How Our Attachment Style Impacts Our Life and Relationships

Do you know what attachment style you have? I would venture a guess most people don’t. Yet if you ever spent hours on the internet “googling” why your relationships might be struggling, then you have probably come across Attachment Theory.

Attachment Theory is an area of psychology that describes the nature of emotional attachment between humans. It begins as children with our attachment to our parents.

Our attachment style affects every aspect of our life–how we relate to people, how we view the world, how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. The model of attachment influences how we each react to our needs and how we go about getting our needs met. Remember most people are only as needy as their unmet needs. Hence a great deal of your success in relationships–or lack thereof–can be explained by how you learned to relate to others throughout your childhood as well as later in life.

This is why learning about our attachment style can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities. It can also help us figure out why we struggle in our relationships. All our relationships (familial, professional, romantic, friendship) are all impacted by our attachment pattern. While your attachment style doesn’t necessary explain EVERYTHING about your relationships, it most likely explains a great deal about why your close relationships have succeeded or failed.

An attachment pattern is established in early childhood and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood. It develops when we are young children with our attachment to our parents. The very nature of this attachment, and how well it is fostered and cared for, will then influence the nature our attachment later in life. Often if a person has a difficult relationship with one of their parents and never works through this, they will struggle with their relationships. How you give and receive love is greatly shaped and influenced by one or two critical people in your life: your parents.

Attachment theory began in the 1960s. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth studied interactions between caregivers and their child. (Anyone who has studied human development or early childhood education certainly studied Bowlby and Ainsworth). These researchers found that the nature in which infants get their needs met by their parents significantly contributes to their attachment “strategy” and later studies showed how our attachment styles are reflected in our adult relationships. How emotionally available your parents were influenced the type of attachment we form with them.

There are 4 attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant.

-People with a secure attachment stye are comfortable discussing their feelings, showing affection, and display a high level of self-confidence. These people are capable of accepting rejection and moving on but are also capable of being loyal and self-sacrificing. They are trustworthy and capable of trusting others they are close to. Secure people are comfortable being themselves, talking about what is upsetting them, and won’t worry about their partner leaving them. Secure people can offer support to their partner and tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. If you can see yourself clearly, stayed grounded, and talk through difficult things in an open manner without shutting down or getting emotionally flooded, you probably have a secure attachment style.

-People with a more anxious attachment style have more trouble trusting people, need constant reassurance, and have trouble being alone. They often fall into unhealthy or even abusive relationships. These people often look to their partner to complete or rescue them. Anxious types have more trouble forgiving, trusting people, and maintaining relationships. Their behavioral can be overly emotional, erratic, and irrational. They are the ones who will complain about their partner and probably burst into tears while doing it.

-People with avoidant attachment styles are self-directed, independent, and sometimes uncomfortable with intimacy. They often fear people are trying to control them and will distance themselves from their partner. Avoidants often design their life in a way to avoid too much intimate contact or commitment. These people prefer to keep to themselves, do not like to talk about their feelings, and don’t give their partner the chance to let them down. These people often respond to intimacy by feeling anxious, helpless, or distrustful.

-People who are anxious-avoidant are not only afraid of commitment and intimacy, but they distrust and lash out emotionally at anyone who tries to get close to them. Anxious avoidants are low in confidence and less likely to express emotions preferring to suppress them. They can have emotional outbursts when under stress. These people tend to find it very hard to be vulnerable with others.

I copied and pasted a link to discover both your attachment style and your partner’s.

From a developmental perspective, inconsistent parenting in childhood makes it difficult to make sense of the parent’s behavior. This is what leads to issues with developing a secure attachment. A child doesn’t understand why their parent is behaving in a certain manner. If a child lacks stability and cannot predict the future, then the child can’t feel secure. Hence why people who grew up in chaotic environments tend to struggle with attachment. Our attachment style affects how we experience ourselves, and in turn, how we are in relationships.

As a counselor, I often see attachment theory come to the forefront of sessions. Many people come into counseling because they are having a problem with an important relationship in their life. A person who is having chronic difficulties in their relationships in all likelihood does not have a secure attachment style OR is dealing with a person who is not secure themselves.

People with insecure attachment styles can be either anxious or avoidant or anxious-avoidant, but in a sense people with insecure attachment styles all have the same baseline starting point—they’re all very sensitive to attachment issues in the relationship and they’re not good at expressing their feelings and communicating.

As a clinician, I see a lot of preoccupied attachment style. A person who has a preoccupied attachment style works really hard to understand why THE OTHER PERSON did this, why it happened, etc. I find this to be particularly true of our romantic relationships. My client may think if they understand the why of what their ex did, they will be able to feel better or move on. The problem with this line of reasoning is what happens in our relationships with other people often involves people who have their OWN internal struggles and issues they may or may not be conscious of. I tell clients if you are trying to make sense of someone else’s behavior you are ASSUMING they are acting RATIONALLY and with CONSCIOUS intent. This is a bit of stretch as it is very common for people to act unconsciously especially in the throes of conflict or under stress.

