Today’s podcast episode is another packed one all about attachment. Be sure to listen all the way through for some thoughts on how attachment wounds impact our human relationships and our experience of a loving God. Here’s what we discuss:
- Why I think we’re not just one attachment style
- What are 4 different attachment styles?
- Can your attachment style change?
- The key ingredient that creates attachment
- How to create secure attachment with your own children
- Why our attachment styles create confusion in our adult relationships
- How to see attachment wounds as a cue to get curious about yourself vs. a source of shame
- A picture of healthy attachment 80’s slow dance style vs. Jane Austen style
- My thoughts on God and attachment
If you struggle to feel God's love, to experience what it's like to be held by the God of the Universe who loves you, who knit you together, and who is present to you every moment of every day—the God who is a breath away—I want you to hear me say, it's not your fault.
God doesn't blame you for that. He doesn't blame us for those wounds that we carry. He doesn't blame us or shame us for those. He doesn't blame us for the wounds of our childhood
We are whole-body people and our whole bodies are affected by attachment wounds. We can't will ourselves to that experience of loving presence. Our bodies have to experience safety to heal.
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
- PreorderThe Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God, by Dr. Alison Cook
Episode Sixteen: Attachment The Best of You Podcast 17th August 2022
With Dr. Alison Cook
[00:00:00] < Intro >
Alison: Hey everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started. As we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
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Hey everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast, all about attachment. So, before we get started, just one last reminder, that it's not too late to catch my August webinar series, Five Toxic Behaviors and How to Protect Yourself.
We had over 500 people Live last week for part one, which was really about these five toxic behaviors. Most of them have come out of these buzzwords you've wanted me to cover, but we haven't been able to get to on the podcast.
Part two is next Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern, but if you register, you get the recordings for both. So even if you can't attend Live or if you missed last week, go ahead and register and you will get a recording emailed to you. This is a bonus content. This is a freebie for you when you pre-order a copy of The Best of You.
You can pre-order wherever books are sold. It comes out September 13th, it's getting so close. I can't wait for you to have it. But in the meantime, this is my way of thanking you for showing early support.
Pre-order the book, save your confirmation number and head over to dralisoncook.com/book, where you can claim your free bonuses. One of which is this August series. It's really been so powerful. So cool. So great to get together Live.
I really liked hearing from you, hearing our questions in real-time. I hope to do more of these over the coming months.[00:03:11] < Music >
Okay, so today let's dive into our topic. What are attachment styles and why does it matter? So this was a, really, popular vote. A lot of you wanted to understand attachment styles. And I want to be honest with you, there's a part of me, for those of you who have read Boundaries for Your Soul. There's a part of me that gets a little bit leery of all this talk of attachment styles. Because it's almost, sort of like, "What's my Enneagram number?
Or like "What's my attachment style?" Meaning it's unchangeable or once I know what my style is, I can just define myself in that way. And I always give this caveat about labeling yourself because, first of all, attachment styles can change, as we'll get into. You can move into a secure attachment style, number one.
Number two, I believe we're multifaceted. So, again, if you've read my book Boundaries for Your Soul, it's all about this internal family that we all have. The Internal Family Systems model of therapy. Parts of you might be able to attach very well. Whereas other parts of you might have very insecure attachment.
So I don't think we're, necessarily, one style. I think we're a little bit more complicated than that. And, furthermore, research shows that we can move toward healthier attachment. Toward an experience of healthy attachment, even if we didn't get secure attachment as a child.
Now we're going to get into all of this and it is really important. I don't want to minimize the topic. It's one of the most important topics in trauma research, in understanding CPTSD, which we discussed last week. There are two books that I cannot recommend highly enough. I think I recommend these books, almost every single podcast.
The first is my friend, Aundi Kolber's book, Try Softer, it's incredibly thoughtful, accessible overview of trauma of attachment, of all sorts of things that we talk about on this podcast. She's an excellent resource for you.
And then the other one is Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guidance Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma. That's a book by Pete Walker. That's just a really comprehensive, accessible overview of a lot of these topics.
