Put on Your Attachment Hat & Change your Romantic Attachment Style | Ashley Harvey
A few years ago my husband and I got road bikes
so that we would have something to do together.
But what I noticed is on these road bike dates was
I wasn’t very happy
Now, when I rode by myself
I felt scared
In fact, I was often singing.
-I’m bad, I’m bad, I know it…
as I rode along.
But when I was getting ready to go on a road bike date
with my husband I was cranky before we even left the house.
Now it’s important to know that Jordan
had been mountain biking for years
and he was a lot stronger than me.
So how these dates would typically go is that
we’d start off
and he’s up ahead
riding with ease
and I’m in the back
struggling to keep up
and already not having fun.
And my feelings of irritation would
just intensify as we begin climbing those first hills.
and he’s way up ahead
standing up on his bike
grinding it out…
This cute little spandex butt..
and I’m down at the bottom,
and he’d often stop to wait for me
at the top of the hill,
and then I’d unleash my fury…
If I was at my worst
I’d angrily complain.
“It’s hot !”
“It’s cloudy !”
“My butt hurts !”
“I hate this !”
I’m a super fun date.
But one day I decided to do something different:
I put on what I think of as my
my attachment hat.
That’s basically like putting on your thinking cap.
But I analyzed how I was feeling
from an attachment theory perspective
I managed to share something
with Jordan that brought us together
rather than pushed us apart.
So more on what I said soon.
But first I want to help you learn
how to put on your attachment hat.
Now, if you’re new to this attachment business,
it’s basically just about the bonding that we have
in our close, ongoing relationships.
And I’ve been teaching students and couples
about attachment for over 15 years
in my roles as a university professor
and relationship educator.
I’m drawing on the work of so many amazing
What I’m going to be talking about is
mainly about romantic relationships…
You can apply it to friends and family as well.
I do have to warn you though:
Attachment tends to stir us up,
it makes us feel:
hot around the collar,
maybe a little queasy in the stomach.
You might want to escape the room.
But I promise:
You’re not alone in this feeling.
We all have to deal with this
attachment business together.
Q. What do you need to know to put on your attachment hat ?
Principle #1 :
Attachment is intertwined with fear
It’s important to know that neurobiologically..
Our attachment systems and our fear systems are intertwined.
And that’s across our lifespans.
So let’s imagine I experience a threat:
I get some negative feedback at my job.
And so my fear system fires up,
and it says:
“You are in trouble !”
…and stress hormones are released.
If, during this time I reach out to someone
who’s a secure attachment figure for me,
like my husband Jordan,
and I say
“Oh my gosh !
“I’m gonna lose my job !“
He might say :
“That sounds really, really, tough honey.
but it’s probably not as bad
as you think it is “
“and, if it is, we’ll figure it out together “
So now my attachment system is turned on.
It helps calm and down regulate my fear system.
That’s pretty straightforward
but what if I call my husband Jordan
and he doesn’t give me what I want.
What if he says:
“Honey you are always
making a big deal out of nothing
and I’m in the middle of something
so let’s talk about this later “
Now i’m in a bind
because the person who
I needed to call …
My fear system is just
amping it up.
And this is one of the things
that makes our romantic relationships
and it ties to what Beckes and Coan call:
“The Distress-Relief Dynamic”
I turn to you when I’m in distress,
you give me some support,
I experience some relief,
and we repeat it.
It’s pretty straightforward
and it’s the making of a secure attachment
in any relationship.
But it’s harder than it looks.
If we think back to me on the bike…
I was in distress
but I wasn’t expressing that in a way
that was going to get me the support
and the relief that I needed.
Principle number one is that
our fear and our attachment systems
Childhood affects attachment experiences
We didn’t get to choose as kids
how well our distress was relieved
or how secure was the attachment that we had,
and it may have changed over the course of our childhoods.
John Bowlby’s work on internal working models
tells us that in our earliest relationships
we form internal working models
of ourselves and of others.
And if our caregivers were mostly
safe and responsive
then these models of ourselves and others
are pretty positive.
We all struggle in some way
with our internal working models.
