The Timelessness of Attachment

My husband and I went on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg last Fall. For those of you who have never heard of it, Colonial Williamsburg is a living history center. Williamsburg was the first capital of Virginia and was still the capital during the American Revolutionary War. Many of the buildings, including the Governor’s Palace, House of Burgesses, Armory, homes, churches and coffee shops have been restored and there are re-enacters in colonial costume at all the various buildings to teach you what life was like at the time. There are also re-enactments of major events leading up to and during the revolutionary war (we got to storm the Governor’s Palace which was pretty cool, I’ve always wanted to storm a palace!) and talks are given by famous people, such as George Washington, who even took questions from the audience (which was impressive, the man had an incredible grasp of both Washington’s life and the events of the revolutionary war.) I love revolutionary history (my humble apologies to my British readers. 😀 )and found this fascinating.

One display I found especially striking was in one of the museums. An early mental hospital had been established by a Dr. John M Galt, who was one of the early adopters and strong promoters of more humane treatment of mentally ill people. Conditions up until that time were pretty horrific, with many patients chained up and left in their own filth, treated worse than livestock in many cases. He was an early proponent of treating the mentally insane with respect and compassion.

Among the displays was the following letter written by a resident of the hospital:

Dear Brother,

It would have rendered me most agreeable pleasure to have been with you all these Christmas times, but Dr. John M. Galt, the gentleman under whose care and protection I am here placed, does not think my mind sufficiently cured for me to leave here yet so I will not say in this epistle when you will see me, probably never.

The Doctor is a gentleman whom the whole world ought to love and respect. To speak more concisely and emphatically, I do not think that I ought to desire a better or more worthy friend in this world. …Be not disposed to think me exaggerating, for I am writing the real truth, and am bold too, in having the gratification of writing thus. I’ll now bring this epistle to a close not knowing what else beneficial or amusing to write you.

Yours until death,

Excerpted from
The Galt Family Papers
Earl Gregg Swem Library
College of  William and Mary
Williamsburg, Virginia

Reading this was so powerful. The man who wrote this letter lived in such different times. The culture, the technology, the rhythms of life were vastly different from what I experience, yet the feelings he spoke of echoed across the years with a piercing familiarity. Someone had come alongside him, and given him compassion and acceptance and understanding and at a time when those things were exceedingly rare for someone with mental problems. And he reacted in a way which resonated deeply with me: he saw Dr. Galt as an amazing human being, one deserving of love and respect. He was grateful to speak of his esteem of this man as he saw him as so deserving.

While human cultures, mores, beliefs and customs change, human beings do not. There is a reason we can look at, and be moved, by a piece of art conceived and executed thousands of years ago. Human beings have always, and probably always will, struggle to understand ourselves and our purpose, to make sense of our experiences and distill meaning out of our lives. And one of the most important ways that we do this is to connect with other human beings. We can only know ourselves in relationship, by being clearly reflected by another person. So it is these connections, these attachments, that evoke our most powerful feelings.

So across the years, I found a kindred spirit. He wrote letters home to speak of his love and esteem and I write letters to a world-wide community to speak of mine. But the deep feelings of gratitude and respect are the same and spring from the same source. The next time you are wondering why your therapist is evoking such strong feelings, I hope you remember this post and that these feelings come from deep within and are integral to our humanity. Perhaps one of the privileges of needing to heal is to be conscious of our deep attachments and how they have shaped us. Know you are not alone in how you react, in this or any other time where humans have reached out to each other for meaning.

  1. March 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    “Perhaps one of the privileges of needing to heal is to be conscious of our deep attachments and how they have shaped us. ” How true.


  2. March 19, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Girl, you were in my neck of the woods that day!


    • March 20, 2014 at 9:09 am

      You live in a pretty neck of the woods! Hey, have you ever been to the restaurant “Food for Thought” in Williamsburg? I LOVED the place, both the food and atmosphere. 🙂 XX AG


      • March 20, 2014 at 9:45 am

        No, I’ll have to try it. I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants.


  3. March 20, 2014 at 12:42 am

    I dunno! 😉


  4. Ann
    March 20, 2014 at 10:44 am

    AG, This was beautiful. I love how you so artfully connected the past to us. I makes me feel less lonely. Xo Ann


    • March 20, 2014 at 10:55 am

      Thank you Ann, that was very affirming. I felt less lonely when I read it and am glad to know I expressed it well enough to pass it along xx AG


  5. XXX
    March 20, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I agree with Ann, this is really beautiful. For me it points to the conclusion that maybe there is a purpose for the struggles, which is to know myself and others on a deeper level, and to appreciate that we all struggle, but we are never alone in those struggles and can make a difference for each other. Martha Crawford wrote a really great piece on Pain and migraines. Pain actually lets us connect on a deeper level sometimes; But why does it have to hurt so bad??

