The role of early attachment in consumption patterns – a public health perspective

In 2015, I conducted public-health related research into the consequence of child complex trauma on the brain. The goal of my research was to develop an activity guide for lay people that could help reduce these consequences on the brain. To conduct the research, I interviewed a range of practitioners includig; psychologists, psychiatrists & neurologists in Southen California, USA. Besides that, I also also merged into the literature world on brain development and the role of attachment/ relationships in child development.

After finalizing my reserach and presenting the outcomes to “Court Appointed Special Advocates“, I realized that how we are nurtured, the way we are loved and cared for has one of the greatest impacts on how we later behave in life. It impacts how we form, build and maintain relationships, how we communicate with each other and how meaning is created within ourselves and the world around us.

The capacity to love is at the core of the success of humankind. The reason we’ve survived on this planet is that we’ve been able to form and maintain effective groups. Isolated and disconnected, we are vulnerable. In community, we can protect one another, cooperatively hunt and gather, share with the dependents of our family, our clan. Relation glue keeps our species alive, and love is the relationa superglue. Perry & Operah, 2021, p. 77

Healthy attachement can be formed in multiple ways and directions; parents, grandparents, friends, co-workers, communities

What influence does attachement have on our neurological development?

When a baby is born, it enters the world with a specific number of neurons. These neurons then form into neural networks that predefine how we view and engage in this world later on. Because the brain develops “bottom- up” (see Figure 2: Brain chart), the way in which neural networks are formed from infant age pre-define later developments in the higher regions of the brain. It defines how these regions are connected and how resiliant our behaviour will be towards challanges such as stress, disagreements or changes (think about private/work relationships or within ourselves).

How these neural networks develop differs for individuals. If a baby grows up in an attuned and loving environment, where its needs are being met emotionally and physcially, neuron-connections will form that are based on “healthy, self-regulatory and resilient” developments. If a baby grows up in a stressfull environment or an environment in which it was neglected, continuesly stressed or only its basic needs were fullfilled, the brain develops in such a way that the functions of upper brain regions can be impaired. Such impairment can be illustrated in difficulties such as “self-regulation and resiliance towards stresses, or ability to reason”. It may also impair the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships.

Brain map and sypmtoms (Source: Bruce Perry, http://www.Child Trauma.org, Ann-Cathrin Joest, Research Report, 2015)

In adult life, such dysregulation within the adult and the adults relationship can be displayed in a range of behaviours (see Figure 2: Brainchart and related dysfunctional symptom). Someone who grew up in an environment through which healthy neurological networks developed in all four brain regions, will be more likely to view a challange as something “natural”, something that is not a threat. However, someone who has difficulties with self-regulation may view a daily challange as a threat and therefore involuntarily shuts down the more complex region of the brain responsible for reasoning and arguing (cortex-region). In doing so, the more primative functions of the brain are actived (Brainstem, Diencephalon[Midbrain]), those that support survival. While these functions possibly helped a child to survive, these functions do not serve as an adult anymore, think about someone quick to respond agressively or without thinking or someone yelling, swearing , leaving etc.

How does neural development and attachement relate to sustainable behaviour?

At my my current job, I am engaged in the development of sustainable and circular business models. I try to answer questions such as “How can sustainable business models reduce interest in consumption? And why do people consume so much? How can products create intrinsic meaning and how can such meaning be translated in a society that currently appears to seeks meaning in an access of consumption ? ” .

For so long, I could not cearly think about the answers until I began reading the book “What happenned to you? Conversations on Trauma, resilience and healing” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It was that book that reminded me on my research on neurodevelopment and healthy attachment, that I realized many answers can be found in “dysregulations and early (un)healthy attachement“. That the more dysregulation exists within ourselves and the less healthy attachements we formed as an infant or child, the less meaning we create within ourselves and relationships. The more likely we seek satisfaction in extrinsic activities, ways of behaving and acting [unconciously] to regulate an intrinsic need (we may not be aware of). So I believe that -love / instrinsic love- is the cure to much of the sustainability debates we face today. Love and early healthy attachements, that nurture, love that supports resiliance (within brain structures) and supports curiosity for positive change. Love -that type of glue that lasts longer then the short term satisfaction from addiction such as overeating and consumption.

The challange with activating our reward circuits is that the pleasure fades. The feeling of reward is short-lived. Think how long the pleasure of eating a potato chips last. A few seconds. Then you want another. Same with a hit of nicotine from a cigarette. Or even the smile of a loved one. It feels so good in the moment, and we can recall it and get a little pleasure, but the intenses sense of reward fades. So each day we are pulled to refill our reward bucket. The healthiest way to do this is through relationships. Connectedness regulates and rewards us. Perry & Operah, 2021, p. 64.

Moving forward?

For a sustainable society, to thrive as individual and thus, the collective, I believe that we must put greater emphasizes on healthy developments and community, identify healthy meaning within the individual that can translate into the collective and the other way round. However, how can such a society be created, if more hours are worked, if cost of living are increasing and if global inequalities persist?

References:

Winfrey, O., & Perry, B. D. (2021). What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Flatiron Books.

Joest, A. (2015). Consequences on Complex trauma on the brain. Reserach Report. Windesheim Honours College & Court Appointed Special Advocates, Orange County, California.

Playing on circular music

Did you know that music can have a beneficial effect on brain chemicals such as dopamine, which is linked to feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” And there is moderate evidence that music can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Besides these there are also other benefits like improved mental performance, coordination, reading and listening skills. And honestly, doesn’t it feel great to create music all by yourself – a way of expressing yourself and feeling it?

