Do you ever find yourself wishing that you could just leave the past in the past, only to find it depressingly alive and well in the present moment?
I’ve been hyper-aware recently of all the ways in which some of my childhood experiences continue to (negatively) impact the way in which I show up in the present:
Sometimes I dive into things quickly; other times I stay reserved and detached for longer than I may actually enjoy.
Sometimes I feel anxious and activated; other times I feel dismissive and disengaged.
We humans are so complex, right?
I’m aware of all the ways that inconsistent and unpredictable attachment patterns, childhood emotional neglect, and dismissive/abusive caregiving have an impact on my own security systems, but often that knowledge isn’t enough to change unconsciously installed body-based patterns.
We actually need new relational experiences.
In. Real. Life.
I see this in myself and with my clients all the time: Information doesn’t heal; knowledge isn’t enough.
However, when we experience real people in real time showing up in new and truly empathic ways with us, old pain can finally be unlocked, released, and healed, especially when the person listening and receiving is able to stay nourishingly, emotionally, and empathically present.
In Attachment Disturbances in Adults, authors Dan Brown and David Elliot describe the kind of relational conditions that contribute to building secure attachments and healthy relationships between people.
If you’d like a little more clarity about how things are going in your own relationships with partnerships, friendships, acquaintances, or family, here are five relational states that can contribute to creating more healthy, securely attached relationships:
Does this person have your back, not all the time or during every fight, but just in general? Do you have their back? Do you feel like they are protective of you and your interests in addition to their own? Are you protective of their interests in addition to your own?
Does this person pay attention to you? Do you know their inner life and vice versa? Are you aware of each others’ mood states?
If you’re upset, can this person comfort you? Are your calmed by this person’s presence? Do they feel calmed and reassured by your presence?
Do each of you support each other in being your best selves? Can the relationship stand some differentiation? Does this person help you grow in and of yourself? Are you able to support their independent development too?
5. Expressed Delight
Do y’all like each other? Are you happy to see their car in the driveway when you get home? Do you light up when you see their call? Do they feel happy to see you? Are they able to express it with joy?
Quick acronym: PASSED (Protection, Attunement, Soothed, Support, Expressed Delight)
Carl Rogers described how healing happens naturally as a result of the sweet spot between empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard. British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott pointed to the importance of developing our ability to be with someone else without losing ourselves and being ourselves without losing the other person.
For those of us with attachment wounds, remember that healing is possible.
Relational wounds are healed in new, safer relational containers.
Stop returning to the scene of the crime. If you were wounded by inconsistent caregiving, choosing inconsistent partners and friends will simply entrench the wounds. If you were wounded by distant and dismissive caregivers, choosing dismissive and distant partners and friends will entrench the wounds.
These dynamics tend to simply reactivate the needy, addictive, clinging younger parts within, those that desperately need your attention and your loving embrace.
Instead, it may be helpful to seek out new, more relational experiences with people who may not feel so much “like home” to you.
Find empathic communities.
Find empathic friends and attuned partners.
Find a therapist that feels like a good fit to you.
Find people who are willing to love you in all your imperfections and still have your back.
As you heal, you’ll find yourself embracing the beautiful interplay between autonomy and intimacy while grounding your relationships in secure, healthy attachments.
As we wrap up, here’s a question for you:
What helps you to return to secure attachment when all your inner fears and anxieties get activated?
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: