Another title for this chat could be "This explains so many things!" Attachment theory. I had heard the term before, but never really looked any further until I saw the book “Attached” recommended in an Instagram post by Danielle LaPorte. What happened after reading it was nothing short of feeling like a 20 ton weight was lifted off my back.
Though much of my life, I have been able to operate as a strong woman. I would say I’m resilient, driven, high energy, some would say “sassy” and I love to learn. Then, there is this weird thing that happens when I am in a relationship that is like I am totally derailed from my usual self. I feel unsure, always worried that my partner is going to walk out at any moment, that I’m either not enough or too much in some way and basically unwanted. I emotionally clutch and grab at the relationship… “Are you upset with me?” “Are we okay?” My insecurity goes off the chart and I kind of lose myself in an attempt to be what I THINK my partner wants – even though they didn’t say it that way.
For the most part, I just kind of figured I was sort of “crazy”. Like this was some fatal flaw in me that I just couldn’t for the life of me seem to get past. I’d be this strong, empowered woman at work or out in the world, yet in my relationships – I’d be scared to death, stay in bad situations, morph myself into what I thought would make things okay for my partner and in turn, for me.
THEN, I read about how attachment styles that are formed when we are infants can have a huge impact on our adult relationships. The very first story given in the introduction of the book, about a woman who’s “vitality gave way to anxiousness and insecurity in her new relationship”, I started thinking maybe, just maybe I’m at least not the ONLY crazy chick after all.
Over the years I have stayed in some pretty horrible relationships waaaaaay past their expiration dates and I always thought I was simply weak or too scared. What I’m learning is that this can actually come from a very basic instinct to connect – at all costs, amplified by an anxious attachment style. Shifting our thinking from “Does he like me?” to “Is this someone who is capable of giving me what I need in a relationship” is like turning on the lights after groping around in the dark for decades!
To someone with a more anxious attachment style, a partner who is unavailable in any way (emotionally or physically, etc…) feels like a threat to the relationship. Early reassurance will cure the anxiety, but ignore it and it will get bigger and louder and it will take much bigger reassurances to tame that activated attachment style. Then the self-judgement (and sometimes other judgement) will go into high gear. We will label ourselves as “needy”, “wrong”, “too emotional”. But research findings support the exact opposite. Getting attached in relationships for humans means that our brain becomes wired to seek the support of our partner. If our partner fails to reassure us, we are programmed to continue our attempts to achieve closeness until our partner does. THIS. EXPLAINS. EVERYTHING, all the way back to my 8th grade romance!!!
The positive aspect of the anxious style is that you actually DO have a unique ability to sense when your relationship is threatened, and even a slight hint that something is off-kilter will activate your attachment style. Those with the anxious style are VERY vigilant to changes in other people’s emotional expressions and have a higher degree of accuracy and sensitivity to other people’s cues than is typical.
HOWEVER, because of this sensitivity, they may tend to jump to conclusions very quickly and this can lead to misinterpretations. If we can just sloooooooow down a little bit we will have an uncanny ability to decipher the world around us. So all those times that I sensed that the relationship was in jeopardy in some way, I wasn’t necessarily “wrong” or “nuts”, but when I was told that I was – I started to distrust my feelings in bigger and bigger ways. AH-HA!
So, how can you use this knowledge to coach yourself if you feel some resonance with anything I’ve said here or have a partner who does…
Here are the basics of effective communication:
So I had just completed reading the book and was feeling more clarity than in a very long time. I was sort of thinking about my upbringing and why I might have developed an anxious attachment style. My parents had given up the idea of having a third child long ago and my mom was approaching age 40, my dad age 50 when WHA-LA! They got the news that I was coming into the world.
When I think about what might have gone through my own mind if I were at age 40, with my youngest child about to graduate from high school and my life would be pretty easy-peasy soon – but wait! You’re pregnant! I am betting that even though I felt very loved once I arrived, there were likely some high emotions streaming through my mom and into me prior to my birth.
Out of the blue, an intuitive healer I know, Amy, messaged me and asked if I would be willing to test out something she is finding in her work. I hadn’t communicated with her in a long while and she wanted to see if she could reveal my core wound and help me in some way as a result. Of course I signed up instantly for that!
Her first question was to ask me if I was the oldest child. I told her actually I was the youngest – by a really big age gap (18 years after my sister was born). She was getting a reading that perhaps the pregnancy was a bit unwanted. Hmmmm! Then she said – “That’s it, that’s what it’s all tied back to for you… feeling like you were unwanted.” She went on to say that I may have many times found myself in self-fulfilling situations, where I sought out relationships where I wouldn’t feel 100% wanted as a result of this original belief. Seeking proof. Oh boy. That has a familiar ring to it.
BOOM! Amy nailed it. That is the exact situation that sends me into orbit in a relationship. If I feel unwanted it’s like “Danger! Danger! Will Robinson! Must connect! Must fix!” Now, as my coach Joy reminds me, it wasn’t me specifically my mom was not wanting, but the IDEA of a baby at that time. It’s not me personally – the world and I wanted me to be born. Amy certainly confirmed in a very timely manner exactly what I was starting to come to see. Confirmation! Eureka!