It’s important to remember that even with effective communication, some problems won’t be solved immediately. What’s vital is the other person’s response–whether they are concerned about your well-being, have your best interests in mind, and are willing to work on things.

We have to keep in mind, the human brain does its best to understand the world by putting things in well-defined categories and this includes the people in our lives. We like to be able to predict the behavior of others (this is all a subconscious process).

Part of this process, it is scanning our environment for threat cues. If we detect a threat, we go into overdrive seeing whatever threats are out in our external environment. If it cannot justify what is going on in the present to justify the level of upset being experienced, the brain will start scanning our memories INCLUDING OUR CHILDHOOD MEMORIES. Every memory that comes up often triggers other memories associated with it. This is why often when we are triggered by someone, they may remind us of someone from our past.

Often, we cannot make sense out of our pain and the reason we are so hurt by a certain person. This is where exploring your attachment style can help to give you answers. THE TRUTH IS YOU CANNOT MAKE SENSE OUT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR. AND OFTEN WE OURSELVES MAY BE NOT BE THINKING RATIONALLY. Attachment theory gives understanding to why so much dysfunction plays out in relationships. It also explains why we may have developed some dysfunctional patterns of relating to others.

My goal for all my clients is for them to be able to regulate their own emotions, without the constant reassurance, of another person. To be securely attached it to be able to manage all the relationships in your life, including the one with yourself, in a healthy way. Everyone should aim to be securely attached: to think clearly, to be authentic, and set strong boundaries.

Counseling can help to change maladaptive attachment patterns. Compassion is crucial when dealing with maladaptive attachment styles–you likely developed these habits to protect yourself as a child. First, you must become aware of your attachment style, challenge the fears and insecurities of your old model, and develop a new style for sustaining a loving, satisfying relationship–with yourself and others.

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou therapy, LLC

590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110

973-963-7485

etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com

STOP Being So Serious: Why It is Time to Lighten Up

I am not sure what it is but many of us take ourselves far too seriously, and this shows in the amount of stress we have in our daily lives.

Often I find people develop the habit of being over serious. I think something happens to some people when they hit adulthood. Life is not all fun and games, but NO fun and NO games! Everything is taken SO literally and everything is QUITE serious—including other people!

I have worked with clients who would take every person, every conversation, every situation in their life SO seriously to the point it was causing them much distress. The truth is most things in life are NOT that serious.

Often to give some perspective to these clients, I employ clients to use the 10/10/10 rule:

-Will this matter in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?

These questions help to give some distance and thus some perspective to whatever it is that is on our mind.

Here’s the thing-serious people are not necessarily suffering depression or unhappy. They simply live their lives with a default position of soberness. A serious person often does not laugh or smile easily. They do not joke around or make light of situations. Often this approach to life can make others uncomfortable especially those who don’t take themselves quite so seriously.

Being too serious can arise from being guarded, anxious, or from living in a scarcity mindset. Being seriousness might give the person the false illusion that they are protecting themselves from disappointment or hurt with their “realistic” expectations and “serious” demeanor. They often see themselves as the adult in the room, the pragmatist–certainly not a dreamer!

Yet when we take ourselves seriously, we take others seriously, too—that’s why their words, opinions, and beliefs can hurt us. You are also likely to misjudge other people’s reaction if you are too serious about everything. A serious attitude makes it difficult to connect with others. When you stop taking everything so seriously, you make more genuine connections that can have a positive influence on your life.

My advice for clients who are struggling with a sense of over seriousness? Get out of your own head. All that overthinking is not worth your sanity. Try to stop taking everything so seriously and witness the difference that makes in your life. Go for whatever you have always wanted, but make sure to have fun in the process.

By learning how to spread some lightness into your life, you can stop being too serious and spend more time enjoying life.

The goal? Live and let live.

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou therapy, LLC

590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110

973-963-7485

etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com

The Paradox of Low Self-Esteem: Why We Focus More on Ourselves When Our Self-Worth is Lacking

A common goal people turn to counseling for is to work on their self-esteem.

As a counselor, I have found many people struggle to like themselves. It is a sad truth that as a species we are very critical of ourselves (and often in turn of others). Time and time again, I have seen clients with SO MUCH GOING FOR THEMSELVES struggle with a sense of self-loathing or low self-worth.

The odd thing I have discovered it that when people struggle with low self-esteem, they often become semi-obsessed with themselves. By this I mean their main focus is a self-focus. They repeatedly ruminate over things related to themselves: WHY did I do THAT?! Why did I say THAT?! What was I THINKING?! and so on and so forth. A person with low self-esteem may spend hours worrying about things they said and questioning if they offended anyone. They seek reassurance and habitually misinterpret other people’s words and actions as they relate to THEM. The less we like ourselves the more we focus on ourselves and others’ perceptions of us.