So please check out both of those books, especially, as they relate to attachment and CPTSD, and all of the things we talk about in this series. Just excellent resources for you.
All right, let's get started. What do we mean by attachment? Well at its simplest form, it's the safety. This experience of safe connection, safe bonding to a caregiver that every baby, every infant, needs to survive on some level.
When a tiny baby is held in loving arms, she experiences safety in her body, in her nervous system, in the depths of her soul. And, even though, you can't remember that in your conscious mind. This experience of being held, and it's not just physical, and we'll get into that.
But this experience of physical and emotional safety is foundational to a strong sense of self. It is foundational to this nervous system's homeostasis. We've talked about Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn. Those are all an activated nervous system that's in survival mode.
Well, this experience of safety, of security is the opposite of that. It's this clear, calm place, and it starts in the nervous system at the moment you're born. At the moment you are held by someone else. We are designed to be connected to other people. We are designed to develop in relationship, in healthy, securely-attached relationships.
So if your caregivers nurtured and comforted you, provided you with healthy touch, and their presence, and we'll get into what I mean by presence. You develop, what psychologists call, secure attachment.
You have a foundational experience of another human as safe, as trustworthy, and you absorb, deep inside your own body, what it's like to feel safe, held, soothed, to be witnessed, seen.
To have someone be present with you. This presence is really powerful. It's an idea of how we begin to experience what God is like. And we'll get into that attachment with God a little bit later in this episode. We got a lot to get into.
So here's the thing, research suggests that at least in the U.S. most people are securely attached. And by most, I just mean the majority, and estimates are anywhere from over 50% to around 60 to 65% of people are securely attached.
Now I would give the caveat of what I said at the beginning. 80% of you might be securely attached. But I still believe parts of us can experience insecure attachment, a lack of safety. I think it's a little bit more complex than we're just one thing, one attachment style.
But I just want to give you that overview, that over 50% of Americans, at the very least, do experience some level of secure attachment. But that does mean there are a lot of folks who are experiencing not very much secure attachment. Let's say it's 45%, whatever, somewhere in that range of folks who are insecurely attached. Even if they have a little semblance of attachment, they're still struggling to feel that safety, that connection.
So here's what I want you to understand, and this is really important. There was a study done in 2000 on attachment I'll link to it in the show notes. But what they found is that this critical aspect of attachment, is not so much based on whether or not you got all of your material, physical needs met.
You may have had food on the table. You might have had clothes. You might have had educational opportunities. Your parents might have shown up at the dinner table every night. We talked about this last week. That's not what really creates secure attachment.
Now, if you had those things that's what I mean by like parts of you might understand safety. In the sense of you get that there's predictable behaviors. That people can behave predictably. Parts of you might have had some safety in the sense that you had a home. You had a roof over your head, you had food on the table.
But here's the thing, real, secure attachment. Real, deep down, every fiber of your being secure attachment is about presence. And what do I mean by that? Well, what this study found is that it's nonverbal, primarily, communication that leads to attachment. And, by nonverbal, that just means did someone attend to your emotional cues?
Was someone present to you when you came home sad, after a hard day at school?
Did someone ask you questions?
Were they curious about you?
Did someone notice, when you were a toddler, that something seemed off with you?
So there's this idea of presence. You could have had all of your physical needs met. But if you think about it, and listen, all of us who are parents are, probably, shuddering right now. Because think about how many times you're feeding your kids, you're getting them to school, you're getting them in the car. But you're not really present to them. Your mind is a million miles away.
This happens to all of us and I want you to hear me say creating a secure attachment, especially if you're a parent who's listening, is not being 100% on all the time, you're human. There's a psychology term called good-enough parenting. And just even a few moments each day of being present to your child is huge.
It doesn't have to be 24-hours a day. Make a little bit of time each day to really be present to your child. Even just in nonverbal ways where you are aware that you're orienting toward your child. You're reading the cues, you're checking in, you're showing curiosity.
