Attachment 101- a primer.

Attachment 101- a primer.

Every self help section at your local bookstore is inundated with supposed secret recipes for relational ecstasy. I’ve read a fair number of them (one of the hazards of the job), most are bollocks, some are interesting and a few are actually rather good. The good ones often have quite a solid theoretical foundation borrowed from psychology, socio-biology and neuroscience. But it seems that no matter how much information is out there on relationships (certainly more than there was 20 years ago), intimate, sustainable relatedness appears to be fading fast from our social milieux. Perhaps it has always been like this and that people stayed glued together by social convention and deprivation. I pondered all this at some ungodly hour…and decided to explore the concept of attachment in general. Let me share my musings.

The concept of attachment is important because it forms a blueprint of the types of relationships we (mostly unconsciously) seek out. Take John Bowlby for example, he was a Cambridge educated psychologist who did some groundbreaking research with infants in the 1960s which shed a lot of light on how we create attachments in childhood. Together with Mary Ainsworth they developed assessment tools to accurately track and measure our attachment patterns as we mature into adults.

More recent research over the past 40 years has helped us realize that adult attachment parallels what happens in infancy. And here’s the rub: our prime desire is for a secure attachment.

What are the elements of a secure attachment?

A pivotal factor appears to be emotional responsiveness, no surprise there, but what is interesting is what one finds when you deconstruct it further. Emotional responsiveness appears to have three key elements.

1. Accessibility

I can reach my partner easily, share my deepest feelings with them and know that I am important to them. My partner is available to me.

2. Responsiveness

I can lean on my partner when I’m anxious or in need of comfort. I know even when we fight that I’m important. My partner will come close or let me know that I matter when I need them. In learning to be a responsive partner, we get to practise getting back to our special person at all times, sometimes even when we are incredibly busy, tired or focused on other pursuits.

3. Engagement

I know we are close even when we are far apart. I can be close and share almost anything with my partner. I know that he or she cares about my joys and fears. They can hold me safely in their mind. One of the prime ways we can practise being an engaged partner is by being present, not just physically but by being aware of what’s happening inside of them by being interested in their internal landscape.

The three elements of a secure relationship appear to be quite simple right? So why do so many of us struggle to attach securely when it is what we claim to seek so desperately? Well, that would be where our ‘baggage’ comes in… that old, heavy, dusty trunk filled with shadow and gold that we drag into each successive relationship with us. It contains the bones of our ‘imago’, our idealized, magical other that we dress up in fancy clothes and project onto whatever hapless soul seeker we choose to ‘perform’intimate relatedness with. We drag them onto a smoke lit stage, dazed, excited while the music plays. Poor buggers, they never stood a chance, because at some stage our projector flickers and eventually stops and we are left with the truth of what the other has always been, flawed, imperfect, just as we are. We are incensed, or disappointed, or we use the truth of the other to cut ourselves free from intimacy because with attachment comes risk, of loss, of expansion…

So where does that leave us dear reader? Confused? Seeking magic potions and Dr Phil’s to soothe our existential isolation, or fierce independence in an effort to remain safe from the other? Either way lies challenge, for at some stage you will need to look inside of yourself and take a fierce inventory of what you find before moving on or you will be doomed to continually repeat that which you desperately fear. Encouraging isn’t it?

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