Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on attachment theory and is a model that allows individuals, couples and families to have new experiences. In this model, emotions are seen as valuable information and powerful enough to evoke change when organized and constructed in meaningful ways. Individuals learn to interact with themselves, their partner and others in more vulnerable ways that enhance connection. Over time, the thoughts around the way they view themselves and others in their life change, and the way that they engage in the world transforms. Having a secure attachment allows these individuals to develop a positive view of self and others. This secure attachment enables them to reach for support and receive it, while maintaining the ability to regulate their own emotions and autonomy.
Attachment styles are all about how the individual approaches survival. In the different styles, individuals seek getting their needs met in different ways. Also, they respond differently when there is a threat to their needs. Finally, they have different ways of organizing in their mind what informs, confirms or disconfirms their view of self.
There are four primary attachment styles that include secure, avoidant, anxious or anxious-avoidant. It was once thought that the styles were formed in childhood and rigidly fixed. The good news for individuals and couples is that these styles are now known to be fluid. With the proper knowledge, experience and practice, clients can shift to a more secure attachment style.
Each style has its own unique way of coping with emotions and relationships.
Characteristics of Secure Attachment: Positive view of self and partner
- Finds it easy to trust self and others
- Can communicate clearly and directly
- Is attuned to their emotions
- Open, flexible and cooperative in their relationships
- Healthy Boundaries
- Handles problem solving and conflict resolution with control
Characteristics of an Avoidant Attachment: Positive view of self and Negative view of partner
- More independent
- Relies more on intellect than emotions
- Withdraws in relationships
- Puts less importance on the relationship
- Commitment issues
- Walled off
Characteristics of an Anxious Attachment: Negative view of self and Positive view of partner
- More likely to act out emotions
- Struggles to identify their own needs
- Rarely asks directly to have needs met
- Has a sensitive nervous system
- Depends on others to feed self-esteem/validation seeking
- Obsesses about relationship
Characteristics of an Anxious-Avoidant Attachment: Negative view of self and Negative view of partner
- Does not trust self or others
- Poor view of self
- Strongly fears rejection or abandonment
- High anxiety and volatility in relationships
- Fears intimacy
- Socially avoidant
People may find that their coping strategy is working for them individually and are often unaware that it is having an impact on their relationship. This impact that it is having on the other person is different from their intent. In therapy, their awareness of this impact increases and they are better able to learn skills to regulate their own emotions and learn how to co-regulate with their partner. Each partner learns to identify their own unique attachment needs and how to speak about these from a place of vulnerability rather than reactivity. This increases safety and invites for the reassurance and interconnectedness of their partners. As the couple learns to make sense of the negative pattern they are stuck in, they also learn to take the difficult behaviors of their partner less personally and reframe it in terms of them seeking an attachment need. This allows the partners to stop blaming each other and listen more intently and seek for understanding.
Growing a mindful awareness of our own attachment behaviors allows us to view them as a reaction to a deep wound rather than coming from a place of contempt, this opens up space in our hearts to see our own suffering in a new light and that of our partners.
The most common of all combinations in relationships tends to be a combination of one who pursues (anxious attachment) and one who withdraws (avoidant attachment). The pursuer is seeking to resolve the disconnection and the withdrawer perceives continuing the conversation as threatening to the relationship “It will only make things worse.” Both attachment styles have their unique ways of trying to protect the most important of all relationships. Sometimes a pursuer will become weary and “burn out.” They then appear to also be withdrawn or avoidant. There are thinking patterns that help a person identify which role they are truly implementing prior to giving up.
Common thinking patterns of a Pursuer:
- I don’t matter to him or her.
- I am alone.
- What I care about is not valued or important to him or her.
- I am not attractive or fun enough.
- My feelings are invalidated.
- I am abandoned. Not lovable.
Common thinking patters of a Withdrawer:
- It is never enough.
- I can’t meet their expectations.
- I am failing.
- It is a matter of self-preservation. I have to withdraw.
- I need to manage my own emotions.
- I am a poor communicator.
- I am not good enough. I am rejected.
When couples find themselves in distress and implement their own coping strategies, they have good intentions of both self-preservation and protecting their relationship. In the end, they do not realize that their unique coping strategy that works for them individually does not work for the relationship. This throws both partners into a negative pattern that continues to spin endlessly in a negative feedback loop. With help in therapy, couples can create a new positive feedback loop where both feel seen, heard and valued. They learn to shift their strategies to a more secure attachment. In this secure place, each partner’s needs are considered and the couple problem solves together after first connecting on a deep emotional level promoting safety and connection.
Looking for some help to identify your own negative cycle and guidance in how to create a new secure connection, reach out today for an initial appointment.
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