Shower Problems: A Careful Misapplication of Attachment Theory

Lately, in my emerging role as a wildly successful writer and editor and lion tamer (I’ll let you decide which parts of that are true), I’ve been working with a publisher focusing on early childhood education and theories (hint: it’s not the sort of publisher that tames lions… One of the other kinds). It’s been fascinating work, mostly because I am an obsessive learner who has never delved into the world of theories about childhood. Did you know that there’s a whole group of people who talk not just about what kids learn, but how, and why, and the way they grow? I didn’t. Well, now I do. Most of them are some sort of psychologist or sociologist or researcher, and it’s given me a whole new way to look at kids and their growth.

(Sidenote: If you think about it, the fact that children can be born as essentially a pile of mush, brain-wise, that efficiently reorganizes itself from scratch based on the world around them is impressive. On a growth curve from 0-20 years, you have an increasingly higher-functioning individual that, when it started, had only one tool in its toolbox (variations of crying) to deal with its essentially single need (staying alive). Of course this is a simplification, but it’s pretty stunning nonetheless.)

Anyway, one of the brand-new theories that I’ve learned about is attachment theory. Today, untrained and untested, we will be misapplying this theory to my shower. Yes, my shower. I intend for this to at least be therapeutic, because it sure as heck won’t fix the shower. Hooray for psychology!

For those of you who were not thinking “Hooray!” in connection with “psychology!”, hang in there. This’ll just take a nerdy minute.

First, attachment theory:

Attachment is basically the idea that a person’s approach to the world, their tendency to trust and participate and take risks, is molded by their very early experiences with caring relationships from people they need to be able to trust. The kind of relationships they build with parents, day care people, to some extent friends and the community—all of those relationship patterns set a course for how a person will probably respond to relationships in the future.

“Secure attachment” comes from parents or caregivers who are available, responsive, and supportive (yay!) and “securely attached” kids learn to balance emotions, create meaningful relationships, and securely handle stress.

And they obviously never have any problems, ever, for the rest of their lives.


These barnacles are very securely attached.

“Insecure attachment” styles are, of course, a different style of interaction. There’s 3 styles—insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent/resistant, and insecure disorganized. The main gist of all of them is that they involve caregivers who, for a number of reasons, are not trustworthy and secure. So if a kid at a very young age learns that people she has to trust are pretty much checked out, emotionally inconsistent, or dangerous, then she won’t expect adults to respond to her needs, now or later.

This is the very short, I-am-not-a-developmental-researcher version. Before you go analyzing your own life to death, which, you know, is fun but kind of exhausting, take caution. Read a book. Go see an actual psychologist. And have a nice talk with your shower.

I know I did. (It was worth a try.)

Attachment Theory and Your Shower

In what ways does Elena feel attached to her shower? First we have to examine her past—what early experiences have shaped her view of showers, and water, and life and the universe? We’ll just focus on the first one today, shall we?

[Elena’s past experiences] The shower…sigh. I have always viewed shower-taking as a brief and necessary chore on the way to doing more important things in life. My trust of showers, but only quick ones, probably stems from competitions in my family to see who could get the most showering in before my sister used up all the hot water. I have had a few high points in my life of fast showering. (Personal record: going deep-sleep to out-the-door in 13 minutes including shower. Dang, I was good at this in college.) (It probably says bad things about me that I’m so proud of this.)

Also, I know that I live in a first world country because I expect my shower water to behave predictably, to provide a steady and reliable stream of reasonable-temperature water at my every whim. I recognize this is a first world expectation because last year I visited my parents in a gorgeous country whose first-world-dom did not extend to the showering experience. And that was okay. Really. In the midst of freezing concrete underfoot, using 4 minutes of hot water so the next person had some, and seeing your breath in the air because the walls weren’t insulated against winter—I said to myself, “Gee, it’s an adventure. This’ll be fun! It’s like camping!” (This was optimism by proxy. My camping experiences have never been like this.) My enthusiasm was drawn from a place of deep peace, a place that knew that somewhere, out there, were reliable showers that I would again use just as soon as I could stop shivering long enough to get on the airplane. My past experiences with showers gave me a secure enough attachment to instinctively trust all showers.

