The author can be found rummaging through life looking for nourishment in the early hours of the morning. He is slowly going sane by using his actual life and relationships to wake up.He lives in Cape Town with his teenaged daughter, two bassett hounds named Thelma and Louise and Digit... the cat. He hugs trees, has experienced numerous dark nights of the soul, collects incorrect Chinese packaging and tracks curious things to their lair.
Sirens of the deep.Psychotherapy November 26, 2013 - 3:35 am No Comment
If nothing else, I remain tenacious, for although I have lost much this year and throughout my life, I continue to learn. I am however not so enthused by how loss and learning often travel together.
Questions constellate, how does one move along this path of personal transformation and deal with the inevitability of loss and separation that comes with growth? Does one grow with someone, or are there parts of the journey that can only be traversed alone? So many bloody questions, so few breadcrumbs to follow.
At the moment, I keep going back to the theory of attachment looking for clues (a rich trove). Lets suppose as the theorists would have it, that our early caregiving experiences set up particular attachment styles which we carry with us into adulthood. In our relationships we unconsciously attempt to repair those initial wounds through intimate relatedness, but often end up recapitulating the initial wound thereby reinforcing old scripts of ourselves or others as unloveable,inadequate, punitive etc. This pattern often leads to repetition and heartache.
So what happens when one sees the pattern as a ‘mature’ adult?
I offer myself as the guinea pig.
Although I have chased intimate, secure attachment my whole life, driven by a deep hunger to connect through early parental neglect, it appears to have largely evaded me. At times,it created an anxious-preoccupied style of attachment within me as many of the people I was drawn to were primarily dismissive-avoidant, much like my primary caregivers (except for my wonderously available grandmother). Thanks to an extended period of secure care-giving from her, I miraculously emerged with a largely intact, resilient, secure attachment pattern (flecked with periods of anxious-preoccupation when the other is dismissive/avoidant).
An important addendum, when one is unaware of being in an attachment related repetition, it is quite possible for a codependent style of relatedness to develop which is often characterized by the dance of approach and avoidance. Exhausting stuff. So what to do?
As an adult, one is more aware of these ‘patterns’. Often the emotional discomfort one feels is a good marker that a repetition is afoot. Unfortunately, in many cases, we attempt to sort this repetition out by trying to change our partners behavior without acknowledging our own injury, or being spectacularly insensitive to their own struggles with intimate relatedness.
A period of reflection on what has been activated becomes important, does my partner activate the unavailable mother in me? Are they the controlling father? Do I feel invalidated? Where does this come from etc?
If one is in a relationship where both parties are receptive, aware and can work with their own ‘scripts’ (unfortunately this appears to be quite rare) it becomes possible to grow together, if not, the repetitions endure, evoking each others defenses and eventually the couple system breaks down. Difficult stuff.
In an attempt to map some of the terrain, I offer a brief description of each adult attachment pattern below, see if you can not only recognize aspects of your own style, but try and identify that ‘siren’ to which you are almost compulsively attracted to in relationships, in an unconscious effort to repair old injuries.
Most of the Securely attached people I know tend to agree with the following statements: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.” This style of attachment usually results from a history of warm and responsive interaction. Securely attached people tend to like themselves and their partners. Often they report greater satisfaction and adjustment in their relationships than people with other attachment styles. Securely attached people feel comfortable both with intimacy and with independence and many seek to balance these essential ingredients in their relationships.
Secure attachment is promoted by a caregiver who is emotionally available and appropriately responsive to her child’s attachment behavior, as well as capable of regulating both his or her positive and negative emotions.
People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment 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. 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.
People with a dismissive style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with these statements: “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.”, “It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient”, and “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.” People with this attachment style desire a high level of independence. The desire for independence often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. They often deny needing close relationships. Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy with relationship partners, whom they often view less positively than they view themselves. Investigators commonly note the defensive character of this attachment style. People with a dismissive–avoidant attachment style tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the sources of rejection (i.e., their relationship partners).
People with losses or sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence often develop this type of attachment and tend to agree with the following statements: “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.” People with this attachment style have mixed feelings about close relationships. On the one hand, they desire to have emotionally close relationships. On the other hand, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. These mixed feelings are combined with, sometimes unconscious, negative views about themselves and their partners. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their partners, and they don’t trust the intentions of their partners. Similarly to the dismissive–avoidant attachment style, people with a fearful–avoidant attachment style seek less intimacy from partners and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Instead, they are much less comfortable initially expressing affection.
This post is a work in progress, it offers a snapshot of a turgid period of personal reflection, but it is also an offering to help light your way in a murky quagmire. Some of us get the repetitions cognitively, but when these deeply ingrained ‘sirens’ emerge in relatedness, deep core emotions stalk the internal landscape and balanced, compassionate awareness is a rare commodity. Such a pity… because it is a pivotal opportunity for healing, for moving away from the repeated towards the needed.
No one said learning was going to be easy.