Attachment, Part 2

Just wanted to follow up from my last post, because this is an area where I imagine that things will continue to be messy for a long time. Not necessarily bad, but messy – of course, many things that are worthwhile are.

I’m pretty sure that the whole anxious attachment style allies not only to romantic relationships, but also to friendships, as well. I know that in the past, when a friend who is very close has suddenly decided to stop talking to me for an extended period of time, I immediately assume it was somehow my fault, even when there is no evidence of that – partly because I want to continue to think the best of my friends, and partly because I don’t have a historically high self-esteem. I think there’s probably a middle ground there, though – just because a friend has stopped communication, it doesn’t mean I did anything wrong – and it also doesn’t mean they did, either. Especially if I don’t know what happened to cause the radio silence, I need to work on my obsessing about why it happened, because it’s often painful and severely distracting for me. I do prefer it is I know what happened, but sometimes a person just needs some space, and even as a good friend I am not entitled to know what’s going on with them – as much as I may want to, it is up to my friend to communicate, or not. I do still hope that my friends feel like they can come to me if they need to talk, though.

In cases where the relationship becomes a bit more confusing, though, so does everything else. Having romantic feelings for another person seems to cause a whole new bundle of things to go right – or wrong, depending on how things work out. I know that when my heart gets involved, The characteristics of an anxious attachment type come out in force. I want more intimacy – whether mental, emotional, or physical – from the relationship, because that’s always been one of the hallmarks of a romantic relationship in my head. And I know that for some people I’ll probably run into, and maybe even fall for, this will be a big issue, because one of the big points raised in the book Attached I mentioned in my previous post is that people of the anxious type are often drawn to people of the avoidant type – and this can lead to a lot of misery.As they note in Attached, anxious attachment type people probably shouldn’t get together with avoidant people for several reasons:

  • where anxious people want closeness and intimacy, avoidant people want to maintain distance, emotional and/or physical
  • where anxious people are very sensitive to signs of rejection, avoidant people often send mixed signals that can come across as rejecting
  • where anxious people find it hard to tell a partner directly what they need and what is bothering them, avoidant people tend to be bad at reading verbal or nonverbal cues and/or don’t think it is their responsibility to do so
  • while anxious people need to be reassured and to feel loved and cared for, avoidant people will often put a partner down or withdraw emotionally to create the distance the desire
  • where anxious people want to know exactly where they stand in a relationship, avoidant people prefer to keep things fuzzy and undefined
  • while anxious people want to be able to depend heavily on their partner, avoidant people feel a strong need to assert their independence in relationships

If you look at this and think you’ve gone through a relationship where things like this have happened, then you’ve fallen into what the authors of Attached call the Anxious-Avoidant Trap – an anxious partner will pursue their partner for intimacy, while the avoidant partner will pull away for independence, in a vicious cycle that tends to continue until the avoidant person decides to move on or the anxious person can work up the will to try to break out of a relationship that isn’t good for them – which requires a lot of willpower because the anxious partner has likely formed a deep attachment to the other person, and even leaving a bad relationship can be really hard if you love someone a great deal.

Now, I don’t mean to say that avoidant attachment type people are bad people – far from it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be independent; it’s caused a lot of things to get done in the world, because sometimes you just have to do things yourself without waiting for others. I just wanted to point out that, when anxious attachment type people and avoidant attachemnt type people get together, there is a lot of potential for things to go really wrong. Relationships between anxious and avoidant people can work, of course, and they can even be really rewarding – but they require a lot of self-awareness and willingness to put a lot of work into the relationship from both parties, and that is hard a lot of the time.

I’m not sure what my relationship status is, honestly. I wish I knew more, but I’m sadly still pretty new to this, so I guess I’ll see how things go, and whether my new information will make any difference.

Attachment

So I’ve been doing some reading about attachment (seriously, look at my past blog posts, people, of course I did some reading!). I found what seem to be a couple good things to read through, which I’ll go into in a bit. But from all I can tell, I definitely fall into the anxious-preoccupied attachment type – though I’ll just call it the anxious type from now on, just because it’s easier to type out. .It’s been some interesting reading, finding out exactly what that seems to mean – and if you are interested in finding out your own type, you can take this test, the Attachment Styles and Close Relationships test.

