Ten Steps Toward Secure Attachment and an Awesome Relationship: Step 1
Learn to self soothe
Congratulations on taking the first step toward happier, more fulfilling relationships!
I'm going to share with you a little about attachment style and give you your first step to get started. I'll also give you recommendations for your particular attachment style.
You may already be familiar with attachment style, or this may all be new to you. Either way, I’m going to help you understand how your personal attachment style is playing into your relationship dynamics and how you can change your attachment style to make your relationships easier and more fulfilling.
When you know what your relationship patterns are and how they’re working for you (or not working for you!), you can make changes to attract the kind of people you want into your life.
Even more important than understanding your patterns is changing your patterns, and I’ll show you the path to do that.
Keep reading for Step 1.
I'm here to help.
We begin your process with a free confidential phone consultation. Schedule a free confidential Attachment Style Strategy Session with me to discuss how your attachment style has been impacting your relationships and what we can do to change it.
This ten-step program is designed to help you recognize the patterns you have and begin to make shifts. This is a conscious process. This is about becoming aware of your actions and behavior, and is an important step in the road to an awesome relationship — to feeling happy, safe, excited, fulfilled — all the juicy relational energy that you want and crave on a deep level.
Later we’ll talk about the deeper and more powerful change that takes place on a level below awareness which you can also learn how to access.
Still with me? Good. So take a deep breath and let’s start by talking about what attachment style is.
What is attachment anyway?
When I talk about attachment, I’m not talking about the Buddhist concept of “letting go”. I’m talking about the normal and healthy attachment we all have at a very young age to a primary caregiver — the term from psychology brought to us by John Bowlby. Babies are completely dependent on bigger people to take care of every need. And we need more than just food and shelter to be healthy happy functioning adults.
When a child is given consistent love and attention — not suffocating, but just the right amount of presence and responsiveness, along with playfulness and protection — that child learns their needs will be taken care of. They learn that from a very young age, they can cry and something good will happen. This is the ideal situation, one which doesn’t always happen, but when it happens enough, that child develops secure attachment.
Why is secure attachment important as an adult?
If an adult has secure attachment, they expect good things out of relationships. They’re comfortable expressing and hearing needs, they’re responsive and attuned to their partner. They’re playful, and fun, and they naturally are comfortable with closeness and separation because they trust that their partner will come back.
Unfortunately, kids don’t always have an ideal environment to develop secure attachment, so there are three other types of attachment style that can form instead: ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
So let’s quickly review the different attachment styles, or adaptations. These styles are adaptations because we’ve found a way to adapt to situations when we were very young or what we’ve experienced as adults. For more detail on the 4 attachment styles, check out this page.
The 4 attachment styles
Ambivalent, also called anxious or preoccupied attachment, develops because of an inconsistent or unreliable connection. When that’s us, we want a lot of reassurance and we want to hang on to the connection, so much that it might be difficult to say goodbye or wait for a partner to text back.
Avoidant, also called dismissive avoidant attachment, happens due to a lack of connection. This could be from a parent who isn’t around or doesn’t touch or only focuses on tasks rather than loving emotional connection. Because we didn’t have an environment that was safe to be vulnerable or have needs, we learn to rely on ourselves or ignore our needs for others, but that desire to connect is still buried underneath.
Disorganized attachment happens when the attachment system gets cross wired with the survival system, and develops when connection with a caregiver is scary or unpredictable due to trauma, life events, or other factors, even early medical procedures. It can be hard for us to manage our emotions and form lasting relationships with people.
Secure attachment is the ideal attachment created by a healthy bond with a caregiver. Adults with secure attachment have an easier time in relationships, are more resilient, attuned to their partners, comfortable hearing and expressing needs, playful, and responsive. Fortunately, we all have a blueprint for secure attachment.
Most people are not 100% of one particular attachment style, but a blend of the different styles. You might find that you’re more avoidant in one situation and more disorganized in another. Or you might be more secure with one person and more ambivalent with another.
