Thursday, April 11, 2013

Attachment Theory This Could Be Why Your Relationships End Read more:

Attachment theory centers on how the ways we relate to others are based on the communications and behaviours we exchange with our parents in the first years of life." Tweet This Quote
It’s 11:08 p.m. You’ve just gotten home from a long work-day, a hard pump at the gym and a much needed game night with your buddies (whom you see so rarely these days). As you walk in your apartment door, you realise your iPhone is dead, so you rush to your computer to see if there’s an email from the woman you’ve been dating. Nothing. You plug in your phone. No texts either. It's strange not to hear from her all day. Wait, you left a message yesterday but she hasn’t returned that. So it’s been a couple days. This doesn’t feel right. You’ve been dating for three weeks. She should at least return your calls. What could she be up to?

A little Facebook stalking tells you that she’s been out with girlfriends. Like she couldn’t have called you from the car? Could there have been a guy with her? Now your blood begins to boil. Is this chick playing you?

Then the next day, when she finally does call, you are cold and detached. And you are amazed that this confuses her. In fact, her insensitivity causes you to bicker and you end up hanging up the phone on her. Afterward, you feel bad. You really like this one. She’s hot and nice. So why did you push her away?

Your feelings could be related to an anxious attachment style.

A psychological injury called an "attachment disorder" has been the media darling when it pertains to kids, parents and international adoptions. But less is written about adult romantic attachment, the theater that receives the ultimate payload of early-life attachment injuries.

Know this: In our dating and mating lives, we all become infants. It’s where we go to expose our tender vulnerabilities. This is good because relationships are an exchange of care. Yet perfectly functional adults walk among us, stumbling through the world of dating, mating and relating, reliving their own preverbal, infantile emotional traumas. For some men and women, love brings as many feelings of anxiety as of comfort, and psychologists refer to this as an anxious attachment style. In fact, there’s a whole field of research on the range of attachment styles, "attachment theory." To understand it, you need to take a look at the history.

History of Attachment Theory

In the 1930s and 40s, an English physician named John Bowlby noticed that when young children were hospitalised or separated from their parents for long periods of time, the mothers reported that a very “different” child came home. One that was unruly, aggressive or depressed and detached.

Early thinkers in attachment theory also included Canadian developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth and Berkeley researcher Mary Main. From them came research done with infants and children that confirmed that a trusted person -- an attachment figure -- offers an infant a secure base. Met with consistent attention, affection and empathetic words, a child will grow to trust the world and its relationships -- and will eventually translate that feeling of trust to a romantic partner in adult life. Early life attachments become a blueprint for future love. John Bowlby thought that ties to the parent gradually become weaker as the child grows older and the secure base function is slowly shifted to other figures, eventually resting on one's mate.

Children grow up to become lovers who attach in the same ways they were attached to their parents. This is because our “attachment style” becomes part of our personality. In fact, most people aren’t aware of their own attachment style. Attachment theory centers on how the ways we relate to others are based on the communications and behaviours we exchange with our parents in the first years of life. These "messages" we receive about how to love are then combined with our own interactions with each parent to form an influential cognitive structure -- a hard-wired piece of our personality.

When Attachment Goes Right

When early life attachments go well -- that is, when a baby is treated with respect, attentiveness and not too much smothering -- people grow up able to have secure attachments, ones where they can give and receive care comfortably. They don’t have large abandonment issues, nor do they feel easily smothered and retreat into their cave. Men and women with healthy attachment styles are comfortable with physical touching, emotional intimacy and being alone at times. They know their mate will return and be caring. They also have a degree of self-esteem that is not dependent on their lover's reinforcement.
Next Page >>

And while people with anxious attachment disorder crave closeness, they can also be surprisingly terrified when they actually get what they crave." Tweet This Quote

When Attachment Goes Wrong

All this would be well and good if all babies and children were responded to in a healthy way. Sadly, it’s estimated that less than half the population has secure attachment behaviours. What's left is most of us. We either have a tendency to avoid feelings and closeness, or a confusing pattern of craving and mistrusting love -- in varying degrees, of course.

People with anxious attachment disorder are vigilant clock-watchers. As they are dependent on contact and affirmation from their partner, they have an uncanny ability to sense if contact is waning. They tend to be chronic checkers of technology, checking voicemail, emails and texts with great frequency. They may also have a need for constant texting. They can also be easily prone to feelings of jealousy. They love and respect their partners but are also wary that love may disappear.

And while people with anxious attachment disorder crave closeness, they can also be surprisingly terrified when they actually get what they crave. We've all met or dated someone who sent us contradictory messages and led us to believe that they were interested, only to disappear or behave badly and send us running. People with anxious attachment disorder don't trust that love is real or reliable, and so they often behave badly when things feel too good.

Jealousy and Abandonment Fears -- The Dark Side of Anxious Attachment

So why did you get so crazy when your three-week girlfriend hadn't called back in just one day? One of the grave symptoms of attachment anxiety is a real sensitivity to abandonment. On some deep level you really believed she could have died. Maybe you lost a parent in early life, either to death or divorce, or perhaps as a tiny infant you were left alone in a dark room to “cry it out” while hungry or wet. All these things can make a person extra worried about abandonment.

Jealousy is the other feature of anxious attachment that wreaks havoc on romantic relationships. Sometimes a sudden jealous anger can be very confusing. Imagine this scenario: A man has recently broken up with his girlfriend of three years. Yet when he sees her with another man in a nightclub the day he’s laid off from his job, he struts over, makes a scene and gets kicked out of the club for his aggressiveness. His intellectual brain knew that they were broken up. In fact this is what he wanted. But an attachment injury is a rupture in a relationship at a critical moment of need. His emotional brain still looked to her as his secure base, and, feeling vulnerable because of his job loss, he was consumed with a jealous rage.

This, my friends, is a classic attachment injury. And it can make people behave in senseless ways.

How to Heal An Attachment Disorder

Can attachment disorders be healed? It’s one of the most frequently asked questions in my column for And my answer is always the same. There are three big relationships that have been proven through research studies to repair feelings of loss.

First of all, work with an empathetic, ethical therapist can foster a healthy therapist-patient relationship that can rebuild an adult attachment style. Patients learn how to depend on relationships, to trust love and to tolerate criticism and consistent contact. If you feel you are suffering from an attachment disorder, try to find a therapist who specialises in attachment theory.

Secondly, parenthood itself has been shown to heal. When people with an anxious attachment style make different parenting choices, they actually heal themselves along with the baby. When a parent soothes and consoles a crying baby, rocks it to sleep, or checks on it frequently, always assuring it that Mummy or Daddy will be close, their words and actions also act to self-console the parent. This is probably why a recent study showed that single parents make great romantic partners. They know how to give care, be consistent and sacrifice.

Finally, the dating relationship itself can become a healing place for some. If we’re fortunate enough to choose a secure partner who can talk us down from the ledge or not erupt in anger when we smother or retreat, then things can calm down. Secure love can be built. Sadly, so many people unconsciously choose the very thing they fear -- a partner who is emotionally avoidant -- and they injure themselves again.

So what should you do when you come home and feel lonely? Be calm. Learn to contain yourself. Mummy (your girl) will be back. Give her time. And when she does come back, be happy and soothing. But above all, be aware that people with an anxious attachment disorder are most often attracted to those who are emotionally avoidant. In fact, they get surprisingly turned on by people who won’t meet their emotional needs. If you feel this pattern happening with you, find a good therapist and learn to like the nice girls, the ones who do call you back.

No comments:

Post a Comment