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Unfortunately, the ability to create music – the specific type of music- we dream of can be exclusive. And that is such a shame, because music frees, music connects and music makes us feel alive. It makes us dance, it makes us cry, it makes us smile, it makes us fall in and out of love, it makes us excited, it creates a unique atmosphere, a rythm, a bond.

Why is it exclusive? There is a great variety of music instruments and each of them is made of different materials , with a different level of difficulty and different costs to create a unique sound. Of course, it is possible to use vegetables or simple sticks to create sounds, but these might never create the sound of a violine. A well produced violine may cost at least 1000 Euros up to hundred of thousands of Euros, depending on the materials used. And this keeps the dream, your dream, a girls and boys dream, an adults dream or the dream of anyone with a low budget always a dream. In reality, this dream should be lived.

Could renting change that? Yes! With 30 years, I decided to rekindle with my childhood dream and signed up for a trial violine class. Unfortauntely, I did not feel inclined to continue the dream, because the price of a violine appeared quite shocking to me. It was then my teacher who recommended me to rent a violine from a nearby store, that offers also repair and maintenance service throughout the use time.

What’s their business model like? Depending on the quality of the violine, I pay between 15 and 19 Euros a month rent. This price also includes a small insurance fee (2 Euros) for any type of damage that could happen. I need to rent it for at least 3 months and then cancel it in advance. If I decide to keep it, the price of one year rent (around 160 Euros per year) can be deducted from the total purchasing price.

Because I rent it, it is expected that I care for the product. While I have no understanding of violines yet other than , good once are made of wood and the bow of horse hair, maintenance guidelines help me care for it and of course my teacher too (I hope : ) ). If I have any problems, I can also always contact the store for help.

What does this mean to me? Really the world, because I had always been fascinated by the sound of violines, and always viewed money as a huge obstacle. Likewise I was so pleased to learn about the environmental benefits of my local produced product and why quality matters so much. Circularity therefore does not appeal to plastic and fashion only, but also to many other sectors that make life livable and yet so joyful. I want more of it : )

Limits to growth for the bio-based economy, why circularity is the way to go in 2020

A few weeks ago I watched a Netflix documentary on healthy diets, which highlighted the versatile and healthy diets of hunter gathrers. Hunter-gatherer culture was the way of life for early humans until around 11 to 12,000 years ago. The lifestyle of hunter-gatherers was based on hunting animals and foraging for food.

What I liked most about the documentary was to see a balancing interaction between humans and their ecosystem. Whatever they used to hunt, to wear and to cook was bio-based and once an item fullfilled its purpose such as food, a used spear or old clothes, they could be thrown away and turned one with nature again. Life focused on necessities, instead of likeabilities; whatever had been thrown away, needed to be thrown away.

Our way of interacting with the “real word” drastically changed and we started to become adjusted to as well as to desire materials that are non-organic. These are materials that at the end of their life-cycle accumulate in the environment somewhere, rather then becoming part of it. These are also materials that can be produced very quick!

Some of these materials include synthetically produced textiles, or the processing and use of sand and metals for construction. Others include plastic to wrap goods, or fossil fuels to supply us with heat. Hunter gatherers instead would have hunted for food and would have used all parts of their pray such as the skin for leather. They would have collected wood from the sourroundings to serve as a source of heat and fire wood. Whatever waste they had created in their different tribes, turned one with nature again.

Nowadays we are driving on quick consumption, the rush it evokes in us, the happiness it brings and the quick accessibilty for it. One click on Amazon and we can buy the new shirt of our favorite Instagram feet or those that Tom and Jaz are wearing. Another click and we can buy new shoes and a few years later, we finally can buy that interior decor we always wanted. The industry knows that and they are more then dedicated to supply new products and innovations on a rapid basis.

The industry also knows that our resources are running short, environmenal regulations are turning stronger and therefore increasing research to develop and re-apply bio-based materials. Suddenly the way of living with our environment such as of the hunter-gatherers appeals.

!Biobased materials do not equal sustainability

As an individual, I believe that you can think of various bio materials i.e. grass to produce paper or sheep woll for textile. But my favorite industrial bio-based “sustainable” material is bamboo, because it matures within 3-5 years and it can be processed into almost everything. It is also my favorite ecological resource, because it stores water year round, regenerates degraded lands and can serve as an alternative to tropical timber.

While I truly support bamboo as an alternative to other materials, I also acknowledge that its growth rate of 3-5 years is limited. Let’s say if we had 16.000 hectars of bamboo and needed all that bamboo to supply sufficient fibre in one year, then it is likely not as “renewable at the end”. I also acknowledge that certain processing methods such as the chemical once for fibre production, make it less ecological and biodegradable. This is the opposite for mechanically produced fibres, but the processing is lenghty and labour intensive. This currently makes it less desirable by the industry.

To continue promoting or developing ecological, fair or lets say “slow” materials within the current consumption model, the only way to go forward is the Circular Economy. I would say that the Circular Economy aligns well with the principles of the hunter gatherers, as waste turns into value again.

Why is that important?

Because if we want to continue promoting sustainable materials (let’s say ecological, not causing deforestation, no pollutions entering the environment), then we have to acknowledge that there are limits to growth for “bio-based materials.” Yet, to maintain that current economic model, we simply capture the value of products at the end of their lifecycle. In doing so , businesses keep the value in the company and consumers can maintain similiar consumption models.

We can achieve this by promoting business models for the circular economy that capture the value, of products and materials at the end, but also throughout the production of a product.

Would you like to know more about business models for the circular (bio-based) economy and receive help with identifying integrated models that are most suitable for your business?

Please feel free to contact me any time.