Just as I am (Part 3): Growing in Your Attachment Style

by | Leadership

You were created for connection!  Everything in life flows better when you have supportive relationships that bolster you with the confidence that “You are not alone.”   You are stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually when you are connected with trusted others.  It is not good for you or me to walk in isolation (Genesis 2:28).   

Yet we all need to grow in our ability to connect more deeply with others at home, in friendships, and in our churches.  This third article in the 4-part series is going to help you look at ways to grow to be more confident, empathic, and secure.  

Attachment Theory gives us expert guidance for this discussion . It tells us that our style of building closeness in relationships was created through the type of bond that we had with our parents when we were little. This attachment style begins in childhood and continues throughout our lives.

As infants we had no way to care for ourselves, regulate our body temperatures, or soothe our big emotions. God provided attachment as the bonding process to meet those needs, while connecting us physically and emotionally to our caregivers. 

If we had loving caregivers who provided us with face-to-face gazing, tender touch, and accurate emotional responses — then we developed the best kind of attachment, the Secure Attachment style. Securely attached people are able to be vulnerable because they trust that someone will be there for them in their moments of need.  From this safe foundation they are able to boldly launch out to explore the physical and emotional world. Having internalized these experiences of constancy and safety, they are also generous and capable of providing empathy to others.

In contrast, some children experienced lack of closeness, inconsistent attention, or misguided attempts by their caregivers which led to the formation of Insecure Attachment. I describe the two most common Insecure Styles as a) Detached Avoiders and b) Ambivalent Protesters. 

Detached Avoiders needed to become self-reliant because there was no one else really to turn towards. Ambivalent Protesters had intermittent access to closeness, so they had to grab hold of it through protest or clinging behaviors so that they would not feel pangs of abandonment. 

There is a third Insecure Attachment style that develops under conditions of trauma, Traumatic Attachment. When the very person who was supposed to protect you is also the one who frightened you or harmed you then it is difficult to trust others.  Traumatic Attachment leads an individual to alternate between protesting, despairing, and detaching.  People with this attachment style can benefit from the discussion that follows, and they would also be helped by pursuing specific attention to their attachment experience.  Please see the reference section in this article for an important resource on Traumatic Attachment.  

Let’s take it a step deeper now and explore ways to grown more Secure in our close relationships. All of us are somewhere on the continuum of Security:

Detached Avoiders — — Securely Attached —— Ambivalent Protesters →

Good news! Wherever you start on this continuum, you can grow to be more secure in your closest relationships! Even people with insecure childhoods can do important work as adults to create security in relationships and a new style of Earned-Secure Attachment. They can actually create Secure Attachment in marriage and with their own children. 

Three Key Ingredients for Growth.

Growing towards Secure Attachment will require three key ingredients from you, the “Three C’s of Being Emotionally Present”. These are applied to your posture with those you love, and they must also be directed towards yourself as you embark on this journey towards security.

Courage: It takes courage to ask deeper questions about the way that you relate to others and the way that others experience you. It takes courage to begin to think about the ways that your Attachment Style may have protected you from pain as a child. If you want to grow, you will need to be brave in reaching out to trusted others in order to create new experiences. Attachment was created through relational interactions, and attachment wounds are healed in loving relationships.

Curiosity: The best mindset for this kind of work is one where we remain curious about ourselves, the way we impact others, and the possibilities of trying new things. Our protective strategies were adaptive at one point earlier in our lives, but they may not be giving us the connection that we desire now if we wall off from others or inadvertently push them away. We can even attempt to be curious about the conditions that were impacting our caregivers during our early years. This does not mean that we condone hurtful things that they may have done. 

Compassion: You are going to need compassion for yourself as you consider your own wounds and the ways that you have inadvertently done things that keep you from connection. It’s bad enough that you’ve felt alone; we don’t want to put you down or shame you. This is a new chapter in your life, and you can grow to be more loving towards others just as you receive love. One of my favorite Scripture passages speaks to this hope:

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22,23 (NASB). 

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Finding an Ally. 

On this journey of self-discovery, it’s important to find people that you can trust as you explore your inner world and also take risks. Secure Attachment is built in those moments where we vulnerably reach out in a moment of distress, and we find another person comforting us and creating safety. Through this we learn that our needs are not shameful, nor do we have to be demanding in order to get them met.

Do you know someone who is patient and kind?

Do you have a friend or family member who is steady and able to listen without judging or quickly giving advice?

Do you know someone who has been through their own suffering and come out the other side with compassion for themselves and others?

If you have someone in your life like this who is willing to be present to you on this journey, then you have a treasure. Many folks don’t have this treasure in their lives, and they might benefit from seeking out a therapist. Therapists have special training to help their clients share questions of self discovery, along with recollections of pain, in the context of safety. In therapy you can also examine relational patterns that you may be perpetuating which keep you from connection.

“Dealing but Not Feeling”…. Growth Areas for Detached Avoiders.

If you are more avoidant, then you’ll be learning more about the world of emotions. It’s too easy to just buckle down into tasks and forge through difficulties without slowing down to see how you feel. Avoiders can struggle to ask others for help, and they may be uncomfortable about asking people to keep them company when they are feeling lonely. In intimate relationships they may also avoid conflict, because it tends to dredge up painful feelings. With someone you trust, please practice saying these vulnerable phrases:

“I am having a hard time right now. Can I talk to you about it?”

“I could use some company. Would you like to hang out?”

“I didn’t like it when this happened. Could I go over it with you?”

and the BIG ONE….

“I need help. I need you.”

“Feeling but Not Dealing”… Growth areas for Ambivalent Protesters.

Ambivalent Protesters have had experiences of being tuned into, but they have also seen them slip away. This leaves them with an inner feeling that they could be abandoned at any moment. They may protest intensely when they sense others slipping away or not paying attention. Protesters can also be experienced as clingy or demanding when they get scared of loss. Their growth area is to give others the benefit of the doubt in such moments. It’s important to also anchor themselves with calming messages about the ways that they can still be okay if they go through short episodes of being alone. They may even want to work on “things I can do to cope when I am alone.” Finally, they will do best if they can be vulnerable with loved ones when they are triggered by fears of being alone. Key phrases include:

“You are important to me, and that’s why I get upset if I feel like I am losing time with you.”

“I don’t like to admit it, but I can quickly feel rejected. Please be patient with me as I ride those waves of emotion.”

“I want to do a better job of managing my separation anxiety, and I want to treat you with kindness when I get triggered.”

and the BIG ONE…

“Being with you makes me feel good and worthwhile. I will work on being patient until we get to connect again.”

Taking these types of risks can be scary, whether you are putting your emotions out there for the first time or hoping that someone will draw close to you without you pursuing them so strongly. But you will only realize how lovable you are when you are embraced in these moments of need. 

Please find ways that you can learn more about Attachment in marriage, parenting, and faith at www.facetofaceliving.com

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