These are the basic attachment fears:
“Am I good enough ?”
“Am I lovable ?”
“Can I count on you ?”
“Can you handle me ?“
We carry these fears into our current relationships
and sometimes they become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Back to me on the bike..
When I put on my attachment hat
I was thinking a lot about
my childhood fear of not being good enough
and how that was tying into my current fear
of not being fast enough –
to ride with Jordan.
But this was leading me to come across
as angry and irritable.
Which was just gonna push Jordan away.
and confirm for me
that I wasn’t good enough.
Principle number two is about
how we carry our fears into our current
relationships in different ways.
Our attachment styles can vary
So now we’re getting to what you really want to know.
Q. What are the attachment styles ?
– and what’s yours ?
When we are in distress
and our attachment needs
are not being met…
We have two choices…
We can either amp up
-which is higher attachment related anxiety
We can tamp down
-which is higher attachment related avoidance
So when I am at my best,
I’m more secure.
When I’m at my worst,
I’m a more anxious.
Four attachment styles
and these four attachment styles
were originally developed by Mary Ainsworth.
So let’s go through them one at a time,
1. Anxious attachment style
If we are higher on attachment related anxiety,
then in our dating relationships,
we can be worried about being rejected.
We can come across as a little too much in the beginning..
We can over share,
We can be hyper vigilant, to our partner’s cues in ongoing relationships
“You look a lot more excited
to ride your bike with Dave
than you do with me.
What’s that mean ?”
And when we’re upset
We spin in our heads,
And we can maximize our distress.
When we’re upset you know it.
Back to me on the bike…
We both knew I was angry
2. Avoidant attachment style
What if you’re someone who tends to minimize
rather than maximize your distress?
Then we are higher on attachment related avoidance.
And so, in our dating relationships
we don’t disclose as much about ourselves early on .
We come across as more aloof, or game playing.
In conflicts we want to get out of there
and we tend to minimize our distress
and distract ourselves with tasks
So my husband Jordan has higher attachment related avoidance.
And what this might look like is..
It’ll be a Thursday and he’ll say to me:
“you know, on Monday I was really upset about such and such”.
And I’m thinking:
“Okay, I was with you on Monday,
and I couldn’t tell you were upset,
and number two..”
“why didn’t you tell me on Monday?”
But Jordan has learned to cope with the stress
by sort of ignoring it for a while.
And so it can take him a little while
to realize what’s going on.
Whereas it takes me like 15 seconds.
This is why I love to ask Jordan’s scaling questions:
“On a scale of one to ten, how upset are you ?”
..because otherwise I can’t tell.
What if we’re someone who’s higher on both ?
We’ve got more attachment related anxiety
more attachment related avoidance.
This is the third attachment style, called the…
3. Fearful – Avoidant attachment style
This can happen for us when the people that were supposed to be safe around,
that we were supposed to be able to rely on
growing up just weren’t that…
And maybe they weren’t that safe.
And so now we’re in this position of
really longing for connection
but feeling like it could be dangerous
we do higher amounts of both:
We move towards…
and then we pull away.
Now we’re on to our fourth and final
4. Secure attachment style
This is like the how-to of relationships –
what we’re all going for right ?
and it’s when we have
lower attachment related anxiety
lower attachment related avoidance.
-because we all have some.
So people who are more secure
in their dating relationships,
they’re able to take it seriously
they’re not holding on to it so tight that
they think they’re gonna die
if their relationship ends.
And this was a personal favorite,
and a life lesson for me,
since I tend to be an over sharer:
People who are more secure
regulate their disclosures
based on how much
the other person is sharing.
In their ongoing relationships they’re better able
to give their partners the benefit of the doubt.
“If you’re tired or distracted
that doesn’t mean that you
don’t care about me.“
And in conflict…
They’re more out to understand
than they are out to win.
So let’s talk more about how these
attachment styles lead into
our conflict patterns.
Principle number 4:
Attachment underlies conflict.
