Healing Your Attachment Wounds
I think it's safe to say relationships feel pretty impossible for a lot of people right now.
Even when you find someone you would think you mesh well with, insecurity shows up.
Jealousy shows up.
Avoidance shows up.
Conflicting expectations show up.
What does a title mean, anyway?
Conflicting needs show up.
We surprise each other, and not always in a good way.
We keep each other guessing.
Overwhelm each other.
And if we get really close and hit it off, oftentimes, chaos shows up.
We push each other away, even if we mean to bring them closer.
And immediately, we think the other person should change.
You have two people fighting for their needs to be met by the other person they're in a relationship with.
Fighting for the other person to show up differently.
But what if it should be the other way around, sometimes?
What if relationships really are damn near impossible...
Until you focus on how YOU show up, instead.
The Key to Feeling More Secure in Relationships: Attachment Theory (for Dummies)
If you've never heard of attachment theory, it all started with this guy John Bowlby.
Basically, a British psychologist discovered that our early childhood relationships with caregivers determined how we would behave in relationships as adults.
Meaning those insecurities you have today? The jealous streak? The aversion to vulnerability? Fear of abandonment? etc.
Yeah almost all of those patterns set in by the time you were around 2 years old, fam.
So you can stop blaming your S.O. for "making" you jealous. Or "making" you feel overwhelmed and not want to open up. Especially if you're saying this about every S.O.
These aren't their patterns. They're yours. And no, you didn't ask for them. But they've been around for a long time, and will continue to be until you stop blaming your new loves and connections.
It's Daddy's fault. Blame him. (or whoever).
Anyway, Bowlby and other researchers put these patterns into categories called attachment styles. There are 4 of them, and everyone has one.
Three of them are insecure types. One of which is probably yours since you're reading an article about being secure in relationships.
There are a lot of us insecure types. We're basically carrying around these gaping wounds our caregivers gave us in childhood. And letting these wounds wreak havoc all over our current relationships that trigger us because we don't know what else to do with them.
It's not your fault. But it is your problem, and this article will help you fix it.
And lastly, one of the attachment styles is a secure attachment style.
These people are fine. No big gaping wounds. Just the regular scrapes & bruises and they know how to deal with them and recover alright. Not a lot of drama. They had decent parents I guess. The rest of us think they're boring.
We're adrenaline junkies, in a way, and these secure types are suspiciously safe.
We like to doubt their capacity for kink, which is probably problematic.
Believe it or not, though, this Vanilla Bean Frappuccino brand of human is actually winning the game. They're better at relationships than us, straight up.
They know how to find and keep relationships long-term.
They know how to love and be loved. And they know how to enjoy it, instead of being afraid of emotions and abandonment all the time like the rest of us.
Anyway I'll be going very in-depth on all of these, but here's a crash course on what the attachment styles are and where they come from.
Anxious (Preoccupied) Attachment Style - Referred to as "Ambivalent" in Early Research
Anxiously Attached people tend to have childhood relationships marked by unavailable caregivers.
This includes emotional unavailability, not just physical availability.
Even if the caregivers weren't particularly abusive or neglectful, they still weren't particularly present.
Ultimately, an anxious attachment style comes from abandonment wounds.
As a result, these children were conditioned to have a scarcity mindset around attachment. They don't trust presence even when it's available. They're constantly worried people will leave or that they won't be heard, valued, validated, understood, held. And they look for signs of this, everywhere, compulsively.
They developed a 6th sense for disconnect and changed vibes, because they had to for survival in their youth.
So naturally, they grow into adults who also expect unavailability in partners, friends, etc. and are constantly looking for (and finding) signs that someone is unavailable.
And just like in childhood, the anxious person then tends to engage in protest behavior (become fixated or panic) when they see these signs, and fight or fawn for connection, to be seen, heard, understood, accepted, validated, etc.
Trigger: Signs of unavailability or abandonment
Primary Trauma Response: Fight/Fawn for avoidant connection. Flight from secure connections.
(Dismissive) Avoidant Attachment Style
In a nutshell, the avoidant person likely had a childhood marked by an abusive or flat-out neglectful caregiver (or multiple). They weren't just ignored. Many were met with punishment, consequence, or abuse tied to connection & reaches for connection. This includes emotional needs.
They were actively and painfully deterred from being vulnerable and relying on their caregivers for support.
So if you ask many avoidants, they were raised or conditioned to be independent and self-sufficient. They tend to express a binary view of "weak" versus "strong". Vulnerability and relying on others is weak. And they'll always want to be strong. (Boy do I have news for you).
Anyway, as a result, they'll opt to meet their own needs, and only really trust and rely on themselves at the end of the day.
As adults, they tend to perceive reaches for connection and requests for needs as weak or burdensome while secretly wishing to have a connection or someone they can let down their guard with. Alas, they suppress their own emotions to avoid being weak and burdensome as well, or really, to avoid receiving the harsh rejection they have a tendency to project on others who do this.