The hallmarks of being an anxious attachment type person are kind of odd, really. I mean, I tend to take a while to warm up to people; I’m pretty introverted. So, the things that define the anxious attachment type are a little surprising. They are:

  • You want closeness and intimacy.
  • You are very sensitive to any signs of rejection, and express insecurities.
  • You find it hard to tell others directly what you need and what’s bothering you (effective communication), and use protest behaviors (excessive attempts to reestablish contact, acting hostile, keeping score, etc.) instead.
  • You need to be reassured and feel loved.
  • You need to know exactly where you stand in a relationship.
  • You are unhappy when not in a relationship.
  • You play games to keep attention or interest.
  • You let the other person set the tone of the relationship.
  • You are preoccupied with the relationship, devoting a great deal of emotional energy into the relationship.
  • You fear that small acts will ruin the relationship, and believe you must work hard to keep the other person’s interest.

It sounds really weird, but looking at it, it makes a lot of sense. When I’m in, or close to being, in a relationship, I do want a lot of closeness and intimacy. I’m not ordinarily a touchy-feely kind of person, but with someone I am interested in, I want a great deal of contact, physical or otherwise. I’m just terrible at knowing how to ask for it, because it’s just so counter to what I have traditionally been taught to expect. And I know I get anxious when I don’t get a chance to be close to the object of my affection, and that comes out in a lot of insecurity – I obsess over whether or not I have done anything wrong, and I take any blame for anything that might have happened on myself – because I assume it must have been my screwup.Thinking about it, almost all of those things make sense to me.

A large part of what I am finding out about this particular style, and how this attachment style interacts with other attachment styles, comes from two sources – one is slightly more technical and more dispassionate; this one is a work by a man named Jeb Kinnison, who has worked in computer and cognitive science, called Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner. I found this one kind of dry, and not particularly friendly to someone coming to it from out of the field, but it did give me some good advice on where else to look. It pointed me towards another book that I found much more useful and reader-friendly, called Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love. It’s written by two people who seem to have done extensive research in the field, Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A. It’s been much easier to get into, and had a lot of advice on how an anxious attachment type person can survive and thrive in relationships – what kinds of things to look for and avoid, both in yourself and others. I assume that the other parts of the book would be similarly helpful to people with other attachment types, but I’m not one of them, so I don’t know.

I think that anyone who has ever been unsure of confused about relationships, and why the ones they are in keep going wrong, should read Attached, and I definitely think everyone should take the quiz above. Especially if you end up as a secure attachment type, because then I might need to ask you for some advice. :)

Identification

So, after a fair amount of thought over the past few days, I think I’ve come up with a list of the ways in which my insecurities manifest themselves. While depressingly long, it gives me a place to start from; otherwise, without knowing exactly how my insecurities show up, I can’t really work to make any of them better. So, without further ado:

1. Intelligence. I know I’m smart, but I am constantly worried that the people around me, especially the people I view as peers, friends, and others such relationships, will think I’m dumb. I often feel that what I have to say on a subject is not that smart or interesting, especially compared to what others are saying. and so when this starts happening, I generally just clam up and wait, hoping that maybe I can interject something that sounds goods somewhere along the line. This was particularly bad when I was in grad school, because I was surrounded by people who shared my interests, and who always seemed (and some certainly did) to have more intelligent, more important things to say.

2. Appearance. This is another big one. I have trouble looking in the mirror in the morning after showering, because I’m never particularly happy with what I see. I know I’m overweight, and I can accept that, but it’s still not nice to look at. I’m also not a very good judge of what makes a guy attractive, but I’ve always had a nagging feeling that whatever it is, I don’t have it. Naturally, when you feel like you’re unattractive and overweight, this brings up issues when talking to one’s preferred gender, and I imagine that lack of confidence in my appearance has resulted in most of the rejections I’ve had from women.

3. Motivation. This, I think, is probably largely tied to my depression, but it can certainly make things problematic, especially where it ties in with my other insecurities. I’ve never had a huge degree of motivation for anything; I just don’t feel that drive to get things done that I see other people as having. There are things I want to do, sure, but my motivation comes in very finite amounts – if I go all-out on something, it will only last for a little while, and then I’ll burn out, lose interest, and never finish. This, I think, is what frequently happens with my efforts at things like weight loss; I start out motivated, but I can only keep up that drive for a week, two weeks, maybe a month. And then I just don’t feel it anymore.

