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Lesson 2: Adult Attachment

The theory of attachment continues to be an interesting area of research into human behavior: from John Bowlby’s pioneering work and Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation research (1969), to more recent research suggesting that a child’s temperament and a parent’s sensitivity to their child’s needs are variables that cannot be ignored.92

Like many of the behaviors we learn through interaction and experience with others, our ability to form healthy attachment and relationship is learned at an early age. From infancy, as our needs are met in a healthy, predictable, and safe environment, we develop secure attachments. However, if our needs go unmet—if we are neglected or forced to figure out how to survive on our own—we develop insecure attachments.93

I am constantly in and out of romantic relationships. Even when we’ve formed an amazing sexual connection, at some point, they lose interest in me. My most recent relationship with Bruce ended when he wanted to spend a day alone with his brother who was on military leave. Why doesn’t he want to include me in everything he has planned with his brother? Why doesn’t he love me? There is no excuse! I don’t need to be with someone who doesn’t love me as much as I love them!

Even when I don’t have a boyfriend, I always have Stephen. We’ve worked together for years. We definitely have times when our relationship is a little out of balance: one minute questionably close, and the next, it borders on hostility. For some reason, with us, there is no in-between. I know Stephen gets frustrated with me sometimes, threatening to stop working with me. When he gets this way, I know exactly what to do: I bring him his favorite coffee, shower him with praise, and act more friendly and flirty with him. He finally comes around.

I always have my family relationships to fall back on. I love them so much! Recently, when I received a promotion, we all went out to dinner. Well, only my brother and parents showed up. They must not have realized that we were

celebrating my accomplishment because they didn’t even bring me a gift. I offered to pay for dinner, even though I thought my parents would pay. They didn’t. I’ve always felt like they loved and accepted my siblings more than me. I’ll give them a few days of the “cold shoulder” to think about how they’ve hurt me.

After several days, when they didn’t call to apologize, I called to see if everything was okay. I immediately told them I had forgiven them and that it was all “water under the bridge.”

Abigale

ATTACHMENT STYLES

When it comes to the research done in determining attachment styles, the primary caregiver is often the mother; however, the following descriptions can apply to either or both parents, or any person who serves as a primary caregiver.

Children who are raised in an environment where their parents are available and attentive to their needs tend to be securely attached. In this environment, parents monitor and respond to their child’s needs, recognizing when help is needed, but disengaging appropriately. They step back and observe, allowing the child to explore their surroundings. When feeling distressed or frightened, the child quickly seeks comfort from the parent, is easily soothed, and returns to play. They expect their parents to be present, helpful, and encouraging as they develop their individuality and independence. A secure child learns that their physical and emotional needs will be met in a safe environment.

When parents are inattentive and neglectful of their child’s needs, the child becomes avoidantly attached. This causes a great deal of stress for the child, but they ignore or become disengaged with their parent. The parent-child relationship is not safe. The child has no expectation that their parent will meet any of their needs, resulting in an insecure attachment. An avoidant child learns to be self-reliant for their physical and emotional needs.

When a child is raised in an environment where parents are inconsistently available, this results in an ambivalent attachment. In many cases, the parent is present but distracted by their own stress and anxiety; therefore, they are not responsive or supportive of the child’s needs. The child becomes easily distressed, but is not soothed by a parent’s efforts to provide comfort. This results in an insecure attachment. An ambivalent child learns that the world is a scary place, where their physical and emotional needs will not be met in a safe environment.

Children who form a disorganized attachment have experienced conflict and stress with their parent, resulting in confusion about the safety of the environment. When distressed, they want comfort from their parent, but are equally reluctant to engage. The child will often move toward the parent, stop, and move away. They do not receive comfort from their parent and are not able to self-soothe. This results in an insecure attachment. A disorganized child learns that their parent and environment is frightening. They have resolved that their needs will not be met.

While many of us can identify our primary attachment style, our ability to attach is influenced by our childhood environment.94 Since our attachment style is learned behavior, we can develop a different style of attachment based on the relationships and influences we have throughout our lifetime.

For example, if a person was raised with a secure attachment, but spends years in an abusive, unsafe relationship, their attachment style will change—they will feel insecure in the relationship, which will impact their overall attachment style with others.

In a similar way, if a person was raised with an insecure attachment and then spends years in a healthy, loving, and safe relationship, their attachment style will change—they will feel secure in the relationship, which will influence the way they develop and attach to others.