    Also reminds me of a line in a Dave Matthews song that gives me comfort; its in Ants Marching, and says “They all do it the same way”

    Thanks Again, AG, I so look forward to reading you!!! (even when its tough to take in)


    • March 24, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Hi XXX,
      Sorry it has taken so long to respond, i got sidelined by a cold over the weekend, so about all I was doing was watching a lot of bad TV. 🙂 I am so glad that you found a sense of purpose in reading this. It was very hard to articulate how i felt about reading this, but everyone is doing a great job of expressing it in these comments. 🙂

      And if you ever figure out that pain thing, let me know! And thank you for continuing to read, despite it being tough to hear at times. xx AG


  6. Elsewhere
    March 21, 2014 at 5:52 am

    And the miracle of humankind is that our hearts instantly, instinctly reach for this man. We know how he feels, we feel how we feels.

    No, we are not alone, but I’m sorry to say I don’t always succeed in feeling that… 😦
    great post, AG,


    • March 24, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      So perfectly put, that it is the miracle of humankind. It reminds me a line from the ee cummings poem “i carry you in my heart:” This is the mystery that holds the stars apart. And I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m not always to successful in remembering I’m not alone either. We can be together feeling alone ok? 🙂 So glad you liked it. love, AG


  7. chickadee
    March 22, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks for this… it’s beautiful. Somehow it is comforting and sad all at once. The sad part must be my own stuff about my T. It feels heartbreaking somehow.
    I think I must want that kind of peace… to feel safe enough with my T to just be grateful, rather than messy and conflicted and scared.

    So I guess this guy’s really got one up on me.


    • March 24, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      I think we’re all looking for that peace, to just feel safe enough. But we have good reason that it does not come easy. And if I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on the gentleman not feeling that way about Dr. Galt all the time. 🙂 And it is sad, we’re not supposed to need someone to teach us this at this stage of our life; that it did not happen before is a real loss about which sadness is a reasonable, human response. ~ AG


  8. marleym6
    March 24, 2014 at 12:38 am

    While I know this, I’ve experienced this, but I still don’t like it, therefore I fight it, so I no longer want this… with my T.
    It bred an unwanted dependency because of his ill kept boundaries. It is a confusing thing. I don’t want the emotional dependency.
    I run into him occasionally and there is unspoken tension that neither of us address. What is the benefit of this attachment? Time to grow beyond it, so I shift my attachment to God.
    Interesting post though and true.


    • March 24, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      It’s great to hear from you! I believe the problem wasn’t that a dependency formed, I think that is necessary to healing and forming a secure attachnment. All human beings need to be dependent for a time on another human to implicitly learn the developmental skills that allow them to be independent (well, ok, interdependent) and if it doesn’t happen in childhood then we need to do it as adults (which is immensely harder). But strong boundaries that clearly delineate between what it is possible to provide and what is not are an absolute necessity, in my opinion, to allow a client to work through the dependency. So the benefit of the attachment is that it allows us to know the kind of safety and security to learn what we need to learn. I think your T’s ill kept boundaries are what interfered with that process and have left you in such a difficult position. I am sorry. ALthough I am very glad that you find such comfort in your faith. xx AG


  9. Ann
    March 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I may be the exception, but my therapist has opened up the possibility of God for me after years of spiritual drought. On the issue of attachment, I went through two years of fighting any feelings of dependency, but was finally about to negotiate a comfortable balance between a somewhat healthy attachment and an unhealthy neurotic dependency. I believe this will not work if your therapist holds poor boundaries, makes promises (either in his/her words or actions) that they cannot fulfill, or is unable to mirror healthy ways of dealing with conflict in therapy. If your therapist can do these things fairly consistently, it can create a safe environment for a patient/client to explore their own feelings of helplessness, shame and even develop insight into what needs they are trying to fulfill if they develop intense emotions around their therapist. I believe every human desires to have that one person in their life to take care of all of their emotional, physical, sexual and financial needs. In reality no single individual can step into such big shoes. Not even your seemingly perfect therapist. Letting go of this universal fantasy can be a big step towards healing! AG, your site also creates a safe haven for us to explore these issues in healing. I know many people here have expressed different perspectives that I find helpful for my own journey! Xoxo. AG, I hope you are finding some peace concerning you recent struggles!


    • March 25, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      (((Ann))) This was extremely timely, as you’ll see when you read my latest post. I think this is a very clear picture of how the healing should work. Now if I could just figure out a way to let go of that universal fantasy… xx AG


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