Work on your attachment style and improve your relationships!
Join Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Attachment Specialist Paula Sacks as she discusses how we form attachments, their role in relationships, and how you can overcome insecurity.
If you don’t know your attachment style, this is the episode for you!
Attachment is how you behave in your relationships. It’s primarily created by our relationship with our primary caregiver (usually parents) during our infancy. In the early eighties, developmental researchers decided upon three main forms of attachment in very young children: secure, anxious/preoccupied, and avoidant/dismissive.
A secure attachment style comes from having a relationship with an early caregiver that was characteristically soothing with mutual trust between caregiver and child. Anxious/preoccupied attachment generally forms from relationships where the caregiver fails to soothe, resulting in temper tantrums and clingy behavior. Avoidant or dismissive attachment is commonly seen in children who don’t pay much attention to their caregivers and prefer to do things on their own.
Toward the late 1980s, researchers determined about 15% of children studied didn’t fit into one attachment style but rather showed double insecurities. This is known as disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment and manifests when a person exhibits both avoidant/dismissive and anxious/preoccupied qualities in the same primary relationship.
For example, if the caregiver left the room, a child with a disorganized attachment would go after them, angry with them for leaving, but will pull away from the relationship at the same time because the caregiver is the frightening object. The child often needs the caregiver more than anything in this situation, which is where the anxious/preoccupied style comes from. But because the child is afraid or uncomfortable in the relationship, they pull back.
Attachment styles also manifest with adults in relationships. For children with warring strategies, it can result in future personality disorders. A relationship with a partner who seems to love you one minute but hates you the next or when partners don’t seem happy together but refuse to leave are both hallmarks of disorganized attachment in adults.
About two-thirds of people have a secure style, but there are ways to develop more secure attachment in adulthood if you aren’t one of them. It can happen on its own when you enter a healthy relationship with a secure partner and learn from them. However, some modifications do require professional help.
Depending on what you’re treating, all therapy options have credibility. For example, if you have a thought disturbance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is most likely what will work best for you. Other common Conventional Therapy techniques are mentalization (or visualization hypnosis) and talk therapy.
You can also see attachment specialists if you start having relationship difficulties, who specialists in on treating disturbances to strengthen attachment. They are focused on how the patient was raised in their early days through a psychological questionnaire.
Because disorganized attachment stems from internal conflict, it makes it more complicated to treat than either anxious or avoidant on its own. Fear of rejection and abandonment fuels anxious attachment, so working with the patient to strengthen self-worth and overcome abandonment helps overcome insecure attachment. With avoidant attachment, specialists often refocus the patient on others’ feelings, which is what they’re lacking.
Because all three insecure styles stem from either inconsistency, indifference, or a combination of both, they can be prevented by making a conscious effort to be a more emotionally supportive and soothing caregiver in the first year of a child’s life. The more the parent is present and empathic with a child, the more the child will feel it, and the easier they’ll learn to trust themselves and others in adulthood.
One way is to express delight, which is when a parent finds joy in being a parent and is not preoccupied with the chore. It involves expressing the love and joy they have for who the child is at their very core, and not what the child does or represents. Parents must focus on wanting the best for the child, which means not having an agenda for them.
Relationships are any dynamic between two people, not just romantic dynamics, and everyone wants to feel valued. Life is perspective, so pay attention to how you see the world. Thoughts determine how you feel about the world, and how you feel about it dictates how you behave.
Start listening today to become a securely attached adult, or to raise secure children!
Paula Sacks is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker/Attachment Specialist with a private practice in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She is one of nine co-authors on Adult Disturbances in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair. Her book was awarded the 2018 Pierre Janet Writing Award at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Ms. Sacks wrote an Adult Picture Book/Manuel to teach parents how to develop secure attachment called, The Importance of Love Rays: Developing secure attachment in infancy and childhood, as well as, a children’s book called, Love Rays. She is very passionate about developing secure attachment in children to prevent attachment disturbances in adolescence and adulthood.