4. Attachment. This is probably a big one – possibly the biggest one, at the moment – for me. A friend who I mentioned this to actually said that she thought I might have an attachment disorder. Now, I know the internet can be dangerous about such things – I remember looking up some things on Borderline Personality Disorder and being horrified by how misleading it was. So everything I have done is preliminary. But I figure Wikipedia, while not the greatest authority, might be a place to at least start. So I found an article on attachment in adults. It lists four separate types of attachment: secure, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and anxious-preoccupied. Reading through the descriptions, initially, anxious-preoccupied seems to fit well for me; I’ll quote it here: “People with anxious-preoccupied attachment type tend to agree with the following statements: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like”, and “I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners. Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners’ lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.” I know that the closer I feel to another person, the more contact I want with them, and I start to spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m doing wrong. I create scenarios in my head of what they’re thinking about me, and how I’m going to far, which makes me constantly question everything I say and do – did I look at her too long? Did I say the wrong thing? Did I make that hug last a second too long? I feel like however the other person sees me, they will eventually see through that image and see how screwed up I really am and leave me, and I always wonder when that shoe will drop. I take the blame for everything that goes wrong, because I feel like it is always my fault – I said something stupid, I was inconsiderate, I wasn’t hospitable enough. Reading up on this, I can see how toxic this must be to the other person, because my second-guessing myself can lead to them doing the same thing, and they might notice this and want to put some distance between us to try and work through their own issues. But the distance makes me feel even more needy. I’m not qualified to diagnose myself, of course, but it does seem to have a fair degree of resemblance to me.

These are all things I’ll need to discuss with my therapist when I see him tomorrow. I know that some of them are the very epitome of what a group leader at Menninger tried to hammer into us: “Thoughts are not facts.” So, now that I think I’ve identified the big areas, I need to start watching for when they pop up so that I can knock them back down. Hopefully moving forward with this, at least to  some degree, might help me save my friendship.

Realigning

I’m sitting here reading an e-mail, and realizing how close my insecurities have come to ruining – and which may still ruin – one of my closest friendships. I know that I’m insecure, and I don’t want to be, and I don’t want to lose my friendship or my friend because I drove them away. So I need to work on changing some things in my life.

The problem is, I’m not really sure what. Nothing I’ve read has prepared me for this; nothing that I remember from my treatment has made this something I know how to fix, or even where to start. I know that knowing I’m insecure is a first step, but the problem is that, metaphorically, after I take that step, I can’t see where to go from there.

On the one hand, I feel like I might throw up because now I may be losing a friend for good when only a year ago I would have thought we couldn’t be much closer. But There’s also a kind of sense of relief in knowing what my part in this might be, and knowing what I need to focus on – at least, focus on first – to try and mend things. Maybe it’s just bent, not broken, and that just means it can be slowly bent back.

So, I guess what I am asking my readers is this – do you know of any resources (books, online articles, people to talk to) that are reputable and could help me to try to confront and deal with my relationship insecurities? I know that my friendship, in its current stage, is in kind of a limbo space. And I won’t really have a chance to work on that until after I go back to St. Louis in November to help figure out what my parents will be able to take with them when they move. So I have about three weeks to show my friend that I’m making a good-faith effort to try and fix things on my end. Ordinarily I’d probably make some sort of joke about crowdsourcing ways to help my insecurity, but that would just be me avoiding the reality here.

I could lose a friend, and I don’t want to. So if you have any helpful things you can tell, show, give, or demonstrate to me, I’m asking you to let me know.

