Anxious-avoidant Attachment Patterns

More common in probation settings is the pattern described as ‘anxious-avoidant’. Many examples could be given. Michael McRony was a 21 year old man, sentenced to a term of imprisonment for offences of grievous bodily harm and affray. It turned out that his father had killed his mother when he was about 8 years old. The parents were going through a divorce at the time. His father of course served a term of imprisonment and contact with him was lost for about 6 years. Michael told his probation officer that he was unaffected by the death of his mother. His offences followed the breakdown of a relationship with a girlfriend, and one assault was committed against a man who had assaulted his mother some 15 years previously.

Michael’s contact with his probation officer was marked by an intense ambivalence. On release from prison, early contact was erratic. He missed his first appointment and then came to the office with his sister, apparently frightened to come on his own. He was late for the next appointment, thereby ensuring that no substantial discussion could take place. The following appointment revealed some of his wish to be heard as well as his avoidance. The officer recorded discussion of his isolation, and of his jealousy of a fellow offender who had a house and family to return to. She then wrote, “i was left feeling he was someone very alone. This is a good opportunity to begin discussing Michael’s past history, but he did not wish to pursue this.” The next one was the penultimate one of his licence. It was a long and intensive and revealing interview in which Michael talked of his painful family history. The final formal appointment he cancelled in favour of a job interview and two subsequent offers of appointments after the end of his statutory supervision produced telephone calls initially to alter the arrangement and ultimately to decline the appointments with a message of thanks to the probation officer for her help.

As with ‘insecure-avoidant’ children, Michael’s first responses were to avoid the caring and comforting attentions of the probation officer and to deny painful emotions. When he did discuss his family history, the officer recorded; “The account was given in a cold detached way to which it was quite horrifying to listen.” He also recalled an incident when he broke his leg, some time after the death of his mother. His grandmother rushed to the scene of the accident and ‘nearly killed’ herself doing so. Michael’s memory of this was of feeling furious with his grandmother. On his father’s release from prison, Michael went to live with him, and I would speculate that this was because he could be sure that the relationship would have to remain superficial. The officer records, “I asked Michael if he had actually talked to his father about what had happened (the killing of Michael’s mother), and he said that it wasn’t possible and gave me an example of how this was impossible. He said that one day his father had asked him to look up in the newspaper to see what was in television. It was a movie, “Murder made easy – how to kill your wife”, and Michael just could not read that out to his father. His father looked at the newspaper, got up and left the room.”

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