But, again, going back to you as a child. If you were in a home where your parents were never present to you. Maybe they were so taken up in their own mental health issues, in their own pain, in their own grief, even.
We can have compassion for our parents, but that doesn't mean they were present to us. So that's where it starts. It's really with that emotional presence. That's what we mean by secure attachment. And if you didn't experience that kind of secure attachment, that presence with a primary caregiver as a child. Your internal alert system, your nervous system tends towards survival mode.
You tend to cope with anxiety through the fighting, fleeing, freezing, and fawning that we talked about in episode 14. Your nervous system kind of scrambles, it's looking for that.
We're designed for that. It's looking for that safe place, that safe harbor. And when it's not there, your nervous system gets amped up and you try to look for it in other places.
Now, sometimes, you'll find it in other places. You'll find it in a grandparent, in a teacher, in a friend, in a babysitter, which is beautiful. That's great. Think about that experience. There's a reason you have that memory. Your nervous system registered safety. God designed you to feel seen, held, soothed by another person.
So if you didn't get that with a primary caregiver, you may have had that experience with someone else. And, therefore, your nervous system got a glimpse. Got a glimpse, at least, of what secure attachment feels like.
So, again, we're not all one thing. You may struggle with attachment. But even that glimpse of what safety felt like is a cue, that's what you want to move toward. That's what your nervous system can start to move toward as you start to heal.
Children's brains continue to develop well into adulthood, at least, into the mid-twenties we know. And because of that your brain can continue to take in these experiences of secure attachment over time. It's never too late to start training yourself, and even after, even if you're an adult. Even if you're in your 30s, 40s, 50s, your nervous system is designed to heal.
I think this is a lot of what happens in the therapy room. It's a secure attachment. It's that experience of being attended to. Someone being present to you, someone seeing you. And even those of you who have had that experience in therapy, and have said things like, "I feel something different here but I'm also aware that this feeling is unfamiliar to me."
There's that gap in your experience of, "This feels safe, but, man, I never really had this before." That's a cue about your attachment style.
But, again, this is why therapy can be such a helpful place to retrain your nervous system and your body to experience what safety feels like. And it happens in the context of relationships, that wound is healed in the context of relationships, but it also happens inside of you. Your nervous system begins to glimpse what it's like to access that calm, clear place inside.
All right, so let's move into the key attachment styles. This is what everybody wants to know, so let's just go there. So researchers have observed a lot of different attachment styles. I'm going to focus on the four-most common.
And how they studied this, is they would observe what would happen if you separate an infant from a caregiver for a brief period of time. They'd watch what would happen with infants.
So children with a secure attachment might show a little bit of distress upon separation from a caregiver, some of them more than others. But they will be so happy to welcome that caregiver when the caregiver returns, and you can observe this.
You notice the eye contact, the physicality, the, "Give me a hug." The arms open. There's this connection you can see when that infant is reunited with the caregiver. Where there's that secure attachment.
Second, we go to an Anxious Resistant style. In this style, the child shows that distress upon separation. Similar to the securely-attached child. Very few children love to be separated from their caregivers. That's not abnormal, if your child has a hard time getting out of the car to go to school. That doesn't mean they have an attachment issue. That's very normal that they show that distress.
Securely-attached children will be thrilled to see you again. They'll just, "Ah!" You'll sense that warmth when they return to you.
Anxious resistant attachment, these children continue to show anxiety when they're returned to the caregiver, they're not attached. It doesn't provide that comfort. And, so, when researchers are studying children they'll see this. The child is distressed upon separation and they continue to be distressed even after the caregiver returns.
So third avoidant attachment. These children remain calm upon separation. It's as if they don't even notice that the caregiver has gone and they don't, really, notice their return either.
This child is just, sort of, in their own world. They're, kind of, disconnected from the caregiver. Some of this is intuitive, if you think about it.
Okay, and last we get into what's called disorganized attachment. And this is the one that's the most linked or correlated with trauma. With childhood trauma, with abuse. And it's, really, where there's just ambivalent or erratic behavior in relationship to the caregiver.
