Category Archives: Relationships

Synchronicity…

The definition of synchronicity is: “The coincidental occurrence of events that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality”.

I love synchronicity and it seems like the more one is aware of it, the more one sees the
relatedness of all things in the universe…

I have been writing about attachment styles and relationships for the past couple of weeks, and synchronistically, had a refresher course within in my own extended family relationships.  I was reminded of how deeply ingrained these patterns of attachment can be and how difficult it can be to see them for what they are. 

I was really angry with a harsh comment made by one family member about another.  The family member that the comment was about is a person I am used to feeling very protective of, due to things that happened in the distant past, more than ten years ago.  I was so angry and upset that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  After reflecting on, and questioning, the level and intensity of my anger, and writing about the issue, I realized, after a week or so, that my reaction to the comment was quite an overreaction.

I realized several things…that my reaction was based on old, now irrelevant, patterns of interaction, that the person who made the comment was likely having a tough time and could have used some support, and that, at some level, I was holding on to old resentments.  The resentment was not only directed at the person who made the comment, but, and this was very surprising to me, was also directed towards the person the comment was about.  My family relationships are really important to me, and in retrospect, I can see how differently I could have handled things, if that old blind spot had not been so intensely triggered.

It is not enough to just recognize that the pattern exists, It takes work to actually change it.  It is my responsibility to ‘own’ that this is my issue and to let the people involved know that, but it is not easy.  It involves letting go of that person and realizing that they don’t need protection anymore (read: doesn’t need me)….and there, in that statement, is that fear of loss/abandonment I spoke of in the relationship posts… if one lets go a little bit it feels like there is a risk of losing the person.  In this case, there was also trauma involved, not for me, but being a helpless bystander to trauma is also very difficult and has long lasting effects.  The feelings of resentment are a hangover from feeling helpless (this is a topic for a whole other post).

There is always risk attached to every relationship.  We need to learn to tolerate this.  When we have a new baby, for example, we often feel intense love followed by extreme anxiety that something might happen to this little being that we love so much.  Unless we practice tolerating the risks, we will not be free to fully enjoy love.

This pattern, in these particular relationships, was deeply hidden from me until now.  The synchronicity of this situation occurring, at just the same time I had relationships and
attachment uppermost in my mind, was the universe’s way of letting me know that maybe… I was just ready to let go.

This is a good example of how attachment applies to all relationships, not just couple relationships.  Breaking free from these patterns is enlightening and freeing and is one giant step on the pathway to being the best version of ourselves that we can be.

Relationships Can Be So Difficult (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post I talked about secure and insecure relationship styles and perception.  In this post I would like to try to bring the two things together and give some examples of how these concepts actually play out in relationships.

Sue Johnson, author and developer of  ‘Emotion Focused Couple Therapy’, describes relationships as a dance, a pattern of interacting between couples where both intimately know the steps and follow and respond to the others’ steps.  She likens couple therapy to changing the music, learning a new dance.

One of the most common patterns, among others, in this emotional dance is the combination of the pursuer style and the withdrawer style.
Each of these two styles of relating represent insecure patterns of attachment.  Although the two styles look very different, as far as outward behaviour goes, the common denominator underlying each is FEAR – fear of abandonment, fear of loss, fear of not being loveable, fear of not ever being good enough.

The pursuer is motivated by the intention of getting closer to his or her partner, feeling closer, feeling loved and heard and important, feeling like he or she matters.  The withdrawer feels overwhelmed and afraid of emotional closeness.  He or she responds to the pursuer’s attempts at closeness by shutting down emotionally and withdrawing, not responding, refusing to answer the pursuer’s attempts to ‘get closer’.  The withdrawer feels frustrated and angry, as if nothing he or she does to prove their love is recognized, nothing is ever enough.  As you can imagine, this interactional style leads to pain, frustration and anger on both parts.  Neither partner feels their needs are being met, both feel alone, rejected and in pain.

Now, we have to add perception into the story again.  If one has the relational style of the pursuer, there are many experiences and emotional reactions that have influenced the development of this over the person’s life, BUT, oftentimes, the pursuer has no idea of what is contributing to the way he or she feels in the context of a relationship.  He or she is living the paradoxical experience of simultaneously believing, on the one hand, that the partner is responsible for the intense feelings experienced,  If only he or she would respond this way or that way then this relationship would be perfect.  On the other hand, the pursuer feels like it is all their fault, if only they could be perfect then surely their partner would love and respond to them differently.

This whole scenario may play out this way in a relationship:  our characters in this little story are Sarah and Chris.  Let’s say that both are in their mid-forties, that Sarah has a pursuer style and Chris has a withdrawer style.  Sarah says that Chris doesn’t listen to her, she feels very distant from him, and he doesn’t spend much time with her.  She feels hurt and angry and lonely.  Sometimes when he is out, Sarah feels panicky and tries to call and see if he is okay.  Sometimes he doesn’t answer the phone and Sarah feels anxiety that he is going to leave her or that he might be seeing someone else.  When Chris gets home, Sarah is all over him and he shakes her off.  Sarah feels a lot of anger and begins bringing up previous times this has happened.  Chris yells at her to leave him alone and stomps into the bedroom and slams the door.  Sarah cries.