Can your attachment style be changed? The answer is certainly yes, AND it requires making the choices to move to a more secure attachment style. I know first hand that our styles are malleable, because I have witnessed a huge change in Don from the time we started our relationship to now. I would have a strong guess that he was avoidant style back in the '90's when we met and got married and now he has made choices in how he wants to feel that have caused his style to be much more secure. I am coming to believe that the key to everything, is making a choice about how you want to feel and then continuing to make it a priority. Don is a great first hand example of this.
So here are just a few things all this has opened up for me:
Just like learning anything that sheds new light on something that seems out of place in our lives, it carries a huge sense of freedom and peace to understand why it’s been happening. It then empowers you to create as you go forward. Beautiful.
Here is a FREE on-line test you can take to see what your attachment style is and also your partners: http://www.attachedthebook.com/compatibility-quiz/
P.S... My coach Joy Miley and I are working on developing a retreat workshop for women on the path! More details in the next few weeks. Our ETA is late March. Stay tuned for updates!
So the Instagram post above from Danielle LePorte saying halt all relationships until you read this book got me curious. I can say I certainly agree with the recommendation above, “Attached” by Amir Levine M.D. should be required reading if you have any relationships in your life – EVER!
It’s a book about feelings, backed up with scientific data about attachment theory and how it impacts us as adults. As I read about how it’s actually okay to need reassurance from your partner, how it’s not “needy” to have needs and that our ability to step into the world on our own most often stems from the knowledge that there is someone we can count on in our corner (it’s called the dependency paradox), I stood up and said “AH-HA! This completely explains my whole relationship life since birth!!!!”
The book describes the three attachment styles: anxious, avoidant and secure. Notice the use of the word STYLES. This is because none of the systems we use are “wrong”, right, good, bad. They are simply coping systems. Strategies we learn from a wide variety of factors. It’s just how we learn to respond and what sets off our system. Which means we can totally learn other ways of coping if we choose to.
This information, written by the way, as if the author had possibly been monitoring my relationships as a science experiment since at least the eighth grade, was presented in a way that never caused me to feel like I am high maintenance, or as I often feel… crazy for my anxious attachment style. In fact, just understanding how & why I go on what I call “RED ALERT!” in relationships actually makes total sense due to some meanings I have put on things since early in life.
Reading this info got me to thinking about my coach - Joy. She has never ever made me think I was “wrong” for how I feel. It’s quite a gift. That feeling that someone will hear you, reassure you, help you re-frame and encourage you to feel what you feel… amazing and transformative. It’s like behind the scene’s support that has given me the ability to tap back into my courage and step back out into the world & show up more fully in my light.
So often we are quick to tell others and ourselves “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way" or "Stop feeling that way!" which is NOT encouraging! Instead if we just open a window and offer a possible light that might not have been in view to the person – so they can feel their own power and supported enough to take their own initiatives, rather than trying to fix it for them - it can have a huge impact. As I recently heard Martha Beck say…”There is a big difference between saying ‘here is the way and I’m going to show it to you’ (while that can be powerful…)’I’m going to help you know that you can find a way’ is a very different feeling.” It helps us feel more SANE as well as safe when we have a secure base of support and reassurance that isn’t telling us we need to be other than exactly how we are.
Finding your tribe, those who can be available, not interfere-but provide support and encourage you is what helps us to be more empowered. By relying on someone, we become more independent… there’s that paradox! Learning that it's okay to rely on others can be quite a challenge if you have a limiting belief that it is "weak" or "needy" or you oughtta be stronger than that. All untrue.
My anxious attachment style has been highly activated the past three years or so. My long-time steady support/reassurance system went through a huge change which sort of forced me to rely more or differently on some of the members of my tribe, & even find new members like Joy - since a big piece of my support system felt very unavailable. This unavailability caused me to operate pretty much on “RED ALERT!” 24/7 for about 34 months. It also had me thinking I needed to try to NOT rely on others and only myself more. No wonder I have felt cra-cra and like I was derailed from my usual self. I’m telling you – this book has given me amazing awareness into my systems in relationships. Go. Get. It.
So once we are aware, Joy tells me we have to accept. I’ve heard this from mentors and other life coaches as well. Rather than trying to tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel what we feel – accept that we feel that way. It’s the only chance we have to make a different choice in our behavior. Our way of being is just our M.O., a learned style. With awareness and acceptance – looking for the benefits in our style, we can then practice other styles as well by choosing to, rather than being on auto-pilot.
When my relationships feel threatened or uncertain – my anxious attachment style kicks in and it’s nearly impossible to calm it down till things feel safe. One thing that can help us feel safe is to know who has our back and also having someone else’s back is a very empowering feeling. Give it a try. Who can you show up for in your life and let them know you believe in them? Who can you give a boost to by simply loving and accepting them?
I have mentioned my coach Joy in my Sandy Chat’s numerous times in the past two years. She is launching a new website today that is super cool! Check it out here!
Next time - more on attachment theory and what it means for those with an anxious style as well as ways we can upgrade our systems to more "secure". I have a living example in my life that it is possible to radically change your attachment style! More next time.
What’s in my ear right now… Hey Ahab
Great gospel-ish/blusey song with an awesome message. Plus, c’mon… it’s Elton and Leon Russel.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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