And, oh, what misplaced trust! The naiveté of youth…

It looks so innocent, doesn’t it?

[Elena’s current experience, in the third person to give distance to a painful topic] Elena’s current shower is has a deep and personal vendetta against her and her alone. While she has demonstrated her ability to handle freezing showers with relative aplomb, the shower pushes the temperature in the other direction. The shower, as trustworthiness goes, is inconsistent and occasionally explosive. There appears to be no predictable response between Elena’s behavior (turning the knobs, waiting a significant amount of time, shrieking inelegantly, etc.) and the shower’s actual water temperature. The water temperature ranges from so-hot-she-can’t-breathe-through-wall-of-steam to Whoops, ICE! But mostly it stays in the boiling-a-pot-of-lobsters-to-death range—an analogy which does not bode well for Elena’s role in it. She expects her water to be hot, but she does not routinely expect an attempt on her life. (Until recently.) This is not the sort of thing that encourages jumping out of bed like a happy frog, ready to face the day, not when first the little frog must cross a roiling lava pit. It leads to a certain hesitancy, and perhaps animosity, between frog and said lava pit.

Her roommates, on the other hand, have no problem with the shower. They think she’s inventing it. —Which she is NOT.— She has assured them repeatedly that there is nothing more awkwardly attention-getting for her than an involuntary scream at 7 a.m. for the benefit of all the neighbors. (Perhaps they think this is fun? …The shower has always been nice to them.) The roommates have had multiple kind but ultimately meaningless conversations with Elena about different methods of wooing the terrible shower beast. But Elena is not in the habit of wooing fire-breathing lava pits. She is in the habit of preserving her own skin. (Haha! Get it? …sigh…) It leaves her in the impossible place of needing the shower’s support to get clean in the established societal norm, and being unwilling to rely on the shower’s unpredictable behavior, hang all consequences. Her deteriorating mental state is only rivaled by her equally deteriorating value of cleanliness.

[Diagnosis] Based on this evidence, we determine that while early secure shower attachments have led Elena to a secure and apparently ridiculous trust in the reliability of all water sources, current experiences are quickly devolving into an insecure (disorganized?) attachment, leading Elena to never trust any showers, ever again.

Except, of course, that she knows that won’t be true. Elena is far too trusting of inanimate objects, due to most of them not actively trying to kill her. So she will continue on in her sad showering life, being routinely boiled to death like a pathetic little lobster, hoping that someday, somehow, the evil shower will come round and feel bad for how it has treated her. (She’s not holding her breath about it.) (The shower knows when you’re holding your breath…)

Sooo…what objects are you attaching to in insecure ways? (A question for your next dinner table conversation-starter.) Do you know anything actual about attachment theory? Please, please do enlighten us all after I’ve just misled us with this blog post. Leave comments below!


Hate Mail, and Other Fun Library Perks

Are you looking for adventure and excitement? Financial freedom? Ways to fix the hole in your sock? Then look no further. The library will fill that gaping hole in your life (and maybe your sock too, if you crochet creatively).

Five Reasons to Love the Library

1. Save money on books so you can spend it on the gas it takes to get to the library. Well, part of the way to the library. If you live close by, you can save that money for your overdue fines. Which leads to

2. Hate Mail. You can have your book and get attention for it! Nothing says “You are special” like a predictable stream of personalized letters sent right to you! The ever-increasing intensity of the letters is simply the librarians’ way of showing you are loved. (Or at least stalked.) Of course, you may never be able to show your face in the library again—but then, your frequent dashes to the mailbox will prove to the neighbors that you have a very special, committed, long-distance relationship.

Which you do.

Pearls Before Swine: the next step in the stalker/hatemail process.

