How attachment affects our lives from early childhood to adulthood

Note: This is part of a 7 lessons challenge spread over 14 days called “Say Yes to Your No”. It is meant to help you become more confident in saying NO to what doesn’t serve you anymore so you can say yes to yourself. This is lesson 5.

Attachment is the 5th A of healing in the book “When the body says NO” by Dr.Gabor Maté. The following paragraphs in ” ” are excerpts from the chapter “The 7 A’s of healing” in this book.

Attachment is our connection with the world

“In the earliest attachment relationships, we gain or lose the ability to stay open, self-nurturing and healthy.

In those early attachment bonds, we learned to experience anger or to fear it and repress it.

There we developed our sense of autonomy or suffered its atrophy. Connection is also vital to healing.”

“Study after study concludes that people without social contact – the lonely ones – are at greatest risk for illness. People who enjoy genuine emotional support face a better prognosis, no matter the disease.”

“We sometimes find it easier to feel bitterness or rage than to allow ourselves to experience that aching desire for contact that, when disappointed, originally engendered the anger.”

“Behind all our anger lies a deeply frustrated need for truly intimate contact. Healing both requires and implies regaining the vulnerability that made us shut down emotionally in the first place.”

“We are no longer helpless dependent children; we no longer need fear emotional vulnerability.” 

“We can permit ourselves to honour the universal reciprocal human need for connection and to challenge the ingrained belief that unconsciously burdens so many people with chronic illness: that we are not lovable.”

The ideas that I most resonated with & how I use them

To allow myself to be vulnerable and to challenge the ingrained belief that I didn’t deserve to be loved was one of the most difficult steps I had to take in my healing journey.

I got there through a mix of broken relationships, therapy, workshops, books and who knows what other factors I don’t even know about. Even now I don’t feel like I’ve completely settled in the land of “I can be vulnerable and I am lovable”. 

Sometimes I cross the border back to the old familiar places where isolation and emotional shutdown are as natural as breathing. 

But I don’t stay there as long as I used to. I find that each trip is shorter than the previous one. For now, this is the best that I can do. And I accept that.

Attachment & saying NO

According to Ainsworth and Bowlby’ theory of attachment, there are four main types of attachment that form in early childhood and that later become the dominant ways of relating when we are adults.

Secure attachment

Avoidant > becomes dismissing-avoidance

Ambivalent/Anxious > later translates into fearful-avoidance.​

Disorganised > evolves into preoccupied attachment.

In order to find out more about each of the types of attachment and what is your current type of attachment in your various relationships you can go to this website and take a free test. It takes about 10 minutes to complete it and I have found it’s pretty accurate.

You might discover that you have a certain type of attachment to some people and a different one to other people in your life.

From my experience, the types that have the most trouble saying NO are the ambivalent/anxious and disorganised, while the avoidant types might say NO too much even to the things that they actually desire, like strong connections and intimacy.

The good news is that we can relearn to form secure attachments even as adults. This can happen best in relationships with secure people in our lives or in a therapeutic relationship with a psychotherapist.

My quest for secure attachment 

When I first discovered the theory about attachment styles I began to better understand myself and those around me. 

I’ve realized in some relationships I was secure but in others I was a mix of anxious/avoidant or preoccupied. According to the recent personality type test I took (the one I recommend above) I’m currently manifesting a mix of mostly secure with some degree of avoidance in certain relationships.

I remember that in my 20’s when the dominant traits in my relationships were anxious/avoidant or preoccupied I had such difficulties at saying NO.

The thing is that when you’re more concerned about what the other is feeling, thinking, needing than what you are feeling, thinking, needing it’s very hard to say NO to things, people, situations that are not good for you.

Because your focus is outside you become disconnected from your own needs.

So it’s pretty impossible to say Yes or No in a healthy way.

The more secure I’ve become the easier it got for me to say NO. 

Of course it was not an easy or overnight transition. But step by step I’ve made a small progress, then a step back, then another progress and so on. 

I still have areas in my relationships and some relationships where I tend to revert to the avoidant/anxious patterns but at least I am aware of them and I know I can unlearn these and learn the healthy ones.

Next steps – Practical exercises

Find out your current attachment style across relationships​

Take this free 10 minutes personality test to figure out where you are right now in your attachment style.          

Pay attention to your body in two different attachment style relationships​         

In the next few days bring more awareness to the sensations in your body at the moment when you say NO to someone with whom you are mostly secure. 

​Then pay attention to how you feel in your interactions with someone with whom you manifest mostly traits from the other types of attachment, such as avoidance or anxiety.

Simply take note at the moment and if you can, journal a few minutes about that at the end of the day.

Once you’ve went through today’s exercises go over to the Facebook group and share your experience.

Missed day four? You can read it here.

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