Attachment theory gives us an understanding of how our childhood experiences can affect our adult relationships. It tells us that if you grow up in a loving home where you bond with your parents, you are more likely to make healthy choices and form secure attachments later in life. If you are neglected, abused or suffered trauma as a child, you may struggle to build close attachments later in life.
There are four general attachment patterns, with most people fitting into one or a combination of these:
- Secure – You are able to foster secure attachments and embrace warm and loving relationships.
- Avoidant – You are not comfortable with intimacy and closeness and tend to be emotionally distant.
- Anxious – You feel needy and insecure in your relationships.
- Disorganized – You both avoid intimacy and are needy. Your relationships are in constant turmoil.
Understanding your attachment style, and where it comes from, is the first step to making positive change – change that is essential to wellbeing and happiness. Being able to build securely attached relationships as an adult and having a partner who fulfills our intrinsic emotional needs and serves as a secure base—is vital to emotional and physical health.
Securely attached adults are more calm and confident, experience less depression and anxiety, have a more positive outlook, sustain a deeper sense of meaning and purpose and can maintain intimate and reciprocal relationships.
We have a basic need to depend on a partner who is safe and emotionally close. This need is psychological and biological – pre-wired into the limbic brain. The ability to trust and depend on a partner results in a “broaden-and-build” cycle in that the sense of security increases a person’s emotional stability in times of stress, making it easier to recover following adversity.
Although early attachment is at the core of our beliefs, emotions, behaviors and morality, it is possible to change our attachment patterns. By working closely with a qualified therapist, you can resolve trauma and build the communication skills that will allow you to build a healthy and loving relationship with your partner.
What does this look like?
Communication is the basis of meaningful relationships and secure attachment. It promotes empathy, understanding, support, and need fulfillment, and fosters constructive problem solving and conflict management. The communication method we have developed at Evergreen Psychotherapy Center is Attachment Communication Training (ACT), which we have effectively used with both children and adults for more than three decades.
Utilizing ACT, we help couples change destructive patterns, such as “attack-defend” and “pursue-withdraw.” This communication format interrupts the negative feedback loop of escalating and damaging reactions in the relationship. Couples are coached in therapy and must practice at home to change the dance.
Our goals when working with couples are to help them:
- Understand how prior relationships provide the framework for how they view themselves and their partners in close relationships, and how relationship patterns (“the dance”) develop.
- Create a secure relationship where both partners are emotionally available, genuinely involved and responsive in a sensitive and caring way.
- Establish trust and a sense of safety and comfort, especially during difficult times and distressing emotions (“fight fair”).
- Change the dance – learn constructive communication and conflict-management skills so that partners respond to one another’s needs and emotions with empathy, understanding and support, rather than with anger, rejection or withdrawal.
- Experience a secure relationship with the therapist, who models attunement, support, self-control, patience and appropriate boundaries.
For more information on how we help adults overcome trauma and build lasting and loving relationships visit evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com.