How to Manage Attachment Challenges in Adulthood
Today we are concluding our mini series on Attachment with a look at how to manage difficulty with adult attachment. As our London-based therapist Teyhou Smyth explains in the article, these adult issues have their roots in our childhood upbringing. However, no one has to simply give up and accept these issues – we can take steps towards healing and growth. If you need help with anything raised here or in our other articles, please feel free to reach out to us at the Centre.
DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS?
IS YOUR SELF-ESTEEM LOW?
DO YOU TEND TO THINK IN AN ALL-OR-NOTHING STYLE ABOUT OTHERS?
If you answered YES to these questions, you may have an insecure attachment style.
An insecure attachment style isn’t a negative statement about who you are, it is more about how you were responded to in infancy and childhood. Insecure attachment often comes about when, in early formative years of life, children’s emotional or physical needs are not attended to sufficiently.
The early messages we receive from parents and caregivers can influence the way we experience relationships with others.
In research by Hazen and Shaver, they found that 40 percent of people have insecure attachment. The study further showed that 20 percent had avoidant attachment and the other 20 percent had anxious attachment.
WHAT INSECURE ATTACHMENT LOOKS LIKE
Individual experiences vary, but some common themes that might reflect attachment issues are:
- Emotional distancing
- Distrust for others
- Excessive need for reassurance by partner
- Possessive of others
- People who struggle with avoidant or anxious attachment styles may have a difficult time feeling as if they can let their guard down with partners or even close friends.
There may be a tendency to avoid confiding in loved ones as a result of this insecure attachment style, and it may seem as if they are aloof or unaffected by the possibility of being abandoned.
UNDERSTANDING INSECURE ATTACHMENT IN A PARTNER
If you are a person with secure attachment who is involved with someone who struggles with insecure attachment, it can be a challenge to know how to respond. One of the most important things you can remind yourself of is don’t take it personally.
There are many reasons people develop insecure attachments and it didn’t start with you. When you sense that your partner is struggling with distrust or some other sign of insecure attachment, offer to work with him or her to come up with some ways to let you know before it escalates into an argument.
Sometimes just having the ability to say “I’m struggling with my connection to you right now” can open an entire dialogue that is much simpler to address than trying to guess what is going on beneath the surface of this behaviour.
MANAGING YOUR OWN ATTACHMENT ISSUES
If you are struggling with attachment issues, remember you are not alone. Think about the 40 percent of people like you who have similar challenges. Be gentle with yourself. You didn’t create this attachment insecurity within yourself, but you can make healthy decisions that will support your healing.
Seek partnerships with people who have healthy attachment styles
Partnering up with another person with attachment challenges may set both of you up for a lot of emotional pain.
Practice the “acting as if” mode of being to see how that feels
Instead of going on your natural instincts to distrust or distance yourself, try on the part of a trusting, close partnership. What does that feel like? What would it be like for you to live a secure attachment reality for awhile?
Figure out a strategy to let your partner know that you’re feeling insecure
When insecure attachment presents itself, the underlying need is a gentle reminder that you are loved, cared for and valued.
Talk with your partner about how to communicate that need succinctly; even something simple like, “I need some love” might be adequate to let your partner know where you are in your emotional state.
This simple declaration can prevent you and your partner from having to get into an argument to simply get your need met.
The objective and professional advice of a counsellor can help untangle some of the early messages about attachment. Attachment work has come a long way.
It may be beneficial to explore the ways your life experiences have influenced your attachment style. Therapy can help identify ways to overcome the more challenging dynamics as they arise and help you move toward healing.
[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com]