Then you meet someone wonderful. You are full of joy and excitement. Now you can feel whole and good like like you know you should!
But several months later, when your romantic partner throws his or her arms around you and tells you that s he loves you, you experience a flood of anxiety and sense of impending doom. You try to act happy, because you know that is how a "normal" person would feel. But you have a hard time hiding your anxiety. You try to fix it by explaining, but this effort only makes you sound off balance and needy. Across the coming weeks you feel increasingly squirrely, start to pick up on signs that your partner is having second thoughts, and get that awful feeling in your gut As the relationship begins to implode you just want to scream, "what the heck just happened?!
It does not care about your rational thought processes or your adult need for love and affection. It would rather you be sad and lonely than injured.
Attachment theory can give us even deeper insight into this process. In childhood , the attachment system increases anxiety when the young person stays too far away from parent; the resulting discomfort then impels the child to re-establish proximity. Imagine what happens, however, when the parent you are seeking comfort from is himself frightening or frightened. If the parent yells at the approaching child, or even worse becomes physically abusive, then this "attachment figure" is just as scary as whatever the child was running from in the first place.
A terrified parent who may herself be an abuse victim also cannot adequately soothe a distressed child. In either case, the attachment system does not serve its intended function. The child cannot escape the anxiety coming from the environment and cannot be soothed by the parent.
In a like vein, as adults they will simultaneously desire closeness and intimacy and approach potential attachment figures close friends or romantic partners but then become extremely uncomfortable when they get too close to those partners and withdraw; hence the message given to others is "come here and go away. This person may not perceive that s he is actually the one doing the distancing and rejecting.
If you see yourself in these descriptions and patterns, take heart. The defensive process is a normal reaction to a situational stressor in childhood. The situational stressor may have been physical abuse or assault big "T" trauma or angry hostility and scary parental behavior little "t" trauma. Scary parental behavior doesn't even mean that the parent was overtly threatening. A very depressed or mentally ill parent who is emotionally unexpressive will be frightening because the child knows that the parent cannot provide protection or comfort.
The work by Dr. Ed Tronic with young children using the "Still Face Paradigm" click here to link to YouTube video provides an excellent example of the effects of parental unresponsiveness and unattunement. When parents do not accurately reflect and validate their children's emotional experiences, the children become emotionally disregulated.
Once you understand why your adult emotions are so disregulated and why you feel "crazy" in relationships, you can start the process of living with intent and you can refuse to let the process continue disrupting your relationships. Here are some things you can do: Recognize that your emotions may not be giving you accurate feedback about what is going on in your relationships. The distress you feel may have nothing to do with your present romantic partner or close friend; that person may simply be a trigger.
Think about it as a post traumatic stress reaction. Consider getting a therapist or use a self-help program like Adult Children of Alcoholics or Co-Dependents Anonymous where you can disclose your true feelings and perceptions in a safe place no matter how "off" they may seem and obtain a neutral perspective and help in calibrating your emotional and behavioral responses.
People with fearful attachment styles often do not know how they should feel or respond in emotionally charged situations. Take a long time out days perhaps before you take action based on strong emotions.
Be sure that you get all of the facts on the table and make a conscious choice for how you want to respond before taking action. Practice setting healthy boundaries. You probably did not have good boundaries modeled for you in childhood so this may not come naturally.
When you are in a calm emotional space, ask yourself what you need in your relationships and what behaviors you are willing to accept from your relationship partners; then communicate this information directly in a non-defensive manner. Don't disclose too much of your inner turmoil or trauma history until you know that the listener is "safe. In my work with people who have suffered trauma, I often try to slow them down if they attempt to disclose their most closely guarded secrets too early in the therapeutic relationship.
I ask them why they think I am someone to trust with their well-being. I believe that I am trustworthy, but I like people to evaluate on their own when and how to lower their guard. Practice standing your ground, not running away, and experiencing healthy endings.
I usually tell my fearfully attached clients that we will know when we are establishing a close therapeutic relationship because they will start feeling anxious about coming to their sessions and thinking about reasons to avoid coming.
This also applies to friendships and romantic involvements. When someone tells you how much they care, you should similarly force yourself to graciously accept the gesture. Remember, you give others a gift when you allow them to express their own goodness.
Finally, try to stay through the relationship ending. No relationship lasts forever. They eb and flow like the tide. When it is time for a relationship to end, listen to the other, say your truth, and then release them.
If you are reading this and wondering who you know who has this style, you should be aware that you might not see it until you start getting close and establishing a level of intimacy with the person. It is also important to be aware that even if you had a secure attachment style from childhood, this style could deviate in the direction of having a fearful style if you subsequently experience a major loss such as the death of a parent or you are otherwise traumatized e.
If you are in relationship with someone with this style, be patient. You can be there for them and provide comfort and support…be a secure base while they explore their own inner workings. After all that is what his experience has taught him to expect.