Q&A: Helping Traumatized Moms Become More Secure in Themselves

A mom holding her toddler

Last month, we summarized research showing that beginning to address past trauma through a process called "reorganizing" helps traumatized mothers bond with their children. We wanted to know more about how reorganizing works and about the Adulthood Attachment Interview, which the study's authors used to help mothers heal. To find out, we spoke with one of the researchers, Udita Iyengar, of the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor University in Houston, Texas.

NCFY: Can you explain reorganization in layman’s terms?

Iyengar: The thing about reorganizing is that it’s really best understood in the attachment perspective. There are different models of attachment. The general way that we look at it is that attachment really goes from generation to generation, so for example a secure mother is likely to have a child who is secure, while an insecure mother is likely to have an insecure child.

So the idea of reorganizing is that when someone has a history of insecure attachment, or they have a history of something that’s gone on in their lives to make them [act] a certain way, but they’re actively thinking about their experiences, they’re reflecting, they’re integrating, they’re really evaluating their previous experiences, and they’re able to work toward a more secure understanding. So it’s kind of like that interim, so individuals may not quite be in that balance – taking the good and taking the bad and reaching a good conclusion about it – they’re not quite there, but they’re really reflective, and they’re really able to understand what’s gone on in their past, so they’re able to come to a better understanding of themselves both for the present and in the future. 

NCFY: How do service providers assess whether some mothers are ready to engage in reorganization programs? 

Iyengar: All of this is determined from an Adult Attachment Interview. This interview explores a person’s own life, their own experiences, their own relationships with their caregivers, and any experiences they might have had which might have been traumatic. It focuses on the experiences in childhood. There’s a whole list of criteria, a detailed coding process. What you see in their discourse -- because it’s all transcribed -- [people who are reorganizing] will make evaluative statements; they’ll correct something. So, for example, they might say, “Oh, that was a really horrible experience.” Then they might say, “Oh, you know what? It might have been horrible at the time, but I can see now that it was something that shaped me.” So it’s kind of that they are able to report on things that have happened, but at times they correct their statements, or they are able to put reflective meaning behind it. Everything isn’t absolute. 

NCFY: Are there cases in which the timing might not be appropriate for some mothers to begin the reorganization process?

Iyengar: If they aren’t ready, that will come across in their discourse. The benefit of doing an interview which is coded and transcribed is that you can read between the lines. You see not just what someone is saying, but you look at any change in their grammar, any lapses in discourse – it’s a very detailed coding process which allows not just what they’re saying, but also a little more meaning in what they’re saying.

For more information about the Dynamic-Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation, visit the Family Relations Institute website.

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