Relationships and Attachment
Working with our Attachment Style
Relationships can be a major source of comfort, satisfaction, and relief when they are running smoothly and when we feel connected, heard, and validated. However, often we can struggle with relational experiences for a number of different reasons. These relationships might be with friends, colleagues in a workplace, family, our partner, and even the relationship with our self. Often we might repeat particular dynamics, roles, and patterns with others. For example, we might repeatedly get caught in roles of being the helper or over-functioning or find ourselves in pursue and distance or power and control dynamics. We might find ourselves detached and isolated from more intimate relationships. In contrast, triggers in a relationship might result in an individual experiencing intense rage or feelings of abandonment. Oftentimes there is a lack of clear communication and assertiveness or an individual may be unsure of their needs and desires within a relationship. In extreme cases people experience domestic violence and abuse at the hands of others. Common reasons for attending therapy include:
- Dealing with conflict situations
- Assertiveness and communication
- Emotion regulation and changing unhealthy cycles
- Understanding and changing attachment patterns and styles
- Ending or staying in a relationship
- Coping with grief and loss following the end of a relationship
- Domestic violence (www.1800Respect.org.au, www.whiteribbon.org.au)
The way we learn to deal with relationships is often influenced by early attachment experiences and relationships with family and caregivers. If we grow up in a system where parenting is 'good enough' that is attuned, nurturing, and repairing then we are more likely to develop a secure model of attachment. Secure attachment is when we feel comfortable both seeking out and being in a close intimate relationship and being alone or exploring independently. However, if an early environment lacks nurturing, is rejecting, or inflicts harm then different internal models and expectancies are developed around connection and relationships. In some instances individuals might tend to dismiss, avoid, or deactivate intimacy, vulnerability, and emotions associated with close relationships and connections. Closeness might trigger feelings of anxiety and discomfort and result in a strategy to minimize and distance such feelings. In contrast, others might experience a great source of anxiety/distress in maintaining the relationship/connection/intimacy and avoiding signs of abandonment or rejection. Paradoxically, this can often be with a partner who is abandoning, absent, or rejecting. Even when not the case, triggers such as a delayed phone call can escalate feelings of anxiety and issues of trust, cascading a strategy to reduce these feelings such as calling repeatedly. For others, where trauma and harm has been inflicted relationships are simply experienced as a source of potential danger and can cause strong fear reactions. By understanding our attachment and relationship style we can begin to make inroads to developing alternative strategies and fostering greater security.
The focus of therapy is to assist you to better understand your ways of relating to self and others. This initially involves exploring the particular attachment style, patterns, roles, and dynamics that are engaged in. By fostering greater awareness new emotional, cognitive, and behavioural strategies can be developed. This might involve regulating emotional arousal and distress or shifting to relating effectively rather than being right, critical, or invalidating. It might involve building greater assertiveness and clarity of communication around needs and expectations. I can help you to assess and then implement new strategies depending on your particular situation. If you are wanting assistance in managing relationship issues feel free to call on 0451 491 395. (disclaimer: the above information is intended for a general understanding of relationship issues and is not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a trained psychologist).