Last month I wrote about a webinar I enjoyed from Dr. Diane Poole Heller. She is an expert in working with trauma and attachment styles. You can read the previous blog post to review the attachment styles.
Here are the attachment terms:
Avoidant Dismissive (Fear of closeness)
Ambivalent Pre-occupied (Fear of abandonment)
Disorganized Unresolved Trauma (believe Relationships are dangerous)
How to support and foster a secure attachment with your partner:
- Play: Be spontaneous, be playful. Play is nourishing for one’s attachment system.
- Greetings: How do you greet your partner when you come home from work? Diane suggests reconnecting with a full body hug, close body-to-body contact. Stay in the hug until you feel your bodies regulating.
- Diane suggests making the Welcome Home Hug a ritual. When we each feel regulated, day-to-day life events go more smoothly.
- Nourishing touch: If you, for example, have back pain, your spouse can put their hand over it. Bodies regulate bodies. Having your partner touch your ache will help decrease the pain.
- Kind eyes: Look at each other purposely with kind eyes when you feel your relationship needs a boost. This would be an intentional look where each of you are sending loving thoughts through your eyes only. It helps the spouse who is dismissive to take in that feeling. So, when you want to repair after an argument, avoid doing it while driving as you both can’t look into each other’s eyes!
The Dismissive adult (avoidant) did not get enough empathic experiences growing up, therefore they are limited in self-reflection. This person does not have a lot of emotional range, they do not self-reflect, and they disown big emotions They over-focus on themselves, as they don’t have a nourishing sense of “Other.” They are independent and feel safer when alone. They meet their own needs, or even deny their needs, to survive and get through the day. Adults in this Dismissive category feel stress when they are called to be “close” to someone or to a group of people. They are in shut-down mode a lot. If they are working and you interrupt them, they can get snarky. Along with the above suggestions, a partner needs to give this spouse some front loading. “Hey honey, I would like to take you out for dinner. I see you’re busy, how much time do you need before I can make a reservation?”
The Pre-Occupied adult (ambivalent) has a history of on and off again love from parents. They did receive love, but it was inconsistent so they feel they can’t rely on it. As adults, they become dysregulated by their partner coming close, instead of feeling calm. They are usually anxious as they got love, but not enough, and have a hard time taking in that love as their fear of abandonment gets triggered. They anticipate abandonment or betrayal before it happens! This can leave them feeling either sad and disappointed, or angry at people who are their primary attachment person. This person has a hard time receiving love and does not get a feeling of fulfillment in relationships. They often can be heard saying “You never support me!” when in fact, what they often want to say is “I need you to hold me tonight.” The Pre-Occupied adult often overreacts, “Does she like me?” “Did he smile at me long enough?” “Does this mean I’ll be fired?” They typically over-interpret any experience towards the negative. Along with the 5 tips to support and foster, this person needs reassurance, especially when a partner leaves for work or a trip. “You’re my guy! I’m carrying you in my heart while I am away.” “I will call you every day.”
The adult with the Unresolved Trauma profile (disorganized) has the most difficult and complicated behavior pattern. They are a combination of avoidant and ambivalent traits. Coming from highly chaotic homes or scary parents, their survival system is wired to flee when being approached by others. They often go into a freeze state and are immobilized. For real healing to occur, they need to feel safe and protected. They only tolerate a certain level of intimacy. This person needs friends and partners to be highly empathic to help them feel secure.
Diane has a few self-help suggestions for the person with unresolved trauma to works towards secure attachment:
- Think of someone who had your back in the face of your angry mother and focus on that special person as being your protector (like a meditation practice).
- Create a physical sense of safety by finding ways to self-sooth (regulate). For example, being out in nature, listening to certain music, being with a pet, and physical exercise.
- Establish a gratitude practice at night about people who are kind to you.
- Find a caring compassionate person, whether that’s a therapist or a good friend, with whom you feel safe and build more on the competent Protector image.