How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationships
The way we communicate has a lot to do with our attachment style, which was formed early in our development. This style also plays a critical role in how we approach, interact, respond and react to our partner as we attempt to resolve conflict. This can be a good or a not-so-good thing depending on our individual styles. Understanding your own attachment style will provide a window into your vulnerabilities and strengths within the relationships in your life.
Our model of attachment influences how we get our needs met and the process in which we go about getting our needs met in relationships. Ironically, unless you know your attachment style, people often find partners that confirm our models – meaning if we grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, we will often seek out in an attempt to duplicate similar patterns as adults. We do this even though these relationships are unhealthy and often hurt us.
For example, meet Michael and Susan**
Michael and Susan have been together for 7 years. When they first met, Susan had a dismissive and avoidant style. She recognized that she could - at times - easily detach from others and had a tendency to avoid intimacy. She wanted to change this but knew it would take some significant work and introspection on her part. Her parents were never emotionally available – but available in other ways. Their divorce also had an impact on her life; as a result, she had a tendency to 'check out' in her relationships and appear somewhat complacent. However, that is not how she felt - that was just how she coped. Susan carried this same style through much of her adult life. It wasn't until she met Michael that she realized her relationship pattern and made changes so that she could create a healthier relationship with him. Michael on the other hand, was a secure person and provided the environment and the 'space' to help her grow. He challenged her when something came up and was able to communicate with her in such a way that made her feel safe - safe enough to acknowledge her vulnerabilities while simultaneously learning how to open up and feel more secure in their relationship.
What’s your style?
A person with an anxious attachment will feel insecure about their partner’s feelings and feel unsafe in the relationship. They become clingy and demanding. Because anxious people bond quickly, they don't take the time to assess if their partner can meet their needs. They jump right in! They tend to see the 'we' and what they share in common, idealize their partner, and overlook potential issues. If their partner acts independent, they will interpret this as they are leaving and affirm their fears. For example, if their partner is interacting with other people, they might interpret this as ‘they don’t love me.’ They are anxious about the relationship, where it is, where it is going. Because relationships have some uncertainty about them, this often gets interpreted as unstable, which encourages more anxiety in the anxious person.
A person with this type of attachment will feel that, in order to get their needs met, they will have to be with that person all the time for the sake of reassurance. To support this theory, they actually choose a person who is isolated and hard to be with, which only reinforces their belief. They often feel ‘desperate in relationships and have an ‘emotional hunger’ (Firestone). They look to their partner to rescue or complete them (Firestone). Their sense of safety is through clinging to their partner.
A person with this type of attachment style is dismissive and distant. They appear emotionally detached. They feel the way to get your needs met is to act as though you don’t have any needs. A person with this style will choose a partner who is more demanding or possessive. People with this style tend to lead inward lives; they deny the importance of connection, of others, can easily detach and shut down emotionally (Firestone).
4. Fearful Avoidant.
A person with this attachment style lives in a place of ambivalence – unsure and afraid of being too close or too distant from others. They try and keep their feelings at bay, but this ultimately becomes too arduous. Because they are unable to avoid their anxiety or run from their feelings, they are emotionally overwhelmed and experience emotional storms. They often live in an ambivalent state in which they are afraid of being too close to
or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. Their relationships are rocky or dramatic. They have fears of abandonment, but also with being intimate (Firestone).
When a person has a secure attachment style, they are confident and are able to navigate and interact with others. They are can meet their own needs as well as others. Parents understand what a baby needs and are able to provide it. They are highly attuned to their needs. They are more satisfied in their relationships and feel secure and connected. They can move more freely in relationships. Secure people are able to reassure their partners and provide support in times of distress and can equally go to their partner when they feel distressed.
How to change your from anxious or avoidant to secure..
- Learn how to express and honor your emotional needs. What are your emotional needs?
- Identify triggers that reinforce your attachment style. What are your triggers? Where do they stem from? What could you do differently to overcome and work through your triggers?
- Look for relationship patterns. Based on your style, what type of people do you seek out? Is there a pattern? What could be a different direction to take with relationships? Do you take time off from relationships to examine what went wrong and your contribution?
- Practice acceptance of self and your style. Accepting how we feel, without judgment, gets us to a better place, faster.
- Learn to react less and resolve more conflict. Look at the element of compromise. How do you react? What place do you come from when you react the way you do? What are the feelings that arise from your reactions?
- Learn to be assertive and use your voice. What are your needs, your values? What makes you feel unsafe? How can you communicate with your partner in a safe way to get your needs met but also honor theirs as well.
- Seek out therapy to learn how to become more secure and find those people who are capable of a secure attachment. Even if you are more anxious or avoidant, but finding a partner that is more secure, you will also learn how to become more secure. A good therapist can also help you make changes on your own, make internal changes, that will ultimately change how you respond in a new relationship.
Why Lasting Change Is Hard
Before we had any children, my wife and I lived in the heart of Dallas. One day, on our way back to our house, we were driving down Skillman Avenue when we were caught in a sudden torrential downpour.
The rain was coming down incredibly hard, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the storm drains were equipped to handle that much water. Instead, the road itself filled with water faster than we could have anticipated. Quickly, the water rose up the side of our car. Trying not to panic, we realized that we could not continue and would need to turn around and get to higher ground.
Water rising up the side of your car door is the kind of roadblock you might not expect to encounter, but when you do, it’s formidable. We couldn’t drive through it or even around it. We had to deal with it quickly or face serious consequences.
When we’re trying to implement change in our own lives, it’s important to identify and plan for common roadblocks to lasting change.
The first and, in my opinion, most important roadblock to lasting change is not addressing the real issue.
Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night with a sore throat. You’re annoyed by feeling sick but your throat really hurts, so you get up and spray a little Chloraseptic in your mouth and drift off to sleep. When you wake up the next day, you still have a sore throat, so you pop in a cough drop and go about your day.
The change you’re making – using a numbing agent – might work if you’ve only got a cold, but if it’s strep throat, you’re not addressing the real problem. Only an antibiotic will cure what ails you, even if Chloraseptic will keep the pain at bay for a while.
Just like how more information is needed to diagnose your sore throat than one feeling, problems you encounter in your life or business require diagnostics, too. Figuring out the real problem – not just your most apparent needs – requires some introspection and a little bit of time.
Here are eight questions to ask when you need to discover the root cause, courtesy of MindTools.com:
- What do you see happening?
- What are the specific symptoms?
- What proof do you have that the problem exists?
- How long has the problem existed?
- What is the impact of the problem?
- What sequence of events leads to the problem?
- What conditions allow the problem to occur?
- What other problems surround the occurrence of the central problem?
Once you have your answers to these key questions, you can’t stop there. Your vantage point is skewed from your own perspective. You’re going to want to ask someone else to evaluate the problem at hand with the same questions and then compare your answers.
If you and all of the partners at your firm have similar answers, you’ll know you’re on the right track. If you wind up with wildly different ideas, I suggest seeking the advice of someone outside your organization. Fresh eyes can make all the difference in understanding a problem.
I often talk about being ‘too close’ to understand. You’ve probably heard the illustration about a group of people standing by an elephant with blindfolds on, trying to describe what they’re experiencing. Depending on what part of the elephant you’re next to, you’re going to have different observations.
But someone outside of that elephant’s cage can clearly identify the elephant.
The first key to making a lasting change is to make sure you’ve addressed the real problem and are looking for authentic change.
Next time, we’ll address the second major roadblock to creating last change.
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