Day 157 - Attachment
A friend recently gave me a book on attachment styles (Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, MA) (Thank you Jeff!). At first, I didn’t really see the connection. Then I realized that this was hugely important information that I could have used a million years ago.
It is really pretty simple. There are three attachment styles in relationships: secure, anxious and avoidant. There are online tests you can take to see which one you are but I suspect that you already know. Now everyone displays all of the attachment styles at some times. But usually you have a predominant style that is what you deploy most.
Underlying all attachment styles is the basic need for intimacy and closeness, the style is just the manner in which we attempt to do that or not do that.
I will tell you that reading this book has not really told me anything new...I was aware of all of this before but I was not able to apply it to my own behavior and that of others. It was like I saw it as useful but couldn’t really relate it to me or my life.
Then I picked up the book, now I cannot unsee it. I see it in everything I do and in everyone I meet. I see all human beings now walking around negotiating the manner in which they will seek intimacy or not.
Let’s review the types:
Let’s start with them first. They are the ones that want intimacy and closeness and are not afraid to be vulnerable to get it. They seem to have this innate ability to own their need for emotional closeness and have a whole plethora of behaviors that support their ultimate goal of finding someone to love and be close to all the while maintaining their own lives and interest. They need and want others in their lives but are not overly preoccupied with obtaining it. They just feel secure that they will attach and that the person they attach to will love them back and it will all work out. These are the people in happy 50 year marriages.
These are the people that do ok on their own and can admit that they want a close, intimate relationship. However, when presented with a candidate, they become hyper sensitive to the other person’s moods and feelings and often so much so that they see little signs and issues long before they are really being evinced. Anxious attachers are super good at reading people, especially people who they are intimately connected with. They also have a tendency to give up other things that are important to them so as not to challenge the primary relationship. They long for closeness but then begin to behave in ways in which cause even secure attachers to run for the hills.
These are the people that truly just don’t need a primary relationship in their lives. They are afraid of closeness which could be situational, posturing, fear of rejection and hurt or really they just don’t need or want that much closeness. Intimacy is super scary for these people and they tend to run at the first sign of intimacy. These are the people that you spend a great night with and then they don’t call you for a month. From what I have read, more people are out there deploying this style than any other. I think more by posturing but the result is the same. They have developed an avoidant manner for dealing with their feelings about intimacy.
Why is this important?
Well for about a hundred reasons, but I don’t have time to list them all today. I will likely be returning to this whole philosophy repeatedly as it has totally captured my interest and find the subject matter fascinating.
I think it is important at first blush for solely its identification purposes. If you take the 10 minutes to find out what your predominant style of attaching is, it can and will help you better achieve whatever your intimacy and closeness goal. It will also better enable you to select a partner that is going to be able to reciprocate.
Here is what I have learned thus far...
Secure attachers are contagious. They have this contagion affect where their security in their own needs, desires and ability to meet the needs and desires of others, is something that they easily and readily communicate to others. Lesson? Secure attachers tend to attract other secure attachers. But even when they come into contact with anxious attachers, their integrity about what they want and need allows the anxious person to calm the fuck down and become more secure too. This is not even a goal for these people, they just have this to give and do so.
When I am presented with a person who is secure, I tend to respond in the same manner. No shock there. This is what tends to happen with security, it breeds security. When the other person is calm and tells me what they want and need, I feel like I can do the same. The games and overthinking are gone, and I can just be myself without really getting all geared up about where the other person is.
When I am presented with a person who is avoidant, I am an anxious attacher. Their inability or unwillingness to seek closeness, causes me to quickly obsess about them and their feelings. Causing a cascade of emotionality that causes me to hate me and them to run for the hills. I am better about my reactions today but if I am honest, I still spend a lot of time thinking about them, how to make them want to be closer to me and what they are thinking. Just the identification that I do this, causes my ego to become super ventilated. I am not sure, but admitting that I do this might have just been the hardest thing I have ever admitted.
When I am presented with an anxious attacher, I am an avoidant attacher. When someone else is trying to lock me down before I am ready to be locked down and is deploying all these activation strategies to get me to engage, I tend to shut down and high tail it out of there. I can’t seem to help it. I just have this overwhelming feeling that I need to distance myself from this lovely person who wants to be close to me.
I could go on for days and I might in days to come, however, my main point in today’s post is that just thinking about this at all has caused me to inventory myself on a whole new level...and with an honesty that I have not always been able to bring to my part in relationships. I feel super compelled to be honest about this because I really, really want to do relationships differently.
The most important lesson in all of this though was this...I really prized the avoidant attacher. I felt like to be this person was the better thing. The cooler thing. The safer thing. To be needy or wanting was pathetic and sad. It was solely by doing the work to find out how I approach attachment that I realized and was capable of being honest with myself that I am not avoidant. That was a cover. My whole "I-am-too-independent-for-a-relationship" thing a thin veil to hide that I really do need and want intimacy. My whole approach to relationships? To pretend like I didn’t want one and to also pretend that care, concern and closeness were things that I did not value. In reality, I want all those things very much. I just wasn’t capable of being vulnerable enough to admit it. I threw out all these strategies to cover over the vulnerability that wanting closeness caused for me. Which was completely self defeating and resulted in me feeling more alone and less close to everyone.
If I learned nothing more than this from examining this whole attachment theory, I learned a lot. But there is so much more there, not the least of which, are good suggestions on how to develop your security and in turn improving your attachment style. Or at least pointing you in a direction toward people who are going to compliment not activate you. AMAZING!
I will admit that after I took the test and found out that my primary method of attachment was anxious. I was super disappointed. Like somehow I was less of a person, like I let myself and my life long quest to not need people down. But what I realized was that it was all posturing on my part. Right up until that moment, I was incapable of really owning my own needs and desires for closeness and intimacy which more than anything else is what prevented me from finding it! Talk about a fucking Ah Ha moment!
I can see that once again, I have gotten it all wrong. Jeez! But the great news is that I can see the strategies that I have been deploying that are fruitless and actually prevent me from ever really being competent to have a close, intimate relationship with anyone. Now that I see it, perhaps I can change. As the Buddha said, first we change our thoughts, then we change our feelings, then we change our actions. Here’s hoping!