So, what might be going on here?  Sarah has an insecure attachment style and a deep fear of abandonment.  She loves Chris and tries to get assurances from him that he loves her.  Here is the crux of the issue.  Chris loves Sarah too but due to his insecure attachment and fears of being hurt and abandoned, he is terrified of emotional intimacy, which is what Sarah is after.  Emotional intimacy is fueled by a deep sense of trust in the other and a deep sense of trust in the self.  Chris perceives Sarah’s longing for his affection and at some level if fills him with fear.  He hears the accusation in her voice and he perceives that he is not good enough, that he tries but he can’t meet her expectations.  In a defensive move, Chris puts up his great wall and withdraws to perceived safety behind it.  Sarah, on the other hand, sees his withdrawal not as his fear, but as some kind of proof that all her fears are true, that he doesn’t love her, that she is not meeting his expectations or surely he would have seen her pain and addressed it.  Another aspect to this issue is that when Chris does tell Sarah he loves her and wants to be with her, it is difficult for Sarah to perceive the truth in the statement, due to the internal patterns that tell her this can’t possibly be true.  This unsatisfying feeling leads Sarah to require constant feedback which is perceived by Chris as the sense that what he says and does is never enough, that he himself is not good enough.

Obviously this is a somewhat simplified, but common scenario, one of an infinite number of different situations.  The point is that in relationships where both partners have an insecure attachment style, the real message is neither being spoken, nor heard.  The pattern that each partner is stuck in is one of miscommunication and misunderstanding.  These patterns can be very deep rooted and it takes hard work, willingness to grow, courage, and the ability to open oneself and be vulnerable, to reset the music.  These patterns cycle and each partner is triggered by his or her own internal music (attachment style) and by his or her perception of what the partner is saying.

I will stop here, this post has gotten quite long.  I will return to this topic in the near future, with a Part 3.  Please, as always, feel free to comment or ask questions.

 

Relationships Can Be So Difficult…(Part 1)

One of the most common reasons for people to seek counselling is that they are having difficulty maintaining healthy and fulfilling relationships with others.  In this post I am going to be talking about couple relationships specifically and how the nature of the couple relationship is related to attachment style.  Although I am focusing on couple relationships in this post, the underlying theory on attachment applies to relationships with family and friends as well.  Couple relationships can be one of the most joyful and satisfying experiences in life but they can also be one of the most difficult and painful.  It is possible, through understanding, work and insight, to create the type of relationship that you desire, be it with a current partner or a potential partner.

‘Attachment style’ refers to how we relate to ourselves and our partners in the context of an intimate relationship.  It encompasses how we feel and think about ourselves, our partner and the interactions and patterns of communication that occur in the space between the two partners, in the relationship.   Attachment style develops in childhood and is based mainly on the type and quality of our early relationships with caregivers.  For many and varied reasons, it happens that sometimes, as vulnerable children, we do not feel safe, and the development of a secure attachment pattern is interrupted.

Attachment style can basically be broken down into two types, secure and  insecure.  There are several specific subcategories of insecure attachment but for the purpose of simplicity, I will just refer to secure or insecure attachment in this post.

A person with a secure attachment style generally holds a worldview that includes a basic trust of others. a belief that he or she is lovable and a sense of self that is stable and doesn’t shift and change depending on who one is with.  People who have a secure attachment style are able to understand and accept their own imperfections and those of their partner. This style of attachment allows people to understand that the world is not black and white, that there are gray areas and uncertainties and risks inherent in relationships.  This style allows one to fully engage emotionally in the relationship and contributes to deep intimacy, growth and fulfillment. The secure attachment style encompasses a self that can be trusted and relied upon to manage and survive should the relationship end.

Given the qualities of the secure attachment style, it follows that the insecure attachment style begins with a basic lack of trust in the self and others.  A person with an insecure attachment style questions, often outside of conscious awareness, their own value, judgment and worth.  If one doubts their own value, it follows that one would also question how someone else could actually, truly love them.  And when someone comes along who does love them, it is difficult to trust that this is true.  This underlying insecurity leads to constant doubt in the self, the partner and the relationship.  It leads to many behaviours and reactions that damage and erode the relationship and the cycle is self-perpetuating.   And to top that off, it is likely that people with insecure attachment styles are attracted to, and in a relationship with, partners who also have an insecure attachment style.

One pattern of relationship that results from insecure attachment styles is the one that is full of fear, manifesting in jealousy, suspicion, possessiveness and controlling behaviours.  The underlying mechanism here is a PRIMAL FEAR of abandonment.  The fear is intense and is difficult to disengage from.  Thoughts and fears around the partner and the relationship are pervasive and the resulting behaviours and reactions range from intense, fearful clinging to the partner to intense rage towards the partner and everything in between.  There is a wide spectrum of severity in these behaviours, from what would be perceived as flattering jealousy or possessiveness, at one end, to severe restrictive behaviours at the other, such as one partner not allowing the other to leave the home.

We need now to touch on the subject of perception.  How we perceive ourselves, other people and relationships is unique and subjective.  Our own, individual perceptions are coloured by our past experiences and belief systems.  So, each person has a unique pair of glasses, or lenses, through which they view the world.  If we put on a pair of glasses that have tinted pink lenses, what we see will be pink objects in the world.  Our perception of ourselves and others is coloured by the collection of emotional experiences we have had from birth onwards.  When we are very young, and before we really have language skills, experiences are stored in consciousness as emotional impressions and reactions.  When young children experience the fear of being alone, rejected or abandoned, it is a PRIMAL FEAR that feels like a threat to their life and existence.  They will adapt their behaviour in many ways in order to get their needs met and feel some sense of security.  When we grow up, these patterns, fears and reactions are buried deeply in our subconscious.  We interpret and react, as adults, through our individual collection of experiences, in other words, through our unique lens.

I am going to end this post here.  This is a ton of information to take in and think about.  If you are interested in this topic, it would be useful and helpful to take some time to journal or think about what type of attachment style you think you have and about what events and situations may have coloured how you perceive the world.

I will post Part 2 in the next week and will give some concrete examples of how relationships develop and what reactions are triggered when there is an insecure attachment style.

Please feel free to comment on this post, including letting me know if it is logical and understandable, or too theoretical, or any other thoughts you might have about it.

Kelly