There might be a running toward and then an angry hit. There might be high anxiety, with an extreme vacillation to a different emotion. There's this disorganized, unpredictable, erratic behavior around a caregiver.
So here's the thing, attachment theory suggests that we bring these styles into our relationships as adults. So as I was reading through those, I was describing how infants react when a caregiver leaves the room.
But, if you think about it, you will begin to notice ways that you might be in your marriages, with your children, with your own parents, as an adult. You might notice a secure attachment, that maybe you don't like it when your spouse leaves to go on a business trip. But at the same time you're fine and you're so happy when they return, and there's just this homeostasis.
Again, there's this calm in the health of the relationship. You might notice that you hate the separation, and listen, this can happen with people you love.
This can happen with people who are actually treating you well and that's why it's confusing. This is why attachment styles are so confusing. Because you'll notice a high amount of anxiety around the separation, and then you're angry with the person when they return.
And I want to be clear, in this case, let's say the person hasn't done anything wrong. They went away. They did something not to be mean. They weren't giving you the silent treatment. They weren't doing something. They just had to go to work, or they had to like leave on vacation, or they had to go visit another family member. And they return and you're really angry with them, and it takes you a while to reconnect.
It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. But that's that remnant, that residual effect of your own attachment style. It was hard for you to connect. Maybe you didn't have that experience of safety with your caregiver, and that part of you is still alive inside of you.
And, so, now you're with this person, especially, this happens in intimate relationships. Where that person is that first feeling of safety, that first feeling of connection, and then they leave. And you're like, "Wait, they just left me." And you feel abandoned and maybe they only left for a couple of hours.
And then they come back and you're upset, and you're crying, and you're like, "Why did you leave me?" And then you're like, "What is wrong with me?" This happens. Well, you're becoming aware of an attachment style. You're becoming aware of, and I don't like to use the word disorder, I just don't like that word. So I'm going to say, you're becoming aware of something about yourself.
It's a cue. "Oh my goodness, it may be hard for me to feel secure."
"It may be hard for me to feel secure. Even when that other person isn't doing something wrong."
And this is where it's so confusing because you might think, "Well, why did you leave me?" And they're like, "Well, I needed to go to the grocery store." Or "I needed to go on this work trip."
And you don't realize that that big response you have, and this is what we talked about last week with CPTSD. You have that big emotional response upon their return. And you think you're so angry with them, and then they're like, "What was I supposed to do? We talked about this." They don't understand, and you're confused. You're confused. And I just want you to know this isn't your fault. This is the way. This was the environment that your nervous system was shaped in all those years back.
So it's not your fault. Your nervous system, as a baby, needed that person to be with you in a consistent, predictable present way and they weren't. And, so, you don't know what it's like when someone walks away or leaves you for a healthy reason.
Your nervous system experiences that as abandonment. It's not your fault, that's survival mode. So that's why this is just so important and so profound to our relational health.
Because if we don't realize one of two things, we have to realize A, did they do something wrong? Did they, in fact, abandon me? If they did that's a different issue. Then we're in some toxicity. Then we do need to address that differently. But what if, option two, they didn't do anything wrong, but "I'm experiencing it as abandonment. I'm experiencing it as pain."
Oh, my goodness, we don't need to shame ourselves for that. But we do need to understand that. And this is where it's tricky. This is where it gets hard in relationships. Because sometimes we don't know, is it them or is it me, or is it both of us? Is there a dynamic? And these are getting into the deep waters, we'll follow back up on that in another episode.
But this is why attachment style matters. This is why it's so interesting to all of us because we're all trying to figure this out.
"Am I avoidant?"
"Do I stay un-neutral?"
Or are you married to someone who is avoidant? They're just always in neutral and it's almost like you feel like, "I don't even know if they notice I'm here." And that can hurt. That can hurt. That's a survival strategy. That's the way their nervous system was formed.
No one ever conditioned that little infant to understand and recognize presence. So their nervous system just went numb. It's avoidant attachment style, and it may not be about you at all. It's something that needs to heal within them.