The significance of understanding our attachment style—how well we bonded with our parents or other caregivers—is key to developing healthy relationships

KNOW YOUR ADULT ATTACHMENT STYLE MINI-QUESTIONNAIRE

Instructions: When completing this questionnaire, please focus on one significant relationship—ideally a current or past partner since the focus here is on adult relationships. This does not necessarily need to be a romantic relationship but must be the individual with whom you feel the most connection. Who is your primary “go to” person if you’re sick, in trouble, want to celebrate, or have news to share? This questionnaire is designed to be an interactive learning tool. Please highlight, circle, or comment on any statements that are particularly relevant to you or that you’d like to revisit for exploration at a later time. When responding, consider how strongly you identify with each statement. Using the scale below, respond in the space provided

PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE A DIAGNOSTIC TOOL, but it’s a good starting point to begin your personal exploration into your attachment styles.

SECURE

____ 1. I feel relaxed with my partner most of the time.
____ 2. I find it easy to flow between being close and connected with my partner to being on my own.
____ 3. If my partner and I hit a glitch, it is relatively easy for me to apologize, brainstorm a win-win solution, or repair the misattunement or disharmony.
____ 4. People are essentially good at heart.

____ 5. I attempt to discover and meet the needs of my partner whenever possible, and I feel comfortable expressing my own needs.
____ 6. It is a priority to keep agreements with my partner.
____ 7. I actively protect my partner from others and from harm and attempt to maintain safety in our relationship.
____ 8. I look at my partner with kindness and caring and look forward to our time together.
____ 9. I am comfortable being affectionate with my partner.
____ 10. I can keep secrets, protect my partner’s privacy, and respect boundaries.

Section Total: _______________
AVOIDANT/DISMISSIVE

____ 1. When my partner arrives home or approaches me, I feel inexplicably stressed— especially when he or she wants to connect.
____ 2. I find myself minimizing the importance of close relationships in my life.
____ 3. I insist on self-reliance; I have difficulty reaching out when I need help, and I do many of life’s tasks or my hobbies alone.
____ 4. I sometimes feel superior in not needing others and wish others were more self-sufficient.
____ 5. I feel like my partner is always there, but I would often prefer to have my own space unless I invite the connection.
____ 6. Sometimes I prefer casual sex instead of a committed relationship.
____ 7. I usually prefer relationships with things or animals instead of people.
____ 8. I often find eye contact uncomfortable and particularly difficult to maintain.
____ 9. It is easier for me to think things through than to express myself emotionally.
____ 10. When I lose a relationship, at first I might experience separation elation and then become depressed.

Section Total: _______________

ANXIOUS/AMBIVALENT

____ 1. I am always yearning for something or someone that I feel I cannot have and rarelyfeel satisfied.
____ 2. Sometimes, I over-function, over-adapt, over-accommodate others, or overapologize for things I didn’t do, in an attempt to stabilize connection.
____ 3. Over-focusing on others, I tend to lose myself in relationships.
____ 4. It is difficult for me to say NO or to set realistic boundaries.
____ 5. I chronically second-guess myself and sometimes wish I had said something differently.
____ 6. When I give more than I get, I often resent this and harbor a grudge. It is often difficult to receive love from my partner when they express it.
____ 7. It is difficult for me to be alone. If alone, I feel stressed, abandoned, hurt, and/or angry.
____ 8. At the same time as I feel a deep wish to be close with my partner, I also have a paralyzing fear of losing the relationship.
____ 9. I want to be close with my partner but feel angry at my partner at the same time. After anxiously awaiting my partner’s arrival, I end up picking fights.
____ 10. I often tend to “merge” or lose myself in my partner and feel what they feel, or want what they want.

Section Total: _______________
DISORGANIZED/DISORIENTED

____ 1. When I reach a certain level of intimacy with my partner, I sometimes experience inexplicable fear.
____ 2. When presented with problems, I often feel stumped and feel they are not resolvable.
____ 3. I have an exaggerated startle response when others approach me unexpectedly.
____ 4. My partner often comments or complains that I am controlling.
____ 5. I often expect the worst to happen in my relationship.
____ 6. Protection often feels out of reach. I struggle to feel safe with my partner.
____ 7. I have a hard time remembering and discussing the feelings related to my past attachment situations. I disconnect, dissociate, or get confused.
____ 8. Stuck in approach-avoidance patterns with my partner, I want closeness but am also afraid of the one I desire to be close with.
____ 9. My instinctive, active self-protective responses are often unavailable when possible danger is present – leaving me feeling immobilized, disconnected, or “gone.”
____ 10. Because I am easily confused or disoriented, especially when stressed, it is important for my partner to keep arrangements simple and clear.

Section Total: _______________

Scoring: For each section, add up your responses and record your total number. The section with the highest number will likely correspond to your unique attachment style. You may discover a dominant style or a mix of styles.

This questionnaire is not meant to be a label or diagnosis. It is only intended to indicate tendencies and prompt more useful, precise personal exploration.

We all have areas within our attachment styles where we are strong as well as areas that need improvement. Look at this as an opportunity to explore what we can learn about ourselves and how to build healthy relationship with God and others.

Looking Ahead

Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.

Assignments