It's all about the love...

Having recently attended a six-hour CPD study day on Attachment Theory, it got me thinking how pivotal understanding attachment is for clients. I, therefore, have come to the conclusion that attachment and our attachment style lays the foundation stones to one's life.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory has been around for many years and there are lots of different views and theories on the subject. What is played out in the counselling room could potentially arise from the attachment style the client received from their primary caregiver, predominantly from the ages of 0 to 7 years.

What the developing child was or was not subjected to could ultimately set the precedents to how they form, maintain and possibly sabotage important relationships as adults. 

It's thought that there are many attachment styles but the three main styles are:

  • secure attachment style
  • fearful-avoidant attachment style 
  • anxious/preoccupied attachment style

The secure attachment style

This type of person is thought to make up about 53% of the population, although I’m sure many therapists will argue this is not the case. They do not, as a rule, generally pitch up for counselling. They are self-assured, competent, and have a very good understanding of self and self-regulation. They have a natural resilience to anything life throws at them. They make and break relationships easily, usually without malice or harbouring any contempt.

They only present in the counselling room if they have a sudden bereavement or have experienced a sudden trauma that has temporarily knocked them off balance. Their default setting - or as I like to call it, their reset button - is usually a good one, and therefore, they are able to adjust to circumstances and events as they unfold.

The fearful-avoidant attachment style

This is a person who uses avoidance as a defence mechanism. People with avoidant attachment style may completely avoid relationships altogether, or keep anyone new they meet at a distance. They may sabotage their blossoming romances out of nowhere because they are scared their new partner will leave them, so they get in there first.

Possibly as a result of severe childhood trauma, emotional neglect, abandonment or abuse. Their exposure to severe trauma can cause long-term damaging effects, which changes the sensitivity and emotional/neural pathways to the brain. During childhood, the key emotion experienced was fear. They quite often present as stoic, which basically means they have had to learn quickly how to suppress their emotions.

Their reset button generally is a faulty one. They find it difficult to trust people and usually avoid new situations and relationships altogether. They may appear stand-offish and cold while wanting to remain aloof and distant in order to build an invisible shield of protection around their self. 

Anxious/preoccupied attachment style

These people tend to be self-critical, anxious and insecure. They are always on a quest to seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt.

In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and feel overly dependent on their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced. Their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.

They find it hard to express how they feel about themselves and usually have low self-worth and low self-esteem. Their emotions are usually suppressed deep within, and theirs is a strong sense of blame ad shame towards self. This may well be the client who self harms, has eating disorders and struggles with over control which can lead to debilitating anxiety and/or panic attacks.

Adults with preoccupied attachment patterns are often feeling desperate and assume the role of the “pursuer” in a relationship. They often have positive views of other people, especially their parents and their partner, and generally have a negative view of themselves.

They rely heavily on their partner to validate their self-worth. Because they grew up insecure based on the inconsistent availability of their caregivers, they are “rejection-sensitive.” They anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner is losing interest.

Their reset button is also a faulty one, and often present highly anxious and hyper-vigilant. They find new experiences daunting and are always in need of constant reassurance from others.

Whatever attachment style you feel may resonate with you, bringing it into your awareness will hopefully offer some light on how you make or break relationships with others.

We could also look at attachment it another more simplistic way...

If we think of a new build of a house, it is crucial from the onset to lay firm, solid foundations in order for the house to be supported and structurally sound. It generally remains unscathed, has the key components to make it fit for purpose and usually stands the test of time.

If the same new build is built on unbalanced and uneven foundations, it is usually not structurally sound. It will be missing the key components, will not be fit for purpose and may not stand the test of time!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Nicky Bates (MBACP) Director of The TLC Counselling Hub

A qualified nurse, trainer and assessor for 20 + years. Counselling was the next career step and certainly the best decision I ever made. I Founded the TLC Counselling Hub in July 2019 and it has gone from strength to strength. The Hub is involved in many charity events in and around Andover I'm excited to be working with companies within the town.… Read more

Written by Nicky Bates (MBACP) Director of The TLC Counselling Hub

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