They're not evil, though. They're actually really caring, just easily overwhelmed by emotions. They're more practical and pragmatic. They tend to be high-performers, more concerned with giving the "impression" of being able to handle their shit, extremely proud, emotionally distant.
Many avoidants believe they're doing their loved ones a favor by handling their own emotions and needs, never asking for anything. Conversely, they become overwhelmed, annoyed and/or judgmental or even parental toward others who can't meet them at that level. I often see dismissive avoidants lose respect for "weak" and vulnerable people.
Really, they're projecting their own insecurities around vulnerability onto others. And treating people the way they internally treat themselves for being emotional. Except honestly they're probably easier on you than they are on themselves.
Trigger: Literally anything they perceive as emotionally "weak" or "needy"
Primary Trauma Response: Fight
Fearful Avoidant/Disorganized Attachment Style
This person has a mixture of both avoidant and anxious.
Those I've met and spoken with tend to have the preoccupied and empathetic nature of anxious attachment with the vulnerability avoidance of the dismissive avoidant attachment. However, it's truly a spectrum, and disorganized attachment styles can lean in any direction.
Their childhood is marked by a sort of chaos where they didn't know what to expect from day to day. When was it safe to reach for connection? When would abuse occur? When would they have to fight for it? When would it be given freely?
There were no clear answers to any of these.
This could be because one or more caregivers were chaotic and disorganized, sending mixed signals from day to day. It could also be because they had different caregivers respond in different ways.
One that would be emotionally absent but not abusive, and another that would be abusive and punish reaches for connection or expression of needs, and so on.
If we consider insecure attachment styles (avoidant, anxious, and disorganized) a linear spectrum, the disorganized person lies close to the middle, and can fluctuate based on things like (but not limited to):
- The energy of the person they're dealing with (like being in a relationship with an anxious person might push them into a more avoidant state, and vice versa)
- The specific milestone (they can routinely be more avoidant and flighty around big milestones and commitments)
- The specific topic at hand (for example they might be emotionally anxious but financially avoidant. So they may love quality time and emotional connection but aren't willing to share finances with their partner, talk about money, ask for help, etc.)
- The season of life they're in (if they go through a big breakup after being stuck in an anxious state during the relationship, you may see them swing to a very avoidant and hyper-independent state, and vice versa)
It depends on the person and circumstances they grew up in.
But if you read both the anxious and avoidant sections below, and relate to a lot of what was said in each, thinking, "yeah that's me too, it just depends".
You probably have a disorganized attachment style.
P.S. I have a disorganized attachment style, and a lot of my advice here is from experience on both sides of the spectrum.
Trigger: Signs of unavailability, abandonment, reach for connection, desire for connection depending on the situation
Trauma Response: Any/All depending on the situation
Secure Attachment Style (#RelationshipGoals)
Securely attached people had caregivers who were consistently responsive when they were frightened or distressed. They felt comfortable seeking safety and reassurance from their caregivers growing up.
In adulthood, securely attached people pay this forward and are naturally interdependent. They don't mind giving reassurance and they're also comfortable asking for it.
They're secure in taking reasonable space from their partners and are comfortable with their partners taking reasonable space from them. They feel comfortable relying on others and feel comfortable being relied on.
They don't shy away from connection, and they have an abundant mindset when it comes to love, generally trusting they can find a connection if they were to simply look for it and/or ask.
Instead of fighting for connection or running from it, they tend to reach for it, and have a reasonable response for whatever happens next.
They're not quick to take things personally in a relationship.
It's not that secure people never feel negative feelings in relationships, so much as they don't act in extremes the way insecure types do. They generally have appropriate responses for whatever's happening in the moment.
Secure types can become anxious when matched with avoidants who aren't able to meet them halfway, and they can also become more avoidant when matched with anxious types who won't budge on their rigid and extreme need for presence and effort.
But generally speaking, an insecure type who's willing to do the work to develop a more secure attachment, will generally do well by dating someone with a secure attachment style.
The issue is that the secure types are the ones we get bored with before we heal our own shit. They aren't chaotic like what we're used to.
Why Understanding Attachment Styles is the Key to Secure Relationships
Much like how we often can't heal trauma until we understand the root of it and how it's currently affecting us, it's going to be pretty tough to heal insecure attachment patterns without doing some work at the root of that as well.
Attachment Styles give us the blueprint.
They tell us where our relationship wounds are, so we know what we need to work on.
And, while attachment styles were originally thought to be pretty concrete, more recent research is finding that people are able to heal their attachment wounds. They can develop more secure attachment styles over time.
Even without the research, I can personally attest that I've made strides in my own work with my attachment style. And I'm disorganized - which is thought to be the most difficult to work on since it's a mixture of the other two, more erratic by nature, and tough to pin down.
Another thing to note is that people with insecure attachment styles (anxious, avoidant, disorganized) can still have successful long-lasting relationships. It's totally possible and often does happen that we'll have a few close connections who just kind of "get it". They don't trigger our insecurities so much and we exist more easily with them.
This is a true thing that happens. So I don't want you thinking you'll never find love as you are or any of that shit. That ain't it.