If you are someone who's avoidant. You learned to just kind of shut down and you don't register the pain of someone leaving, even the healthy pain of momentary separation. But you also don't register the joy of reuniting of reconnection, which we all need in our relationships.
And then Disorganized attachment is another one that's really challenging for people. Again, if you know you're a trauma survivor and you have sort of erratic responses to people, and it's confusing to you. Why one minute you feel so close and then the next minute you feel abandoned?
And, again, all of this goes back to, Gosh, is it them or is it me?" And it can really make you feel crazy. And I want you to hear me say, there's so much here. And I prayed over this episode because there's just a lot here.
I don't want you to get so hung up on, "Which attachment style am I?"
"What am I?"
What I want you to hear me say is if you're noticing some disconnect in your primary relationships. I just want you to get curious about that question. "Is this person really hurting me?"
"Are they really abandoning me?"
"Are they really doing something wrong?"
And maybe they are. Or "Is it possible that I don't know what safety feels like and I'm confused? And can I genuinely answer that with, 'I'm not sure without shame?'" And if you're not sure it's a great time to get help. Seek out the help of a counselor. Begin to recognize when your own attachment style is keeping you from that healthy back and forth.
Now, I want to get into this. There's so much in this, I keep going on and on. But here's the thing, healthy attachment is a dance of connection and autonomy.[00:26:19] < Music >
081222 TBOY 16v1 Pt Two
So we need to understand healthy attachment before we get too much further into the weeds of these disordered attachments. Because, I think, that's what happens, we get into the weeds of, "What's my attachment style?" We don't understand a picture of healthy attachment.
I like to use the word connectedness because it's all-encompassing. Connectedness is a dance, it's being together and it's being apart. It's knowing you belong to someone, even as, paradoxically, you understand you also belong to yourself.
So healthy attachment is that understanding of "I'm connected to this other person and I'm also deeply connected within myself." And, so, we have this dance, and I often use this metaphor in my writing.
I talk about it in my book. I talk about this a lot in my upcoming book, The Best of You, the metaphor of the old-fashioned dance. And if you've ever seen those movies, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, they do these dances. And, I think, it's so powerful and it's so different from the slow dance of the '80s that I grew up with, where you're just clinging to each other. That's not really a picture of healthy attachment or connectedness.
In these old-fashioned dances, they move. They're always connected to each other, but they move in and out. They move apart and away, and sometimes they even interact with the other people around them.
Go watch one of those movies and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. There's connectedness, there's togetherness and apartness, and it's seamless. It's this dance. It's knowing when you've talked through and you trust somebody that when they say, "Hey, I'm going to miss you so much when I have to leave on this work trip for a few days, and I can't wait to see you when I get back." And you miss them.
But you're, also, so happy to have some time to yourself, and you're so happy for them to have that time. And when you return it's such a sweet reunion. It's trust. It's safety. And, so, this is a picture of connectedness. Of this dance of togetherness and apartness.
Now, remember, if you didn't get that experience of secure attachment as a child. Think about attachment, and I really go through this in chapter four of my new book. But if you think about it, a parent's, job as an early baby, you are really being taught at such that formative age, that healthy dance.
Your parents' job is to wean you, think about that term weaning. Slowly, over time, you're learning to separate out from your parent. Pretty soon you start to play with other kids, you even go off to school. But you're aware that parent is there. You're connected to them, but you're also able to leave them.
And you're so glad to walk back into the house and reunite and tell that parent, that caregiver about your day in a healthy, in an ideal world. You see that dance? That dance of togetherness and apartness. That is what I call connectedness, healthy attachment. It's a dance.
And if you think about parenting, throughout the course of your child's life, you are leading them more and more to be able to leave you. It's not that they're becoming less connected to you. As your children leave you and eventually move away, and eventually go on to create lives of their own. Securely-attached children stay connected to you.
And guess what? They more easily leave you as a result, it's a paradox. Children who are insecurely attached, have a harder time leaving home when it's time to leave home. When you have that safety, it's easier to leave and to forge your own healthy relationships with other people.
