Attachment Theory is based on the premise that the way we experienced bonding as infants influences the way we seek bonding as adults.
In simple terms, if we were encouraged to meet our needs autonomously, eg "Off you go, you'll be right" we learned the pattern of withdrawing ie a dismissive, avoidant attachment style. If we were encouraged dependently to meet our needs dependently, eg "Don't worry, Daddy's here", we learned the pattern of seeking from others ie an anxious, preoccupied attachment style. If our caregivers encouraged us to discern when we could do it ourselves, and when we would benefit from others help, we learned the skill of knowing the difference. These lucky ones developed a secure attachment style.
According to Bowlby & Ainsworth, the pattern we learned as infants plays out in our adult relationships. This means that whether you're struggling with a family member, a close friend or a lover, you can work toward a more secure attachment style as a fundamental way to improve the relationship.
Commonly recognized as "aloof", "detached" or "head-in-the-sand-ed", the dismissive avoidant finds it hard to move beyond a certain level of intimacy due to a deep and unconscious fear of loss of identity. Commonly recognized as "clingy", "needy" or "dependent", the anxious preoccupied finds it hard to accept they are loved and valued due to a deep and unconscious fear of separateness. Because your attachment style is consistent across our various relationships, struggles in any one of your relationships is an opportunity to improve all your relationships at once.
So, how to build a more secure attachment style? Dr Amir Levine, author of the New York Times acclaimed "Attached" boils it down to the five-letter acronym CARRP, like the purring fish.
….and yes, you can use this checklist in all your interpersonal interactions. Whether making a date, considering a rain check, responding to an email or reaching out to a friend, every interaction provides the opportunity to build a more secure attachment.
The securely attached acknowledges his/her feelings and needs. S/he can freely meet those s/he can and can freely request and receive those s/he needs to learn. As the oracle Wikipedia describes: "Within romantic relationships, securely attached individuals are described as demonstrating "excellent conflict resolution, mentally flexible, effective communicators, avoidance of manipulation, comfortable with closeness without fearfulness of being enmeshed, quickly forgiving, viewing sex and emotional intimacy as one, believing they can positively impact their relationships, and caring for their partner how they want to be cared for. In summary, they are great partners, treat their spouses very well, as they are not afraid to give positively and ask for their needs to be met. Securely attached adults believe that there are many potential partners that would be responsive to their needs and if they come across an individual who is not meeting their needs, they will typically lose interest very quickly".
The key take-away then for securely attached individuals is to find those with the skills for meeting the needs you most need to learn, whether emotional literacy, centering, creative freedom, deliberateness, purpose, grounding, lightness or shadow work. But more on this next time. To learn, as a friend, mentor, or partner, to meet these needs for yourself, is to be able to extend secure attachment to all members of your community circle. Whether you're inclined to be dismissive-avoidant or preoccupied-anxious, you can cultivate more secure relationships using the checklist above and the oracle's ideal. As the foundation of a life of meaning and purpose, t's time we took an honest look at the way we are attached at the unconscious level.
Alexis Dennehy is a Naturopath, Yoga-Therapist and Massage-therapist practicing Somatic Psychotherapy. She is support-facilitator to Dr Rachel Hannam of North Brisbane Psychologists at their next workshop Attachment Theory & How to Build a more Secure Relationship next Sunday 14 November. Dr Rachel and Alexis will be speaking on Attachment Theory LIVE@6pm today. Visit North Brisbane Psychologists on Facebook to make your requests on what you'd like covered. We'll look forward to seeing you there.