3. Learn useless things in REAL life. Forget the Internet. You can fill your head with loads of information without ever touching a computer. Waste time endlessly and still get your exercise by shuffling through the aisles. For example, from the Non-fiction section:

  • Marshmallow is not just the fluffy confection, it is a plant that can exude a strong syrup, from which the candy was originally made.
  • You can tan an animal skin using ingredients found in your average kitchen. Assuming you store certain ingredients in your average kitchen.
  • Crocheting is not a girl thing! Boys can do it too! (Note: See picture. It is painfully difficult to make crocheting look attractive to twelve-year-old boys. Enough said.)

No, I did not just look those up on Wikipedia for examples. Yes, I just pulled them out of my head, from actual books. No, I will probably never use them again. See how much fun this is?

4. A Nap Away From Home. It’s the gift you give yourself. Curl up in that big comfy reading chair in the sun. Where else will you find such blissful quiet? Where else can you go unconscious in a public place and not be robbed?* Take my advice and drool on the furniture in peace. When your cell phone alarm blasts and you are forcibly removed from drool, chair, and premises—don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*Not responsible for any stolen or borrowed items. This is a library, after all.

5. Libraries are like speed-dating for commitment-phobes. I’ve always thought buying a book is so serious. I part with my hard-earned cash for something I’ve never read. —Is it any good? —Will I hate it? Will I wish I had my $18.95 back plus shipping and handling? What if all the recommendations were a scam, and now it will sit on my shelf mocking me forever, having made me both wiser and poorer? And that book is like a mail-order bride, lost and away from its wonderful book-family and friends, and I am rejecting it?!? Oh, the horror!! The shame!!!

Whoa, deep breath, Elena.

(Why I never buy books: the emotional strain is too much.)

Rest assured. The library will save you. (Me.) You don’t have to marry the book, just maybe go on a date with it. You are under no obligation to pay for its coffee or even walk it past the library doors. All you commitment-phobes can rest easy. (For Elena’s short list of book-speed-dating questions, click here.)

All the rest of you? You who think I’m nuts? Who probably buy books daily without a twinge of guilt? I hate you.

Unless occasionally visit your library, and then I guess we can still be friends.

We’re Back!

As some of you know, I recently took a class on Social Media in which I blogged for credit. It was pretty great: I write posts, I get grades, everybody goes home happy. Apparently I am a creature of habit and incentive, because the end of the class has led to a deplorable lack of posts in recent weeks.

But no more! (She says with more positivity than practicality…) Here are three things I hope to change or improve in the future:

1. I hope to continue my Young Adult book-blogging project through the end of this year. They really are my favorite “category” of books, and I don’t think certain YA books get enough credit. But that’s a rant for another time… Which brings me to my next point:

2. Free For All Friday is coming to a blog post near you. Maybe. It’s where I write about whatever I want (unlike the other times, when I write about…nevermind.) Free For All Friday (or Thursday, or Monday, or…) has as much structure and organization as the name implies, so we can’t really predict it. But it’s bound to be fun!

3. Continuing with all the newness and returning-ness and happiness of this post, I’ve got a new About section. It makes up for in honesty what it gave up in zaniness*. Let it be known that, while I have always wanted to major in Underwater Basketweaving, this is sadly not the case. Sorry to disappoint. Also, it turns out Underwater Basketweaving, according to Wikipedia, does not mean the amazing full-contact weaving sport the name implies. Now I’m disappointed.

Finally, I liked this bizarre movie as a kid and haven’t seen it for years. Writing the title brought back nice memories. It could be a terrible movie for all I know, but I prefer to stay in my ignorant bliss, if that’s the case. Have you seen it?

*The original zany bio went something like, “Elena is a dramatic figure, often seen kayaking the Nile on her lunch breaks…Blah blah blah, hubris, hubris.” It was spectacular. I was spectacular. Unfortunately truth is stranger than fiction, so we’ve opted for the boring in hopes of being taken seriously. (Take that, all you unbelievers.)