And guess why? Because you're connected. You know in your body, in your nervous system, in your soul that, that parent, that caregiver, that person who loves you is always going to be there for you.
And, so, it's easier to leave in healthy ways. It's easier to go out and forge that life of your own because that connection is strong. And, so, I just want you to hear me say it's never too late if you didn't get that.
Remember what I said, at the beginning, you can learn this through other people, through other relationships. Our brains are always forming. Our neural pathways can change. They can change. You can heal. You can learn how to have this dance of connectedness.[00:05:14] < Music >
I want to leave you with a note about God and attachment, and this is about a 100 more episodes in and of itself, this topic. But listen, your parents and early caregivers also gave you a glimpse of what it feels like to be seen and held by God.
And if you struggle with that, maybe, you know God loves you intellectually. But you struggle to feel God's love. It may be a symptom of your attachment style. It may be an attachment wound. It isn't your fault.
I want you to hear me say that these attachment styles tie into how we relate and experience God's presence in our lives. And this is such deeply, holy ground, to me, that I'm going to leave it for another episode. I also write about this. I have a whole chapter on this in The Best of You. It's such an important topic.
But I want you to hear me say that if you do struggle to feel God's love. To experience what it's like to be held by the God of the Universe who loves you. Who knit you together, and who is present to you every moment of every day. This God is a breath away. A breath away, and if you struggle to experience that, I want you to hear me say, it's not your fault.
This is most likely an attachment wound. It's not your fault. You may know, intellectually, like I already said, I'm going to say it again, that God loves you. But if you struggle to experience it right now in your body you might notice a tension.
We are whole-body people and our bodies are affected by trauma. Our bodies are affected by insecure attachment. We can't will ourselves to that experience of loving presence. We have to experience it. Our bodies have to experience it. We have to experience healthy, physical touch. We have to experience presence, safe, loving presence.
And depending on the level of trauma you experienced, your nervous system may take a while to really absorb that. To really register what that feels like, and you may need another human being to model that for you. Before you even begin to understand the presence of the God who loves you. And it's not your fault, and God doesn't blame you for that. He doesn't blame us for those wounds that we carry. He doesn't blame us or shame us for those. He doesn't blame us for the wounds of our childhood. Please hear me say that.
I want to leave you today with some verses to remind you of who God is. If you've struggled because of the wounds of your past, to experience that safety that people talk about. But for you, you want it, you long for it, you crave it, but it's hard for you to find it in your body, in your soul.
I want you to hear me say that, "God is near the grief stricken. God is near the broken-hearted." This is Matthew 5:4. And even if you can't feel that or experience that, it's true. So take my word for it today and then know that your body can learn what that feels like. What that presence of Jesus feels like.
"God helps the broken-hearted, the crushed in spirit, the humble." James 4:6.
"God is love." Love is a presence it's not an idea. It's an experience of belonging. That's 1 John 4:7. "God is love." God is a loving presence. God's presence.
The presence of God's Spirit shows up as joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience, self-control." These are the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23.
And then Psalm 34:8, again, "The Lord is near the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit." And if you haven't experienced those truths, please know it may be because your nervous system never had that experience growing up. You never got that presence that creates secure attachment. And, so, it's hard for you to really know and trust all these ideas about God.
"They sound nice, but how do I know?"
And as you heal your body, and as you heal your soul, and as you begin to travel down this road of healing. You can begin to experience a little more glimpses, a few more glimpses of what that presence is like, all right?
Remember that healing is a process, it's not a one-time event. And as we close today, I want you to consider the question, what brings out the best of you in the context of this conversation?
Who or what brings you a glimpse of safety, a glimpse of loving presence?
Who brings that to your body?
Where does your body relax and feel safe?
Notice that glimpse of safety, that's a glimpse of God. That's a glimpse of what God is like. Thank you for joining me, and I look forward to seeing you next week on The Best of You.[00:11:31] < Music >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you'd go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.[00:12:08] < Outro >