Attunement, Trust & Connection
Attachment theory lies at the heart of my trauma practice and approach to treatment. In a nutshell, attachment theory looks to our early interactions with caregivers that have significant impact on adult coping skills and form the blueprint of our identity and how we relate to others.
Much of our distress results from the paradoxical conflict we perceive between safety and connection: connection makes us feel vulnerable and safety creates distance between ourselves and others. How do we accomplish both? We do this by learning how to develop secure attachment. We are designed to have the capability to do both no matter where we fall on the attachment spectrum.
The following descriptions are helpful in understanding some of our behaviors and coping, but they are by no means comprehensive descriptions. In real life, much of our behavior is nuanced and lies on a continuum or is situation specific.
Secure Attachment. When we have consistent caregiving, we are able to approach life with greater flexibility from a place of compassion, calm and capability. Our relationship to our inner self exudes confidence and self-trust which also manifests in our relationship with others.
Avoidant Attachment. When that early caregiving experience lacks attentive presence or is neglectful, some people never gain traction regarding the skills they need to navigate relationships and deal with the inevitable conflicts that can occur among others because we are not identical and have differences. That core of trust that feeds relationships and creates confidence is often lacking. The normal process of repair holds potential for the real or imaginary threat of shame, humiliation, rejection, criticism. Lacking the capacity or knowledge of such repair, individuals tend to avoid intimacy or fail to appreciate the significance of relationships through their own acts of blame or anticipatory rejection. They expect to be rejected all the time, push people away, set impossibly high expectations and can mistake social cues. They might find everyday interactions overwhelming on account of their hypervigilance and reactivity to perceived rejection.
Ambivalent Attachment. Inconsistent caregiving resulting from volatile or distracted caregivers can impact individuals who develop anxiety, doubt and insecurity in their relationships and manifest low self-esteem and self-worth. This can result in dependency and approval seeking. They are often described as “overly needy.” Sometimes individuals with this attachment style can be preoccupied by others and find it difficult to set boundaries. Others’ boundaries can provoke panic, fear of rejection and abandonment. Guilt, excessive caretaking and various forms of controlling or manipulative behavior might be used to try to keep others close. Because these individuals often seek reassurance in their relationships, they can be trying on other individuals thereby making rejection a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Disorganized Attachment. This attachment style is marked by inconsistency in behavior and deep distrust of others. It often reflects caregiving that became a source of fear for the developing child. In some instances, the child’s needs were not met at all. Adults who experienced this type of caregiving, may have lacked the capacity to adapt to the interaction with caregiver in a way to get their needs met and determine a consistent pattern of behavior.
This might manifest as “push/pull” behavior in which there is a strong need for intimacy that is followed by pushing those closest away. Signs of disorganized attachment include frequent dysregulation, fear of hurt and abandonment, hypervigilance, difficulty trusting others, splitting behavior (“love you/hate you”), instability in relationships, alternating between being distant and clingy.
Group therapy is one of the best ways to develop the relational skills needed to restore or build secure attachment. Click here to learn more about some of our current groups focused on helping you develop relational health.
What attachment style best describes Your Comfort Zone and relationships?
How do We Heal Relational Trauma?
Developing Secure Attachment
It’s wonderful to start out in life in a family that provides the nurturing and attentive environment conducive to secure attachment. That’s a head start upon which we create a relational template for our other relationships. The process of attunement presumed in that caregiving relationship helps us develop an internal sense of what to anticipate from our peer and adult relationships. That “sense” lives in our nervous system and is projected onto our later experiences.
What if we don’t get that “great” start in life?
Fortunately, perfect parenting isn’t the only path to secure attachment. In fact, “good enough” parenting in which we make mistakes, initiate ways to honor those mistakes and repair is, well, good enough. Beyond this, even if parenting is less than “good enough,” parenting isn’t the only path to secure attachment and there’s room for “catch-up.”
Most parents do the best they can and we can shift from early disruptions to learn how to build what is missing. It’s never too late.
In therapy we learn:
- How to transition (e.g. separation stress).
- To repair disconnections.
- To relax while in connection.
- Rituals around safety
- How to really set boundaries.
Click here to learn more.