My first search gets me this: Overcoming Insecurity in Relationships

Messy Days

My feelings have been all kind of messed-up for the last few days, making sleep hard to get and relaxation even harder – I keep realizing that my jaw is clenched for no apparent reason, and it’s giving me headaches. I have a good idea why, but it’s not really something I feel comfortable airing just at the moment. Hearing from more friends would not be unwelcome, though. So instead, I thought I would link to this article, since it’s both interesting and a little scary:

Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness

Destiny

Despite the title, I don’t really believe in destiny. By that, I mean that I don’t think there’s some grand plan for all of us. We aren’t necessarily meant to do anything in particular; there’s no greater purpose. Well, at least not to our individual lives. I think we all have free will, and in order for free will to work, there can’t really be a plan for each of us – because if there was, it would mean that everything we were to do had already been planned out, and that no matter what we did it was what was planned for. Which, given some of the terrible things we can go through – and some of the painful, messed-up things I’ve been through in particular – would mean that the plan for me has been pretty sadistic. I’d prefer to believe that we’d been set in motion, but left to find our own way through life and the universe.

Which, I guess, means that there’s nobody I’m meant to be with. It can feel like it at times, but I think it’s supposed to feel like that in a good relationship. But I know that when I feel something, something big and serious like (for instance) love, I can get pretty intense about it. I take it very seriously, maybe too much so. I don’t feel inclined towards romance all that often, but when I do, I guess I go for it all the way. And that can probably be weird and scary for the other person. It’s hard for me to admit how I feel in a romantic sense, and even harder to express it, but I know what I feel. I also know that my lack of ability to express myself can be confusing or disheartening. I can say the words, and I can mean them, but without much of an ability to express myself, I don’t know how real it feels for the other person. Maybe not enough. My lacking in that area has been a part of at least one failure to get a relationship off the ground, and I wonder if that will keep being a failing that will doom my relationships.

I’m just conflicted. I know how I feel, but not how the other person does. Maybe they don’t know, either.I know that I also have a tendency to assume that things that seem wrong or strange are somehow my fault. Sometimes they might be, but sometimes they aren’t, or can’t be. I assume that I am more of a part of things than I am, and that ends up in unnecessary feelings of guilt for me and trouble expressing what’s really going on for the other person. At this point, I don’t really know what to say. I’m confused, frustrated, hurt, scared. Maybe even a little angry. I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t deal well with the unknown. I know it might be none of my business, but it’s weird. I want to help, because I feel helpless. I want to do something, because knowing nothing is driving my anxiety level up the wall.

Life is confusing. And I hate to think that somehow this is all planned. Because if so, it’s a really painful plan.

Worrying

I’m a worrier.

For those of you who know me, this is no surprise. I worry about my friends, my family, the people I care about. High on my list right now is Calla, because I know there’s a lot going on with her, and I wish I could help; I know I still have feelings for her, even though I’ve come to terms with the idea that we won’t have a romantic relationship; there’s a gap between the rational side of my mind – the part that know’s we are just friends – and the emotional side, which spent months building up feelings for her, and is extremely slow to let them go. I’m stubborn like that. I worry about my friend who is switching medications, because she seems to be taking it pretty hard, and it’s not like things have been terribly easy on her. I worry about my other friend here, who’s a single guy and an awesome friend who just seems to have a hard time catching a break. I know it’s coming, but I still worry about him.

I know I worry, and I know it can be intense and annoying. It can cause me to try to intrude more than I should, and just be more of an ass than I normally am.I also know that for a lot of people, this would be a cause of a lot of stress. But I worry because I choose to, not because I have to. I want my friends to be happy, and I worry about them when things aren’t going so well. I’ve had one friend come very close to killing herself – not one of the above friends, a separate one, in Canada – and another actually go through with it – my friend Alice, my took her life in June. I know that I can’t change the past, and that ‘what if…’ scenarios will just mess with my head. But I wonder if having someone to reach out to, or who reached out to her, might have made a difference. So I worry about my friends because I never want to see one of them get to that point again, or if they do, to know that I am here for whatever help or support I can give.

In other news, things are proceeding as planned, and I know that two blog entries in two days is pretty unusual for these times – more reminiscent of my early blogging. But I had this on my mind, and I spent the day at work thinking about it – well, the part of my work day when I wasn’t going through the process of reporting a workplace injury, because I slipped on a loose piece of cardboard and twisted my knee. It’s nothing serious, but I’m going to be limping around for a day or so. Thankfully, I’ve got the next two days off, so I’ll be able to keep things easy on my knee. So, whoever is reading this, don’t worry; it isn’t serious, just an annoyance, and I’ll be fine in a day or two.