There are many reasons why people may commence counselling or psychotherapy. One common reason is troubles or ongoing issues with relationships. Some people come to realise that they struggle to hold down a secure relationship for a meaningful length of time. Others may have identified issues when trying to relate to friends or family, while others may come to see a pattern within their relationships (friendship and/or romantic) that has become problematic and/or destructive. These relational issues may present in different ways. Some people may have become overly angry or passive aggressive toward their friends or family, while others may become overly clingy and insecure. Conversely, others may become withdrawn and avoid connection and interaction altogether. Despite the endless ways relational issues can present, one meaningful way of making sense of them is considering one’s attachment style.
Within psychology, attachment theory is a prominent research area which looks at the innate human drive to remain close to others for security and comfort. Think of a baby and their caregiver. For the baby to develop and feel safe, they require close contact with their caregiver, which includes a lot of consistent physical contact, face to face interaction, and overall togetherness. This need never leaves us; in adulthood, we require the same thing. However, depending on the type of care we have received from family and friends throughout our lives, the road to receiving this security and comfort may be littered with issues. And it is these issues that usually generate the problems one faces in their current relationships; namely, attachment issues.
For example, imagine a child that is growing up and wanting to explore the world around her, but feels somewhat afraid to do so, which is a normal sense; the unknown can be scary! However, that exploration is made so much easier when the child knows they can run back to their caregivers embrace when they become overwhelmed. When this happens, the child can be comforted and soothed, so that they no longer feel as afraid, and they then can continue to explore. Over time, this pattern of reaching out into the world and then relying on the caregiver’s otherness for security instils a sense of strength and reliable stability into the child, which eventually become internalised. That is, the child will grow to understand that they can rely on relationships for comfort and security in times when they need the support, and that part of this process involves them openly communicating what they need. Furthermore, the consistency of this pattern gives this developing individual the sense that the world is safe; they come to carry that security provided by the caregiver internally. This is known as Secure Attachment.
However, imagine that when this child came to the caregiver for security, they were comforted in a way that was overwhelming or smothering. Maybe the caregiver hyper reacts to the child’s anxiety because of their own anxious concerns, or maybe the caregiver simply overemphasises the fear and limits the child opportunity to explore the world again. In this case, the child over time will learn that the world is actually a dangerous place that they should fear. But, even more tragic, the child may come to feel that the security provided by their caregiver is so overwhelming that the care itself has become anxiety as well. So, rather than relying on the caregiver for security or comfort during times of need, the child instead withdraws or avoids reaching out. This pattern then becomes internalised, and when typical issues or incidents arise in adulthood, the individual’s sense will not be to open up to their friends, family or partner, but rather to withdraw and keep it to themselves. This is known as Avoidant Attachment.
Another example is when the child becomes fearful or hurt, reaches out towards the caregiver for attachment security and comfort, but it is not received well enough. Maybe the caregiver is always distant or busy with other things or people, or maybe the caregiver’s comfort is lacking the reassurance to adequately sooth the child. Either way, the child is likely to then become pre-occupied with trying to receive the care they require from the caregiver, rather than simply receiving that reassurance and then moving on. Thus, in adulthood, these individuals will become overly clingy and anxious towards relationships, with a sense that they may be not good enough, or that they are not lovable; a pre-occupation toward attachment opposed to a secure sense that they have it already. This is known as Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment.
Through counselling or psychotherapy, one can come to understand which attachment style they likely occupy (Secure attachment, Avoidant attachment, Anxious attachment), and come to understand ways of making that attachment style more secure, to stop the long destructive patterns that have hindered their ability to rely on their relationships in a secure way.
Understanding these attachment issues is necessary when dealing with other people and even in dealing with your personal issues. Seeking counselling and psychodynamic psychotherapy can help you understand and process these issues to equip you in life. Get in touch with Chad Monger, a professional Counselor and Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, on 0413 818 775 or visit our contact page for more details.
Chad acknowledges that attachment theory is complex, and attachment styles vary depending on multidimensional factors. These factors are considered alongside each client’s unique situation, to provide the best care to each client possible.