Attached: New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find And Keep Love - Book Review
After putting it off for so many year, I finally found some energy to take this book off my shelf (well actually my friend's) and into my lap.
As a counsellor in Vancouver, I'm not exactly sure what took me so long to read it.
Maybe it was the fact that I already knew 'enough' about attachment theory.
Maybe - on a more personal level - I didn't want to face the facts of my own attachment style.
But I continued on.
And here’s what stood out...
What Is Attachment Theory?
While updated information about adult attachment has been researched and published, I can see how the application of attachment theory in adult relationships still holds some truth.
Attachment theory tells us that we each have an attachment system that becomes activated by different emotional bonds, which is especially developed through long-term relationships between primary caregiver(s) and child(ren). It also tells us that these early bonds are responsible for the bonds that develop between adults in emotionally intimate relationship.2
Essentially, attachment theory says that early attachment influences later attachment.
And we also know that attachment is influenced by other factors like genes, culture, and life experiences, to name a few.
PS - an emotionally intimate relationship is not solely represented by the "traditional pair", but also includes big friendships and close groups.
What Are The 4 Main Types of Attachment?
As we start to understand attachment theory a bit better, we start to be able to identify different types of attachment styles. These attachment styles emerge out of different experiences. And they are:
Secure attachment embodies safety. When found in adult relationships secure attachment “[creates] the conditions that enable our partners to pursue their interests and explore the
world in confidence” (p.130).
Being in a secure attached relationship will feel:
When in secure attachments, our nervous system is deactivated, meaning that all involved feel overall cool, calm and connected.
Anxious attachment can be seen as being clingy. Individuals with anxious attachments can “be intensely persistent and hyper-vigilant about staying close to your attachment figure” (p.19). This clinginess is not a conscious choice, but rather an autonomic response of their activated nervous system that is trying to self-soothe.
Being in an anxious attached relationship will feel:
When in anxious attachments, our nervous system are more activated. This can feel unsettling, where someone engages in bids for affection, trying every which way to feel connected to the other, while another is non-responsive to these bids.
Avoidant attachment is misinterpreted as fiercely independent. Individuals with avoidant attachments can initially appear “all in” until they become threatened by the closeness that they actually desire. The lone ranger’s attitude of self-reliance maintains an emotional distance that is protective yet perpetuates loneliness.
Being in an avoidant attached relationship will feel:
Passionate yet detached
When in avoidant attachments, one nervous system might be in the dorsal vagal parasympathetic activation (where there is activation that is being unexpressed or internally stuck) and the other might have an activated nervous system because of the lack of intimacy and availability.
Anxious-Avoidant (Disorganized) Attachment
This attachment style combines both anxious and avoidant tendencies. Individuals may find themselves on a wild roller-coaster ride that is their relationship(s).
Being in an anxious-avoidant attached relationship will feel:
Hot and Heavy
Cold and Lonely
When in anxious-avoidant attachments, our nervous system are definitely activated and we might be going in many emotions directions.
Why is Attachment Theory Important For Relationships?
As the book mentions: "Attachment principles teach [us] that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs” (p. 21). When we start integrating Attachment Theory to our everyday relationships, we are better able to meet our own needs as well as others.
Meeting each other's needs, whether physical, emotional or otherwise, yields happier and more satisfied relationships. Who wouldn't want that?
When we can attend to each other and build a stronger sense of connectedness with one another, we feel freer to explore our world, both internal and external. Attachment Theory can help us to build more safety in our relationships. The sense of security that emerges from secure attachment (aka when needs are met) allows individuals to become more curious, creative and playful.
“[This effect] is sometimes referred to in attachment literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become." (p. 21).
3 Things You Can Do Today To Be More Securely Attached
What really stood out to me about these types of attachments is not only their identifiable characteristic, but that they are changeable.
“One in four people [change their attachment style] over a four-year period” (p. 11).
So not all is lost if you find yourself stuck in an unwelcome attachment pattern. Here are three (3) things you can do today to be more securely attached:
Curiosity is a powerful antidote to many things, like relationship challenges. When we stay curious about the person in front of us, as well as about what they are communicating, so many more opportunities for understanding unfold. Ask open ended questions. Ask for clarifications. Ask them whether you’ve understood them correctly.
Emotional availability invites rather than pushes others away. Responding sensitively to someone’s distress permits them to be dependent on you when they feel the need. When we follow up or check in later on or provide comfort when things go wrong we are sending the message that we are here.
Empower and Encourage
Being someone’s cheerleader and providing behind-the-scenes support boosts a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Do this by helping them brainstorm, change perspectives, gain information, listen to their gut instinct, identify strengths, or move through stuck points. This will leave them with the initiative and the feeling of empowerment. Give them space to make their own decision and encourage them to keep going when it gets tough.
Adapted from Attached, by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A..
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