DETERMINE YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE TO REVEAL GAME-CHANGING INSIGHTS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP HABITS AND MAKE MAJOR LEAPS FORWARD.
Are you a little crazy or irrational when it comes to relationships? Do you sometimes sabotage them by behaving oddly or letting anxiety, clinginess, avoidance, or fear affect them?
We’ve all been there: you know you are into a person, but for some strange reason, you just can’t seem to get it together: you break up with them for no reason, refuse to let them in, or simply push them away without understanding why.
Well, today we’re going to be discussing these compulsions and how to deal with them so that we can become more secure in our relationships and confident in ourselves as independent individuals.
Often, whether a relationship is brand new or 20-years-strong, we can enter these anxiety-fueled episodes in which we question and overanalyze every little thing that happens:
– I shouldn’t have told that story on our date.
– She’s been so distant lately.
– He never wants to take me out anymore.
Every problem we notice or create in our minds is due to one simple factor: attachment.
Now, this isn’t the classic Buddhist concept of attachment (as in, “You must let go of all attachments). It’s a Western psychological idea, pioneered by John Bowlby, that has been developed and widely written about over many years. One fantastic book on the subject is called, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find and Keep Love.
Essentially, what this concept boils down to is that success in your relationships can be largely determined by how you tend to connect with people.
What psychologists found through their research is that people tend to set up patterns of connection with their immediate family as infants, and that these basic connections then affect how you connect to friends and lovers down the line.
In experiments related to this concept, researchers would have parents leave the room of a young child (pre-K) and observe the child’s response. Most of the time, the child would become anxious in some way. What was interesting, however, was the degree to which they’d allow that anxiety to affect them.
In the end, they categorized the children into two groups: those who were securely attached (showed signs of stress, but clearly understood their parents would return soon); and those who were insecurely attached (showed obvious and immediate signs of panic upon being left by a parent).
Furthermore, they then divided the insecurely attached children into two subcategories: anxious insecure (the child would respond to the parent’s return by running up to him or her and seeking soothing); and avoidant insecure (the child would pretend he didn’t care or notice when the parent returned).
In both cases, the child’s heartrate and stress indicators suggested an anxious response, but how they showed it was completely different.
So, how does this translate to our intimate relationships later in life?
While each style of attachment will result in differing patterns of behavior, insecure attachments will, unfortunately, almost always result in personal relationship difficulties.
Once we’ve formed that pattern of insecure attachment, we believe that none of our relationships are safe.
In the case of a romantic relationship, we believe that our partner could leave us at any time and for any reason. Though we may not recognize it intellectually, our nervous system recognizes the pattern, which affects our emotions, moods, and physical comfort.
At that point, the insecurity kicks in, and we revert to our specific style of avoidance or anxiety.
For avoiders, the tendency might be to pull away emotionally and physically. They might create a reason to break up even when they really want to stay together, or they might start to push their partner away through emotional abuse or passive aggressive behavior. For the anxious, they will usually go into their own heads and come up with a million things that support their suspicion. They might insist on couple’s counseling prematurely, or they might become super clingy.
So, how do we steer clear of these pitfalls?
The most helpful thing we can do when we begin to face relationship concerns is to study ourselves.
– Do I fall into the category of someone with an insecure attachment?
– Do my actions indicate one of the patterns of avoidance or anxiety?
– What specific behaviors am I engaging in, and are they helping or hurting the situation?
Now, I’d like to take a moment to point out here that I’m very wary of labels or forcing anyone to choose just one identity. I believe that human beings are very fluid, with an ability to adapt their psyches, emotions, and behavioral patterns to differing circumstances (some more than others).
Hence, what I teach when discussing this subject with clients is simply that these styles exist and that they can lead to certain patterns of behavior. Regardless of whether we follow those patterns all the time, we want to be able to address them, if and when they do come up.
Even securely attached people in strong and committed relationships can face moments of anxiety or insecurity.
Each one of us deals with certain triggers—whether they stem from old relationships or old insecurities—that can cause us to lash out at our loved ones for the wrong reasons. What you have to do is maintain the self-awareness necessary to notice and check those triggers.
This all starts with your ability to notice your emotions and determine what subconscious rules you’ve established for your relationship.
If you know that you lose your mind every time she doesn’t text back within thirty seconds, or that you worry non-stop every time he goes out with the guys, then you can approach your reactions to these moments from a rational standpoint when they come up.
The idea here is to realize that your emotions are fluid—that you can move from an insecure to a secure state within moments or even seconds if you’re in control.
So, how do we do that?
Well, to begin with, you can read Attached, the book I mentioned above. You can also read Not Nice, my book that covers the pressures we put on ourselves to please others and how to combat that pressure to become your best, fullest, most authentic self.
In the meantime, there are plenty of small steps you can take on a daily basis to begin your journey:
– If you tend to be avoidant (like I am), one thing that may be incredibly helpful is to consistently remind yourself that relationships are important. While this may seem obvious, we often set that fact on the backburner in an effort to exact a sense of control over a given situation. So, if you notice that urge to escape a given situation, that’s a good time to check in with yourself and ask what it is that you really need in that moment. It might feel like you need to escape—but what you often need in that moment is actually love and connection.
– If you tend to be anxious, you need to be vigilant about reminding yourself that everything is going to be alright. This style of attachment usually results in overreactions, assumptions, and generalizations—so, you must instead realize that each event is unique and deserves individualized consideration. Avoid thoughts that depend on the phrase “every time” (e.g.: “She does this every time”), and just know that the part of your psyche that feels desperate and clingy probably needs additional soothing and attention.
Just know that our reactions to relationship situations are deeply ingrained—we can address them and work to change them, but we must do so by approaching them from a place of compassion.
You may never understand your emotions intellectually, but it does help to approach them with a knowledge of your personal attachment history.
When you notice a problem, take the time to look objectively at your past, and then address the part of yourself that may be hurting in a soothing and understanding way. Over time, you will get better and better at developing those secure attachments with the people you love; you will freak out a lot less; and your relationships will get better and better.
As always, I invite you to subscribe, “like,” and share your thoughts below. What behaviors define your style of attachment? How do you think you can work to quiet your anxiety or open yourself up to greater connectivity? I’m always here to help and gain insight from your experiences, so please continue to connect with the community so that I can enjoy your progress!
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.