An interesting paradox seemingly occurs when you don’t like yourself – the more you dislike yourself, the more you focus on every aspect of yourself with an unrelenting stream of negative thoughts.  Seems rather counter intuitive, doesn’t it?  I don’t like myself, so therefore I’m going to focus on myself to the extreme?

The point right now is that not liking yourself has some pretty awful consequences.

If You Do Not Like Yourself…

1. You Will Not treat yourself well

Treating yourself well is multifaceted – it applies to all of life.  Here are a handful of examples of treating yourself well:

  • Investing in yourself— education, starting a business, exercise, eating well, saving for your future, self-care
  • Actively pursuing your goals and making progress in your life (FOLLOWING THROUGH)
  • Reflecting on your life
  • Productively spending your time
  • Being a lifelong learner
  • Taking care of your physically and mental health-routine doctor’s visits, counseling, mindfulness practice
  • Having self-compassion
  • Not allowing others to mistreat you

Examples of not investing in yourself – you are afraid to take risks, you play small and stay put in your comfort zone; you abuse yourself with food, drugs, alcohol; entertaining yourself all day with low consciousness level entertainment (TV, Video games, mindlessly sitting on your phone, hours on social media, etc.), carelessness with your health, procrastinating, using others,  accepting your life as is, and being passive overall.

2. You Perceive Yourself As Inferior. OR AS SUPERIOR. (2 sides of same coin)

If you don’t like yourself, it is because you believe other people are better in some way.  Or you perceive yourself with a false sense of superiority. As Adler famously said the superior complex and inferior complex are tied together.

Mental health requires the recognition in many ways we are average—but there are certain aspects of ourselves that may be above average (or below average). If you think of yourself as above average or below average across the board, this is reflective of something deeper going on.

3. You ARE CYNICAL. OF YOURSELF and others.

There is no positive spin in the mind of those who dislike themselves.  Cynicism is a way of life for these folks.  Life has no silver lining if you don’t like the person you are showing up as.

sEARCHING FOR “EXTERNAL” VALIDATION Mindset

If you don’t believe you have value, you’ll seek to get validation somewhere else, and that is where your focus will be.  This leads you to WONDER what everyone else thinks of you—hence why you often ruminate over what others’ said, did, or did not say or do as a reflection of your self-worth.  As such, you’ll be so desperately self-absorbed in your rumination of what other people think of you that you begin to manipulate people into giving you validation (fishing for compliments, boasting excessively, etc.). Thus how you are self-focused—even though it is through the eyes of others and what THEY think of YOU.

The problem with this line of thinking is it gives away your power to others – if you look to your mother to validate your success in life and she tells you that you should have went into business like your sister, and you didn’t think much of your success to begin with, your mom has now just dealt you a devastating blow to your self-esteem.  You’ll not only believe your mom, but you’ll take it a step further by attaching your value to your career.  This is because you’re looking for something outside of yourself – anything and anyone – that can tell you how valuable or not you are. This is a distorted thinking in a nutshell.

You become self-absorbed when you’re focused on everything in your life as how it relates back to yourself.  You look to others to provide this information to you, hoping that it is positive.  But even when it is positive, you’re not convinced.  The negative feedback you receive carries a lot more weight than the positive – because you’d already like yourself if you believed the positive feedback.  Or wouldn’t need positive feedback in the first place!

HOW COUNSELING CAN HELP

The first step in getting out of a bad situation is understanding it.  Counseling can be a great first step to developing an authentic sense of self-worth because we explore the root causes and explore how you got to where you are in your life’s journey.

Force yourself to invest in yourself. This includes developing a strong sense of self-worth and good mental & emotional health. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Taking action first is one of two ways that people can change – it causes a change in perception through experience.  The other way is a paradigm shift in one’s perception of reality by enhanced understanding (which is how CBT-cognitive behavior therapy- can help). Seeking professional help is a great idea – they’ve dealt with this issue before. A qualified mental health professional can help you overcome the self-esteem issues that have been plaguing you and hindering your growth.

When You Like Yourself…

Life is full of possibilities.  Sure, you have struggles and problems, but you believe you can overcome them instead of accepting them as permanent and impossible to overcome.  You are able to acknowledge the good in others without feeling threatened by it because you are comfortable in your own skin. Instead of looking for validation, you can GIVE validation–to yourself and others. You can be a positive force of change in your life and the lives of those around you.

Don’t wait. Today is as good of a day as any to begin.

If you are struggling to cope with your self-esteem, counseling can help.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou therapy, LLC

590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110

973-963-7485

etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com