The goal isn’t to label yourself into a box, but to understand your patterns and how to change them. So recognize that your attachment adaptation and behaviors are there because of your unique history, and have compassion for yourself.
But for now, you may be wondering… okay great, I have a little more information about this thing called Attachment Style, but what do I do about it? So here is one step to get you started.
Learn to self soothe
Life is full of ups and downs and relationships are no different. Whether it’s a difficult work situation or an argument with a partner, it’s important for us to be able to self regulate our emotions and physiological states. When we are in a romantic relationship, that person eventually becomes an attachment figure for us, and we respond to them in some ways the way we did to our original attachment figures as children — our parents.
But we’re not children, we’re adults, and as adults, we can be aware of our attachment patterns. We can learn to self soothe and ask our partner to help us soothe in ways that are appropriate to adult relationships.
Some people are aware when they’re stressed, and aware of body sensations that tell them something’s off; maybe they feel cortisol or other stress hormones. This might register as feeling shaky or “wired”.
For other people, their stress response might be more dissociative; they can feel detached or disconnected. Others might feel “spaced out” as their body puts on the brakes.
No matter what your attachment style, here is an exercise you can do to help release that anxiety.
Find a focal point.
Keeping your eyes on that point of focus, become aware of the space around it, above it to the ceiling, below it to the floor. Expand your peripheral vision so you’re aware of the walls on either side and almost to the very edge of your peripheral vision, as if you could reach the space behind you.
Then bring that original point back into focus.
Tips for different attachment styles:
If you have ambivalent attachment:
With ambivalent attachment, people look for external regulations from partners, friends, or family. While it’s important to reach out and get help when needed, it’s also important to regulate our own emotions without always relying on someone else to soothe us. It can be very empowering once you have tools to shift your own state.
And because the nervous system in the ambivalent adaptation tends toward sympathetic over-activation and high-energy emotional states like anxiety and anger, calming practices will be valuable for you.
Tip: Practice inner child work, where you connect to your inner child and give it loving reassurance.
If you have avoidant attachment:
In avoidant attachment, people often cope with anxiety by turning to distractions like Internet, games, meditating — activities that can be done solo. While some of these, such as meditating, are calming for the system, they can also increase disembodiment if practiced excessively without social engagement.
Find activities that help you be in your body and connect with people. The nervous system in avoidant adaptation tends toward parasympathetic over-activation, which can result in feeling disembodied and disconnected.
Studies show that avoidants can register stress physiologically even if they aren’t showing it externally, so begin to notice when you feel the need to withdraw and what you’re feeling in your body when that happens.
Here is a map of where emotions are commonly felt in the body.
Tip: A visualization for your attachment system will help you be more embodied and calm you at the same time. If you love meditating, focus on meditations that are somatic practices, where you have a “felt sense” experience of your body. Then when you feel calmer, connect with people again.
If you have disorganized attachment:
The disorganized adaptation has the most trouble with self soothing, so learning to calm your nervous system will be especially valuable. The disorganized adaptation is a combination of ambivalent and avoidant adaptation, and the nervous system also goes between sympathetic over-activation with its high emotional states and parasympathetic over-activation with its lower vitality and decreased interest in social connection.
It’s also helpful to notice when you’re beginning to dissociate or go into “freeze state”, as this is your body’s way of calming you down if these oscillations become too much for the system.
Tip: Because self-soothing is so important for disorganized attachment, a regular meditation practice that includes embodiment exercises will be useful for you. For example, practice a body scan where you move each part of your body while taking relaxed calming breaths.
I have a variety of tools I teach my clients to stop anxious thoughts and re-engage with joy.
Everything begins with you.
The entire process is customized to fit your needs. Schedule today for your Free Confidential Phone Consultation, and I’ll design a program to help you shift your attachment system and have happier healthier relationships!
Next time, we’ll talk about attunement and social awareness.