What if I told you that being aware of this one thing could change every relationship you have for the better?
Unfortunately, it will initially sound like bad news for 50% of us. But, the truth sets you free! Being honest with yourself and accepting where you are at is the first step to growth and moving forward.
So here goes…This is the most powerful force in every relationship you have:
I’m not talking about Personality or Temperament.
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 attachment pattern 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. .–Psychology Today
Basically, however you attached to your parents as a child is the blueprint for how you attach in ALL future relationships. There are two general categories of attachment:
Secure Attachment: As an adult you know how to connect emotionally, bringing your positive love lessons into your current relationships. You have memories of comfort, and you give and receive comfort easily in your adult relationships. .
Insecure Attachment: If it was not safe in your family to be vulnerable and talk about difficult feelings, you can develop an insecure attachment style.
In the book How We Love, the authors ask a very simple, yet profound question to help you determine if you might have an insecure attachment style:
Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress?How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
Did you feel disconnected, misunderstood and alone after conflict? If so, you may have difficulty expressing your feelings, resolving conflict and feeling relief.
The two primary ways to bring relief are through touch and listening.
So even if there was conflict in your family, if your parents repaired the disconnect and you felt relief, you most likely have a healthy, secure attachment style in your adult relationships.
When emotional connection is lacking, you learn to restrict emotions and minimize what’s bothering you, and you will not expect relationships to offer comfort.How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
In other words, if expressing your emotions was met with a negative or indifferent reaction as a child, then you most likely developed an insecure attachment style as an adult.
If you’re thinking, “Great. I think I have an insecure attachment style”, don’t despair. First of all, as I said in the beginning, you are not alone–not by a long shot. About 50% of adults have an insecure attachment style. It sucks to admit to yourself that this might be the case for you; however, once you bring this reality into consciousness, you can begin taking steps to form a secure attachment style–improving EVERY relationship you have!
An insecure attachement style typically shows up in one of these five ways. It can show up differently depending on the relationship – for instance, you may be an Avoider in romantic relationships, but a Pleaser with everyone else. I took these definitions from the How We Love Website :
- The Avoider: Coming from homes that are often low in affection, but which place high value on independence and self-reliance, the Avoider grows up learning only to take care of themselves. To deal with the anxiety of having so little comfort and nurturing from their parents, they have learned to restrict their feelings and suppress their needs. As an adult, Avoiders can seem emotionally distant or unengaged.
- The Pleaser: Pleasers usually grow up in a home with a parent who is overly protective, angry, and/or critical. Pleaser children do everything they can to “be good” and avoid troubling their highly-reactive parent; they learn to spend their energy comforting or appeasing their parent, instead of receiving comfort themselves. As adults, Pleasers tend to continually monitor the moods of those around them in an attempt to keep everyone happy. However, this can lead to resentment, an emotion that can break down a relationship or drive a Pleaser to leave.
- The Vacillator: Growing up with an unpredictable parent, Vacillators’ needs aren’t top priority. Without consistent parental affection they develop feelings of abandonment, and by the time the parent feels like giving again, their child is tired of waiting and too angry to receive. As adults, Vacillators are on a quest to find the consistent love they never received as children. They idealize new relationships, but then get tired of it once life (and the relationship) gets less than perfect.
- The Controller: Controllers need control to ensure that the vulnerable, negative feelings they experienced in childhood remain suppressed from their adult lives. Having control means having protection from feelings like fear, humiliation, and helplessness; however, anger is the one emotion that is not vulnerable, and so anger and intimidation are often used as means to maintain control. While control can be either highly rigid or sporadic and unpredictable, Controllers rarely realize the true reason they feel the need to be in charge.
- The Victim: Kids survive a chaotic home environment by trying to “stay under the radar”, making themselves as invisible as possible. They’ll hide and appease, learning how to escape into their own heads to lessen the pain from their angry, violent, chaotic parents. Victims lack a sense of self-worth or personhood and are often anxious and depressed. Rather than engage, they’ll resort to just “going through the motions” in order to get by. Victims may emulate their childhood home environment by pursuing a relationship with a Controller. When children are involved in such a relationship, the Victim may even inflict their suppressed anger on their children whenever the Controller is not present.
If you see yourself in one of the styles above, it is important to recognize that it is not your fault. In fact, everyone is doing the best they can with what they know. The way we behave and interact in our relationships is mostly unconscious…driven by patterns developed early on before our brains were even fully developed. Keeping this in mind as you work to heal your attachment style will promote compassion for yourself and others–even those who have unintentionally wounded you.
The most painful thing child can feel is emotional separation from their caregivers. If that happens enough times, the brain employs psychological defense mechanisms whenever it is reminded of that childhood pain in any way.
A friend not texting you back triggers feelings of not mattering. A boss yelling at you triggers feelings of worthlessness. A spouse busy at work triggers feelings of not being noticed. A breakup triggers feelings of physical or emotional abandonment. A child screaming triggers feelings of not being in control of your environment, etc. As adults, we are not to blame for these triggers. They are not our fault. They are our brains’ way of protecting us from pain. But, we must do the work to pause before reacting or else we will pass the wound on to those we love. Over time, your brain will actually begin to rewire itself so you will not react so strongly to your triggers. (Shoutout to mindfulness and meditation!)
Working to improve your attachment style can seem daunting at first. But, trust me when I say the work is so rewarding. If you want to develop the skills to improve, I highly recommend the book I’ve referenced here called How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.
There is also a quiz you can take here to help you determine your style.
The freeing thing is that anxieties we feel in relationships have less to do with the other person and more to do with an internal need that was not met as a child. The people in your life are not the enemy. Next time you feel reactive or anxious in a relationship, pause and think about if the anger or anxiety you are feeling is really about the other person, or an unconscious reminder of the pain of emotional separation you felt as a child. You can then tend to your own pain instead of projecting outward onto someone else. The feelings of other adults are not your responsibility. And your feelings are not the responsibility of others.
In what I would consider Divine timing, as I was literally typing this blog, I saw my 6-year-old, Norah, push her little brother down. I reacted and yelled and sent her to her room. Norah completely flipped out in her room in a fit of anger. I took a few minutes to calm down, and when I was ready, I went and asked her to tell me what was wrong. “I’m angry because I don’t want to be alone,” she cried. I assured her that I loved her at the maximum level regardless of what she did. While we talked, she cried and asked to cuddle with me. It was a beautiful time of relief and connection for us that completely alleviated her anguish. It was a timely reminder of the deep emotional pain children feel when there is a break in the emotional connection with parents. That really is what’s under the behavior.
Once again, mindfulness is an invaluable tool to help you begin pausing and noticing your triggers before reacting. Use this link for a free 30 day trial to the Calm app which will walk you through how to begin practicing mindfulness. (There are limited passes available. Once gone, you can still sign up for a free 7 day trial).