intimacy attachments:

  1. Secure: Gives and accepts validation easily, and attaches to the validation counterparty
  2. Anxious-Preoccupied: Demands constant validation from potential attachment counterparties
  3. Fearful-Avoidant: Freaked out by signs of commitment or requests for validation from potential attachment counterparties
  4. Dismissive-Avoidant: Not really oriented towards this sort of thing

"Attachment" basically amounts to forming a permanent expectation of lexically prioritized enmeshment. Definitely some dismissive-avoidant behavior CAN be a coping mechanism in response to lack of available intimacy as a kid, but not wanting to do zero-sum enmeshment forming a faction of exactly 2 is just good strategy if there's anything else on offer. (Plus, as an adult ... have you noticed how fucked up literally everyone is?)

Poly "attachments" often amount to plausible deniability games about who's prioritized. I learned this the hard way, twice, once on each side of the dynamic.

There is something real about the attachment paradigm as a developmental model; it seems pretty likely to me that there's some sort of attachment machinery that gets engaged at a certain developmental stage. If the environment is messed up in some very specific but common ways hooks can get installed that are triggerable later by other stuff, ergo CPTSD.

Sexuality Political Compass

The bottom right thing is just straight-up neoliberalism AFAICT (which is why it's bottom-right quadrant), still a lot of cultural successors to that.

Seems like secure attachment, anxious preoccupied, and anxious avoidant are all CPTSD patterns that recapitulate parenting, and dismissive avoidant is a conflation of possibly traumatic despair & health. But definitely the emphasis is on the despair aspect even though the formal definition includes well-integrated behavior. By contrast, BDSM is more often a response to general social conditions. Attachment styles masquerade as normative, BDSM as transgressive.

If you read carefully, accounts of attachment styles generally imply definitions of "trust" and "love" that are specific to the inside-CPTSD worldview, so difficulty expressing oneself vulnerably is conflated with distrust, when I can write vulnerable stuff on my blog for anyone to read, and think that most people are almost completely depraved and untrustworthy. This has actually caused a bunch of relationship confusion where I've opened up to people and they've treated this as transgression-bonding and reciprocated, and I thought that we were just communicating. And then they flipped out when I didn't display loyalty, when we'd very clearly (to them) established Trust and Closeness and therefore they owned me, or I was supposed to be a responsible owner of them or something. Compassionate defetishization alludes to a related example, but I've even had a totally nonsexual friendship blow up this way.

A friend notes that the bottom left category is:

Not getting confused and thinking that sexuality isn't about babies and politics. Like sexuality isn't just about babies and politics, but the other ones rely on the idea that it isn't inherently about them at all. (and i'm counting politics here as like, no really when you have a serious homosexual or heterosexual relationship with someone a lot of it is about wanting to be close to and transmit information with that person so that you can operate with them)

I think attachment theory implicitly assumes that intimacy is zero-sum in a stronger sense than mere bandwidth constraints but that it's correct to have some because "you and me against the world" or "me and my near kin against my farther kin" is a more powerful coalition than "literally just me against the world." But it treats romantic intimacy as symmetric, where BDSM treats it as implicitly part of a pecking order.

Looks like I was writing about my discomfort with how people talk about attachment styles four years ago. In hindsight I was trying to be too generous despite feeling super uncomfortable with the way people talked about it. My discomfort should have been a moderately strong signal for me, since people were consistently using it in the same gross way. It seems like people are using it as jargon to reify artificially scarce CPTSD-intimacy as just how love is.

But wait, isn't BDSM sometimes obviously just consumerism? There are definitely people who will communicate about BDSM in a very neoliberal-consent-consumerist way. But they seem pretty dissociated about it and will directly describe how they're feel a safety-need to occupy a place in an intuitively perceived pecking order, even if they verbally pathologize or objectify that perceived need. So, the self-objectifying talk is coming from a neoliberal paradigm, but the thing that motivates their actions is a semi-coherent implementation of a strategy.

Violence as Safety

The four classes of sexuality I know about:

  1. Narrow fetishes, fantasies, and kinks that canalize sexuality through a traumatized shell of dissociation
  2. Attachment disorders
  3. BDSM
  4. Reproductive strategies informed by an embedded model of political economy

Some interesting responses on Twitter


can you explain the difference between the first three

renegade brainlet

my interpretation:

1 stuff that people don't even think is sexual e.g. balloons

2 specific preferences for which situations make you feel safe and let you be aroused but can outwardly pass for vanilla

3 needing control, power, dominance etc. or needing not to have it

in 2, "situation" may be defined as "emotional traumas and attachment quirks"

"Safe" is a very interesting word here - I think it means a VERY different thing to the CPTSD mindset (knowing your position relative to the pattern of violence around you) than to a means-ends-reasoning mindset (an acceptably low hazard rate).

Compiled from several Twitter threads

Related: Judgment, Punishment, and the Information-Suppression Field

11 thoughts on “CPTSD and Attachment

      1. Anonymous

        “Fuck you” should be self explanatory.

        “[compassionate defetishization link]” is the one you left out.

        1. Benquo Post author

          thanks, fixed
          seems to me like you might be mad at me for some reason, and that if you are, we might both benefit from your telling me what that reason is.

          1. Anonymous

            Mad at you: yes.
            Any benefit of any kind to be expected from interacting with you on any topic: nope. I expect this bullshit attachment post to be the last thing I read of yours. Maybe think on the stuff you said in it if you wanna imagine why someone might be mad at you.

  1. Dan

    What you write about BDSM applies much better to the Dominance/Submission part than to the Sadism/Masochism part. Pure S/M fits much better alongside the dissociation-fetishes.

    D/s _does_ often match "a safety-need to occupy a place in an intuitively perceived pecking order¨. Though where you focus on how needs develop over time, IMO it's also worth considering how they fit into the current-moment make-up of somebody's life. That is, sex/relationship styles are often correcting an imbalance elsewhere in life. There's some truth to the cliche of the overachiever-submissive: the businessperson who is running the world by day, so by night wants to correct the balance by being taking orders. Likewise the dominant who feels low-status and humiliated in the mundane world, but can be lord and master in the bedroom. Same principle applies to other parts of a relationship. You'll cling to a partner as your One True Soulmate if, in fact, you have no close friendships outside of that relationship.

    [all massive generalizations, needless to say]

  2. Anonymous

    "Narrow fetishes, fantasies, and kinks that canalize sexuality through a traumatized shell of dissociation" Yeaaaahhhhh uh........uh I have no comment for that...so instead I'm going to paste the lyrics of J-walks "Pleathers Feathers" here because quite frankly it makes more sense than whatever that sentence was

    Yeah I'm riding through the area
    In a car that's made of fuckin'
    Bird feathers and pleather seats
    And I gotta meet the bitch
    Who says she works
    At the swap meet I think
    Or so she said
    I don't know
    Where she lives
    But I know that she's
    Not alive
    She's dead
    And I killed her
    In the car accident
    Lookin' like a President
    In a fuckin' chopper
    I mean the Airplane

  3. Anonymous

    *correction "Bird Feathers and Pleather" is the name of the song (just thought people readin this would want to know the name of this song in case they got curious)


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