How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship
Our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognizing our attachmentpattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.
This model of attachment influences how each of us reacts to our needs and how we go about getting them met. When there is a secure attachment pattern, a person is confident and self-possessed and is able to easily interact with others, meeting both their own and another’s needs. However, when there is an anxious or avoidant attachment pattern, and a person picks a partner who fits with that maladaptive pattern, he or she will most likely be choosing someone who isn’t the ideal choice to make him or her happy.
For example, the person with a working model of anxious/preoccupied attachment feels that, in order to get close to someone and have your needs met, you need to be with your partner all the time and get reassurance. To support this perception of reality, they choose someone who is isolated and hard to connect with. The person with a working model of dismissive/avoidant attachment has the tendency to be distant, because their model is that the way to get your needs met is to act like you don’t have any. He or she then chooses someone who is more possessive or overly demanding of attention.
In a sense, we set ourselves up by finding partners that confirm our models. If we grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, we may project or seek to duplicate similar patterns of relating as adults, even when these patterns hurt us and are not in our own self-interest.
In their research(link is external), Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60 percent of people have a secure attachment, while 20 percent have an avoidant attachment, and 20 percent have an anxious attachment. So what does this mean? There are questions you can ask yourself to help you determine your style of attachment(link is external) and how it is affecting your relationships. On August 13, I will be hosting a CE Webinar with Dr. Phillip Shaver on “Secure and Insecure Love: An Attachment Perspective(link is external).”You can start to identify your own attachment style by getting to know the four patterns of attachment in adults and learning how they commonly affect couples in their relating.
Secure Attachment – Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. Children with a secure attachment see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently explore the world. A secure adult has a similar relationship with their romantic partner, feeling secure and connected, while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely.
Secure adults offer support when their partner feels distressed. They also go to their partner for comfort when they themselves feel troubled. Their relationship tends to be honest, open and equal, with both people feeling independent, yet loving toward each other. Securely attached couples don’t tend to engage in what my father, psychologist Robert Firestone(link is external), describes as a “Fantasy Bond(link is external),” an illusion of connection that provides a false sense of safety. In a fantasy bond, a couple foregoes real acts of love for a more routine, emotionally cut-off form of relating.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment – Unlike securely attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to be desperate to form a fantasy bond. Instead of feeling real love or trust toward their partner, they often feel emotional hunger(link is external). They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.
Even though anxiously attached individuals act desperate or insecure, more often than not, their behavior exacerbates their own fears. When they feel unsure of their partner’s feelings and unsafe in their relationship, they often become clingy, demanding or possessive toward their partner. They may also interpret independent actions by their partner as affirmation of their fears. For example, if their partner starts socializing more with friends, they may think, “See? He doesn’t really love me. This means he is going to leave me. I was right not to trust him.”
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment – People with a dismissive avoidant attachment have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent,” taking on the role of parenting themselves. They often come off as focused on themselves and may be overly attending to their creature comforts.
Pseudo-independence is an illusion, as every human being needs connection. Nevertheless, people with a dismissive avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them. They are often psychologically defended(link is external) and have the ability to shut down emotionally. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings and not react. For example, if their partner is distressed and threatens to leave them, they would respond by saying, “I don’t care.”
Fearful Avoidant Attachment – A person with a fearful avoidant attachment lives in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They can’t just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings. Instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms. They tend to be mixed up or unpredictable in their moods. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for safety is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organized strategy for getting their needs met by others.
As adults, these individuals tend to find themselves in rocky or dramatic relationships, with many highs and lows. They often have fears of being abandoned but also struggle with being intimate. They may cling to their partner when they feel rejected, then feel trapped when they are close. Oftentimes, the timing seems to be off between them and their partner. A person with fearful avoidant attachment may even wind up in an abusive relationship.
The attachment style you developed as a child based on your relationship with a parent or early caretaker doesn’t have to define your ways of relating to those you love in your adult life. If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover ways you are defending yourself from getting close and being emotionally connected and work toward forming an “earned secure attachment.”
