Individual Counseling: Ambivalent attachment
Do you struggle to trust your partner? Do you need constant reassurance from s/he that s/he will be there for you long-term? Are you overly sensitive to his/her actions and moods? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be struggling with what is called Ambivalent Attachment. Often, people struggling with Ambivalent Attachment become upset easily and take their partner’s activity and/or words too personally. They create drama by acting out and not communicating effectively, frequently making statements that are hurtful and blaming and then regretting them later. More often than not, ambivalently attached people crave a lot of closeness and validation that their partner still likes them; they tend to fear that their partner will leave them at any moment.
If the above paragraph describes you and you wish to learn the secret of developing a more relaxed, safer connection with your partner continue reading. There are three main stages to going from an Ambivalent Attachment to a more Secure Attachment.
To help you intuitively understand the type of shift I am asking you to make, consider the following example: You touch a stovetop and you figure out the stovetop is hot. Next, despite knowing the stovetop is hot, you still put your hand on it. Finally, you resist the urge to touch the stovetop and use a potholder instead. This is what the three main stages of change are going to look like in creating a more relaxed, safer connection with your partner.
Stage 1: Figuring out how you connect with your partner through reflection of past, and possibly current, relationships.
Stage 2: Acknowledge your connection style, even if you don’t start to make changes.
Stage 3: Change your behaviors to start feeling safer and more connected within the relationship. Stage 3 involves six smaller steps in order to not feel as insecure within your relationships.
Step One: Figure out what has caused you to have such an anxious attachment- For some, it may come down to issues within your family growing up. Maybe your mother left when you were little or your father was never there emotionally when you needed him. People often reference family issues by stating that you have “daddy issues” or something along those lines.
For others, you may only have to go back to your first serious relationship and chalk it up to “relationship baggage.” Your girlfriend/boyfriend was an insensitive partner who didn’t truly care about your needs and you made sense of it in your brain that you aren’t important enough to be loved. You then tend to do all of the things listed in the first paragraph because you don’t trust that the relationship is real. The truth is, you are going to probably run into these insensitive, selfish people in least one relationship in your life. The saving grace of this statement is that not everyone is selfish and insensitive in relationships. Therefore, your thought process should not revolve around the one person that screwed you over 6 years ago.
After identifying the possible source of your relationship style, you can now work to repair the trauma that has occurred.
Step Two: Mourning what was lost- Either your parent physically was not present in your life or, they were present but you feel that you should have gotten more from them. Maybe you wanted more time with your parents, more emotional support, more support with homework, or more physical touch. It is okay to let yourself wallow in grief. Let yourself be sad, angry, hurt, confused, afraid, or any other feeling you may feel due to the lack of relationship you so yearned for as a child, and today as an adult.
Like any intimate relationship that ends, you must mourn it’s ending. Let yourself feel the loss of the relationship. You can also look at what you liked and didn’t like in the relationship to better prepare yourself for your next partnership. Were there times that you thought your relationship was healthy but instead s/he was avoiding you? Was your partner negligent of you but you rationalized it as them being busy at work? What were key features in the relationship that you felt secure but it wasn’t okay to actually feel safe? Feeling safe when you shouldn’t have led you to second-guess your instincts in future relationships, thus being anxious and insecure in your current relationships.
Step Three: Acknowledge what you have gained- Low self-esteem, fear, insecurity, hopelessness, and/or lack of control of emotions are just a few of the negative characteristics you’ve most likely gained from what has been lost within your parent-child/intimate relationships. These characteristics allow you to distort your interactions within your relationships. It is important for you to be able to identity your interactions as they truly are. If your partner says that he/she cannot hang out tonight, it does not mean that they do not love you as much as yesterday; however, your relationship style will allow you to fear that this statement may be true.
Step Four: Learn to communicate- You don’t necessarily need to change your relationship style, just the way you interact with your partner. Be upfront about your needs within a relationship. Try to be in tune with your feelings as you navigate these needs. Be able to voice when you are feeling insecure, hurt, loved, cared for, doubtful. This is not the blame game. Using statements such as “You hurt me by ignoring me all day” are not healthy and will not get your needs met. Instead, use a statement such as “I feel really hurt (and possibly insecure) when I don’t have some type of communication with you throughout the day. Is it possible that we increase our contact?” This will give your partner insight into how you are feeling and allow them to comfort you, as well as the opportunity to fix it without feeling attacked that s/he did something wrong.
Step Five: Recognize when you’re feeling secure within the relationship- The things gained in step 3 prevent you from being able to recognize when your relationship is healthy and you can relax. After using step 4 to communicate your needs, trust that your partner will answer them. If your partner does not want to spend every waking moment with you, you are in a healthy relationship. On the flipside, if your partner isn’t avoiding you, you are in a healthy relationship. Avoiding you and being independent are different. Your partner may want to spend the night with their friends. That is okay. Recognize that this means they feel safe enough to not have to hang out with you all the time. Also, recognize that they’re texting you to check in or they call you before they go to bed; they are not avoiding you.
Step Six- Do not relationship hop- Resist the urge to start a new relationship right when you end an old one. Give yourself time to reflect on what went wrong. Give yourself time to correct your distortions of the relationship and see it with a clearer lens. An anxious person tends to need a lot of attention, despite it maybe not being healthy attention. Don’t settle into the next relationship simply so you can be receiving attention. Work to identify who tends to be secure in their relationships and will be able to meet your needs. A person who is anxious in their relationships with someone who tends to be avoidant in relationships is volatile. You will enter into a push/pull relationship that most likely won’t work. Two people who are overly needy in relationships together may sound like it would work great. Both of you will want to be around one another all the time and be able to meet your every need. This codependent relationship will get exhausting. Independence in a relationship is healthy.
Now that you have the tools to recognize a healthy relationship when you have one, go and enjoy it. Work to be in the moment and using the individual steps on a daily basis. After awhile, you will find that these steps become natural for you. Your thought process will start to change and you will be able to relax and feel secure within your relationship. The old, anxious you will be gone and the fun, well communicated you will be here to stay. At The Center For Growth, we offer individual counseling, and couples counseling, family therapy and support groups. You can self schedule an inperson or a virtual therapy appointment at one of the following locations.
Ocean City Therapy Office
360 West Ave, Floor 1, Ocean City, NJ 08226
- Mechanicsville Therapy Office
9044 Mann Drive, Mechanicsville Virginia, 23116
- Alpharetta Office
11720 Amber Park Drive, Suite 160, Alpharetta GA 30006
- Society Hill Therapy Office
233 S. 6th Street, C-33, Philadelphia PA 19106
- Art Museum / Fairmount Therapy Office
2401 Pennsylvania Ave, Suite 1a2, Philadelphia PA 19130
- Santa Fe Therapy Office, 2204 B Brothers Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87505
- Telemedicine: We have therapists who are licensed to work in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Virginia New Mexico and Pennsylvania