Therapist and researcher Sue Johnson
helped us understand how
attachment related anxiety and avoidance
feed into a very common pattern of conflict
in couples called…
The Pursue-Withdrawal Pattern
So in my own marriage
I tend to be
the pursuer, because I have
higher attachment related anxiety
than my husband.
-and he tends to be the avoider
or the withdrawer because
he has higher attachment related avoidance
But let’s talk about a different couple.
Let’s talk about Maya and Gabby.
So, a little background…
Maya has higher attachment anxiety
-and she’s learned to amp-up to get heard.
Gabby has higher attachment avoidance
-she’s learned to cope with the stress
by putting her head down and working.
Which she’s really good at.
So, Gabby’s working late
and Maya’s home,
lonely and getting increasingly irritable.
By the time Gabby comes home
Maya criticizes her:
“You’re always late. “
Gabby defends herself:
“It’s not all the time
and it’s just this temporary project.
It’ll be over soon.“
As soon as one person minimizes
another person maximizes.
So Maya makes her case
and Gabby starts to get overwhelmed,
she feels like:
“Okay whatever I’m saying
is making it worse..
so I’m just going to shut down
and distract myself with tasks “
And then Gabby’s left feeling like
Maya doesn’t care
and this cycle will repeat itself.
Maybe on another day
with a different topic.
It also shows us four important things
about the four principles of attachment
that we’ve talked about so far…
So it helps us understand that:
#1: Attachment is intertwined with the stress
It shows us what it looks like when
that distress relief dynamic
So both Maya and Gabby are in distress
but they’re unable to really
help each other.
#2: Our childhood fears can play out in our current ongoing conflicts
Our fears that we aren’t good enough
and that we can’t rely on the other person.
#3: attachment related anxiety and avoidance
can feed into a pursue-withdrawal conflict cycle
#4 number four
and perhaps most important,
it shows us that a lot of times couples
think they’re fighting about
someone coming home late,
but what they’re really fighting about is:
“Do you see me ?”
“Do you value me ?”
“Do you need me ?”
“Can I count on you?”
and until that gets addressed and articulated
they’re unlikely to
be able to resolve the conflict.
So what do we do about this ?
We can begin to talk and think about
our attachment styles
Principle #5: Attachment is key to connection
So we can explore our own attachment style
as well as the attachment styles
of the people that we’re connected to.
We can watch for that pursue-withdrawal pattern in our relationships.
When we see it we can name it:
“Oh, we did that thing again.”
“Where I am up..
..and then you tamp down…
..and I amp up some more…
..then you shut down.”
Once we name it then we can begin to change it.
And then the last one is
We can take a risk …
and share our attachment needs and fears.
So if we go back to Maya and Gabby…
Maya might have been able to say
“When you are late
I’m worried that it’s about me.”
And Gabby might have been able to say:
“You know work is how I bring value
and when you dismiss that
I feel really unworthy. “
Here’s how I did it on the bike …
I used all five principles:
I understood that I was in distress
and I was going to need my husband Jordan to reassure me.
I realized that my childhood fear of not being good enough
was getting triggered ..
and that was leading me to come across
as the more anxious attachment style.
and that was going to just push Jordan away in that pursuit-withdrawal pattern
and I used
To take a risk and tell him what I was feeling.
and this is what that sounded like ..
When he waited for me at the top of the hill,
instead of unleashing my fury, I said:
“You know what, honey
I’ve been riding along here
and feeling really cranky
and I wasn’t sure why “
and I realized
it’s because I’m worried that
you don’t really want to be out here with me
that you wish you were riding with Mike or Dave,
That I’m just too slow.
That you’re not even getting a workout.”
Jordan, being the supportive person that he is was able to say:
“It’s okay that you’re slow “
I was slow !!!
“I was slow once too –
and today isn’t about getting a workout.
Today’s about being together.
Do you want to lead ?
Because we can go at your pace.”
And I said:
“Are you sure ?
because we could just ride separately
and meet back at the house ?”
And he said:
“I’m sure. “
To wrap this up…
Talking about attachment
we hate it.
If we can take the risk
and talk about our fears
then we can decrease conflict
and increase connection
with the people that we love.
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