What is it, though, is remembering how healing this will deepen, heal, and stabilize the relationships you have, while expanding your capacity to develop new healthy ones as well.
Ask yourself things like:
- Am I experiencing vulnerability in these connections or are they more surface (avoidant & disorganized)
- How much are we doing from a place of obligation, fear of jealousy and judgment, hurting peoples' feelings, etc. And would we all feel better being able to trust each other to say no? (anxious & disorganized)
- On a scale of 1-10, how safe do I feel to really be myself? Am I masking with them? Do they mask with me? (ALL)
- How would I like to experience deeper connections with the people currently in my life, and feel safer establishing new connections without going through that weird phase of feeling chaotic and insecure in the beginning? (ALL)
- Would this help me with any job or career-related insecurities? (ALL)
- How might this help me show up differently in community, family, etc? (ALL)
- How else could this help me? (ALL)
Any of these are good enough reasons to work on your attachment wounds. Not out of a belief that you can't find romantic love without healing. But from a desire to experience all love in more, and deeper abundance from a generally secure space.
You have untapped potential. I think you'll be glad to bring it to life, here.
Practicing Security in Relationship
If you've been following me for a while you'll know that I consider pretty much all of this growth and healing shit a practice. Boundaries are a practice. Trust is a practice. Selfishness is a practice.
Secure Attachment is no different. In short: you grow by practicing growth.
You heal by practicing healing.
So, I'm going to go one by one through the insecure attachment styles and help you discover what healing can look like for you.
Feel free to disregard anything that doesn't feel applicable to you (everyone has their own story, I support you in whatever you choose for yours). And keep anything you find helpful.
We're Going to Dig Deeper Into:
- Not just what these attachment wounds are but what they look and feel like.
- How they might be harming your ability to form connections in all areas of life
- What a more secure attachment style could look like for you (and why you want it)
- How to develop a practice of secure attachment over time, as well as some extra resources to help.
- (Coming soon) How to show up for loved ones with different attachment styles than you
Public preview is limited. Click here to grab a free trial for access to all of the material.
Alright, scroll down to your attachment style and dig in. If you aren't sure, read the intro section of each one.
If you still aren't sure, there's a quiz linked at the bottom of the article for you.
Anxious Attachment Wounds
I'm about to give you a list. If a bunch of it feels familiar, you'll know.
We're going in raw. Deep breath. You ready?
This is for you if you're one of those people who needs to beat a horse about whether or not someone cares about you based on this one thing they do and it's not like you like it either but this is what we've gotta do to for me to feel secure why don't they get that?
It's for you if you feel insecure when your partner and you separate for social events/settings, or in ways that aren't familiar (new jobs, new friends, etc.)
If you easily feel left out when not invited to events and social gatherings - even the ones you wouldn't want to go to anyway.
If being in conflict with someone you care about is an emergency. Arguments keep you up at night. You don't understand how they can sleep when everything is wrong right now.
If you often fixate on the idea that work colleagues are competition, even when it's time to brainstorm or work together for a solution instead of compete with one another for attention and accolades.
It's for you if you reach for connection and reassurance at the slightest change in tone from your partner. And if they don't sound convincing or flat-out convicted in that reassurance you struggle to give the benefit of the doubt or let it go.
It's for you if when the people in your life are having a bad day, bad week, etc. the first thing you wonder is if they're upset with you or if you did something wrong.
It's for you if you fixate on how the people in your life treat others compared to how they treat you. The idea that relationships can be different without there being a hierarchy of favorites or least favorites escapes you (i.e. sibling rivalry, jealousy in friendships and romantic relationships, how a boss treats a colleague).
This is for you if it drives you up a wall to be asked to respect a boundary you don't fully understand or endorse. Not because you don't strive to respect boundaries, but because you're sensitive to the idea that the boundary exists to get away from you, or is a sign that the relationship is threatened and the person is drifting away.
If you get insecure and fatalistic the first time the person you're dating misses a good morning text.
You generally don't adjust to changes in relational dynamics well, for fear that the change will signal something is wrong.
You feel validated when the people you care about choose you over other important people in and priorities their lives.
If you're routinely called "controlling" even though in your eyes you aren't trying to control anything, you're trying to tell them how you feel and if they loved you they should get it and change their behavior to accommodate you like you would for them if roles were reversed, right?
You're probably very good at picking up on behavior patterns and you'd feel so much better if they would just tell you why they're being different (and make it make absolute 100% perfect sense to you or you won't be able to accept their answer, even though you don't actually say that part out loud).
This is for you if you center all of your day-to-day decisions around what's going on with your partner (or favorite friend) and when they don't center you in their experience you become jealous, irritable, or insecure.
It's for you if you find yourself making arguments like, "When you're really into someone you text them back quickly. It takes 2 seconds." and no amount of someone being reasonably busy or distracted gets the benefit of your doubt.
This is for you if you've ever found yourself trying to convince someone to love you - or show you they mean it in ways that aren't natural to them.
Welcome to life with an anxious attachment style, my friend.
We've got some work to do.
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