You can challenge your defences by choosing a partner with a secure attachment style, and work on developing yourself in that relationship. Therapy can also be helpful for changing maladaptive attachment patterns. By becoming aware of your attachment style, both you and your partner can challenge the insecurities and fears supported by your age-old working models and develop new styles of attachment for sustaining a satisfying, loving relationship.
Art should take what is complex and render it simply. It takes a lot of skill, human understanding, stamina, courage, energy, and heart to do that. It takes, most of all, what a great scholar of artists and educators, Maxine Greene, calls “wide-awakeness” to do that. I am interested in the artist who is awake, or who wants desperately to wake up.
“Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you.”
“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs,” Joan Didion wrote in her timeless meditation on self-respect. But how can character be cultivated in such a way as to foster that prized form of personal dignity, along with its sibling qualities of confidence and self-esteem?
Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility — both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me.
Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to fight the good fight.
Equally important, and arguably even trickier to navigate, is the question of self-esteem — that elusive quality so vital to our spiritual flourishing yet, due to our human fallibility, so fragile amidst the world’s constant and mostly unsolicited feedback and input.
Not unlike the false validation of prestige, to peg our measure of self-worth on external validation is to commit ourselves to a never-ending cycle of disappointment — a seemingly simple observation that feels increasingly hard to internalize in our culture of “likes” and everyone’s-a-critic commentary.
In the arts, value … is like a yo-yo. You can’t base your self-esteem on how well your work is selling or on how well it’s received.
Instead, consider the essence of what self-esteem actually means and why it matters:
Self-esteem is that which gives us a feeling of well-being, a feeling that everything’s going to be all right — that we can determine our own course and that we can travel that course. It’s not that we travel the course alone, but we need the feeling of agency — that if everything were to fall apart, we could find a way to put things back together again.
More than a form of self-soothing, however, self-esteem is also a powerful conduit for effecting change in the world:
Some people seem to be able to organize themselves around big ideas, and others cannot. This has to do with self-esteem. Self-esteem for creative people is important inasmuch as it is a part of what helps you organize yourself and others around an idea, so that it can come to fruition.
Ideas are a dime a dozen; to make them real takes consistent, persistent application of energy toward that idea. Self-esteem is a foundation.
While acknowledging, as modern psychology does, that the foundations of self-esteem itself are laid down during childhood, through our upbringing and our early experiences, Admonish yourself against relinquishing personal responsibility in the architecture of character and self-esteem, and reminds yourself that we are the sole custodians of our own center and worth:
Self-esteem cannot really be built from the outside. You begin to see the real evidence that you can, in fact, affect the things around you. These experiences ultimately integrate themselves inside — if that foundation is there. Self-esteem does not come from surrounding yourself with people and things that seem to increase your value. Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you.
It’s about your worth. Your self-worth… You — and only you — can ultimately put the price tag on that.
Your tag reveals not only how you value yourself, but how imaginative and original you are about valuing others. In my experience, happier people are people who have not only a high price tag on themselves, but a high price tag on the people around them — and the tags don’t necessarily have to do with market value. They have to do with all the sense that adds up to human value.
World Health Day #authorsfestival with @InfluencePub and @chaptersindigo
by Kat Thorsen
The Books and Authors featured in the World Heath Day Authors Festival:
Cracking the Dementia Code – Karen Tyrell
The Long Road – Jennifer De Pippo
What Patients Don’t Say if Doctors Don’t Ask – Dr. Manon Bolliger
Drawn Together – Katarina Thorsen
Relentless –Josh Wood
Hello Susan, It’s Me, Cancer!- Susan D’Agostino
Event Schedule (Author Talks and Question Period)*:
April 4, 3-5pm – Broadway *
2505 Granville Street, Vancouver
April 5, 1pm – Victoria
1212 Douglas Street, Victoria
April 6, 1-3pm – Whiterock
2445 160th Street, Surrey
April 7, 1-3pm – Park Royal *
900 Park Royal South, West Vancouver
* Katarina will be attending the April 4 and 7 events
Grand prize draw including a free 1-hr consultation with Karen Tyrell ($75 value)
Personalized portrait by Katarina Thorsen: China Marker on Newsprint 18″ x 24″ Value: $200 See sample: http://katthorsen.com/portraits/