I’ve counseled this one family of four for about 1 year or so. The request for pastoral counseling (or family coaching) came when one of the young adult children just collapsed on the floor at work. She told her mom that she just can’t live like this anymore. The ongoing emotional drama was just too much for her and she gave her family the ultimatum. Get help or she’s moving out. It turns out that her mom had some deep wounds from her own childhood that leaked on to her children. For Debi (fictitious name) sometimes her own mother felt like she was her child. Her mother would vomit emotionally on her and she grew up taking in her of her mothers emotional garbage. Like any children she wanted a mom. She wasn’t asking much. Debi just wanted to cry on mommies shoulders when she needed to. She just wanted her mommy to defend her when she was bullied at school She wanted her mommy to help her fall asleep when she couldn’t and just be a normal mom. But the tables were turned way before Debi became an adult. Her own mother’s emotions were dysregulated and she poured out too much of her issues on her children. Therefore Debit could not attach herself to her mom securely because she was unsafe. Although Debi was never physically abused her emotions were bruised. She had to be the mom often times and it drained her. So how is this related to attachment styles? First let’s understand attachment styles.
There are four basic attachment styles.
- Secure attachment – Someone with secure attachment believes that he/she is loved and that her parents are able to love her. He/she TRUSTS that love and does not second guess it. He/she does not try to earn it and is accustomed to be complemented, trusted, and open about everything. This person is confident and reciprocates the love back to parents and others. This is the ideal attachment style which we all want.
- Anxious attachment – This person is preoccupied. He/she is emotionally hungry and craves nurturing. This person does not believe he/she can be loved and that the parents are able to love them. This person has trouble communicating his/her own needs and feels unworthy to ask for it and often ends up in turbulent relationships. This person says, “I’m not o.k. but you’re o.k.”
- Dismissive attachment – This is the over independent person who doesn’t put high value on relationships. He/she avoids intimacy and seem very emotionally distant. No matter how close you get to this person you’ll feel lonely because he/she doesn’t need you. This person says “I’m o.k. but you’re not o.k.”
- Fearful attachment – This person strongly feels rejection and becomes very needy. He/she fears being abandoned and will cling to the relationship becoming what the other person wants him/her to be. There is an internal conflict in this person and feels that most relationships are painful. This person says, “I’m not o.k. and you’re not o.k.”
So in Debi’s case her attachment style seems to be dismissive attachment. From what I have observed, Debi has clear boundaries after about 4 months of coaching. She knows when it’s her mother’s problem and that it’s o.k. not to meet all her needs. She’s learned quickly that she is not responsible for the happiness of her whole family. However, her mother still struggles with her own fearful attachment. She is internally conflicted and her interpretation of her childhood pain is disoriented. The mother learned that her dysregulated emotions create lies in her narrative. In another words, she feels first and then creates a story based on that feeling. It’s often inaccurate and hurtful for her family members. She starts accusing her family members of rejection and feels often isolated from the rest of them because of this cycle of interpreting their actions based on her emotions. She has learned to separate those emotions and organized her true feelings based on her cognitive information gathering and deciphering. I know that sounds very technical but it simply means that her cognitive side of her brain has more control now over her emotional side. She does not interpret other’s actions based on her emotion at that moment but relies on information gathering to override her inaccurate emotion. She feel what she should be feeling. So now she is able to label her own emotion based on facts of what happened rather than jumping to creating her own narrative based on what she was feeling.
All this to say that the various attachment styles gives all of us a lens by which we live out relationships. But there is hope. If your attachment styles anchors you down to your perceived emotion you can change that label by understanding better yourself and others. If any of these attachment styles is you and you feel trapped in some relationship funk please contact me via email and we can walk through to a more secure attachment that brings joy in your life. Jesus Christ truly brought secure attachment of God the Father to all of us and let us enjoy it. Holy Spirit dwells in you so rest in His arms securely. You are already reconciled to our Father through Jesus Christ. We know you’re secure because His love is based on eternal value you not temporal.