Transforming Trauma Episode 016: Strange Situation: A Journey into Understanding Attachment, Motherhood and Developmental Trauma with Bethany Saltman
A podcast brought to you by the NARM® Training Institute
In this episode of Transforming Trauma, our host Sarah Buino welcomes author Bethany Saltman to share the lessons she learned while writing Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey Into The Science Of Attachment. Bethany and Sarah explore the different roles that curiosity, delight, anxiety, shame, and acceptance play when looking at parent-child attachment, and ultimately one’s connection to themselves. Throughout their conversation, they share unique perspectives about these themes around attachment and developmental trauma. Bethany shares from the perspective of researcher, author, and Zen practitioner, as well as a mother interested in creating a strong relationship with her child. Sarah shares from the perspective of social worker, substance abuse counselor and NARM Therapist-in-Training, interested in the role of trauma in child development.
Bethany’s journey of researching and ultimately writing about attachment theory began when she became a mother. Motherhood can unleash a wide-range of emotions for many new mothers. For Bethany, she was surprised by the duality of feeling an unwavering maternal love for her new baby, while also experiencing strong resentment, anger, and pain in motherhood. She describes this time as feeling very dark and that it brought up a lot of anxiety. After jumping at the opportunity to write a column for a local magazine about being a Buddhist mother, she embarked on a 10-year quest to understand her struggles. This led Bethany to delve into the world of attachment theory – one of the cornerstones of the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) in addressing Complex Trauma.
Her research on attachment led her to the works of the late Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist and attachment researcher. In the 1970s, Ainsworth devised a study to observe attachment between children and their caregivers. Dubbed the ‘Strange Situation’, the study is, as Bethany describes it, an elegant formulation of how attachment systems work. Ainsworth’s research resonated with Bethany and heavily informs her book. Learning about Ainsworth’s work changed Bethany’s relationship with herself and with her child. Ainsworth used the word “delight” to describe what needs to be present in order to have secure attachment. Bethany expands on this idea by defining delight as the sense of feeling felt by our caregivers. “If you can’t delight in yourself, you can’t delight in someone else,” Bethany says, “You cannot give what you do not have.”
Bethany reflects that “doing work with attachment and developmental trauma… changed everything about who I thought I was.” Through her Zen practice, her research on attachment, and her unwavering curiosity about the self, Bethany says she was able to see her own story, and felt the agency to change it. From her experience, she shares with Sarah, “We change our story by seeing our story.” The changes Bethany has seen in herself and in her story are rooted in being curious and allowing for more awareness. Sarah highlights a strong shared principle between Zen Buddhism and NARM: “Being with what is.”
Sarah and Bethany discuss the connection between Ainsworth’s Strange Situation narrative and NARM’s core teachings about attachment, relational, and developmental trauma. NARM therapy supports the connection within a person to themselves, which in turn allows for deeper connection to others. Bethany, who shares openly that she is a client of NARM Therapy, reports her embodied learning that “the other side of shame is radical acceptance.” This honest and moving conversation weaves together exploration of self-inquiry, self-love, and how to take a second look at shame in order to heal from developmental trauma.
Bethany Saltman is an author, award-winning editor, and researcher. Her work can be seen in magazines like the New Yorker, New York Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Parents, and many others. Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey Into the Science of Attachment, published in April 2020 by Random House, is her first book.