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. 🙂