How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

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How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“We're only as needy as our unmet needs.”- John Bowlby, Founder of Attachment Theory

At the core of attachment theory is the assumption that we all are wired for connection. This primal drive to connect is wired into every human being, shaped as a survival mechanism over millions of years of evolution. We connect to survive. Hence emotional isolation can register as a life or death situation in the most primitive and fastest-to-act part of our brain, the amygdala. Some call it primal panic.

Add the fact that the reason we may feel the alert—such as needines— is not just because our adult needs are not being met; it can also be the result of our childhood needs that were not met. These unmet needs can be associated with what happened many, many years ago, but the pain of not having them met has remained trapped in our body. And when triggered, the pain can come and surface in the present.

John Bowlby’s attachment theory emphasizes the importance of a secure mother-infant bond in development of a person’s well-being and later mental functioning. One of my favorite modern authors, who expanded on Bowlby’s attachment theory, is Stan Tatkin. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology, and one of the world’s experts on attachment theory, he wrote several books, including “Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”. In his work, Tatkin uses attachment terms such as anchors, islands and waves, rather than the more traditional attachment terms of secure, avoidant (or dismissive), anxious (or preoccupied), or the less prevalent anxious-avoidant (or disorganized).

Anchors, Waves and Islands

The interactions with our early caregivers shaped our autonomic nervous systems. Those interactions determined the way we as infants and children engaged with those around us, and the way we tend to engage with the world now; whether we need interaction, or we need space. As life goes on, our peers and partners eventually take over the role of our primary attachment figure. They become the source of safety and confidence, or they become the source of anxiety and mistrust.

Thus, those who are anchors experienced—or learned later in life about—secure attachments. They learned they could rely on others, that relationships are important, that their needs would be attended to, and in general that the world is a safe place. According to research (Tatkin, 2012), a bit more than 50 percent of people fall into this category. Unlike anchors, islands and waves were raised in an environment where relationship did not come first, and their needs were often not met by their primary caregivers. Therefore, to self-protect and to have their needs met, from a very young age they had to adapt themselves to their environments. 

Now, it’s not that islands and waves do not want relationships. We all do. Islands and waves will just struggle more with trust. Waves tend to believe they are going to be abandoned, that it’s inevitable, questioning if others will be there for them, and so they tend to be more dependent and often cling to others. They may sometimes even look for proof of an approaching abandonment, and this fear activates their attachment need for contact. They tend to seek reassurance about themselves and seek safety from others. On the other hand, islands believe that if they depend on another, their independence will be taken away, and they will feel trapped, or even in danger of being suffocated in a relationship. In order to avoid these emotions, islands tend to seek distance. The fear of engulfment is what causes them to deactivate their attachment need, therefore they diminish the need to connect with their significant other. This deactivation explains island’s distancing behavior.

What Can You Do?

Does your attachment style affect your dating life or your committed relationship? Does your attachment style affect how you communicate with your partner? Does knowing your attachment style, and that of your partner, make your relationship stronger? Yes, Yes and Yes. 

1.  So, get to know yourself! Take an adult attachment style questionnaire with your partner. Get to know how your partner functions and why they function that way. Tatkin often refers to “becoming an expert on each other”. 

2. Own your own tendencies in conflict and recognize your partner’s protective behaviors. While some attachment style combinations may be more challenging, the good news is research shows that attachment is fluid and can change during our life. We are hurt by people and we are healed by people. As paradoxical as it sounds, I truly believe the only way out of insecurity is through a mindful relationship. Knowing your own attachment style tendency and that of your partner makes the healing process easier. 

3. Ask your partner “Am I doing that thing again? Is that what causes you to feel …?” Building a healthy relationship requires frequent safe connections with your partner in order to regulate, so make room for safe connection in your life. 

4. Slow things down. Pay attention. Be mindful. Be present. 

5. Remember, the most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, acts the fastest, and it may take a bit more time for the newer neocortex and reasoning to catch up so that we can act in a safer, more appropriate and more desirable way. 

6.  Andbe patient with yourself! This work can be demanding.

We all long for intimacy, we all long for connection. We may express this longing differently, but that longing is there even if we learned this need can be dangerous and may hurt. Understanding adult love tells us what matters and when it matters. These insights offer us a compass in the reshaping of the interactions between partners. Unlearning patterns that are heavily ingrained will take effort and time. But it is all doable, and these new neural connections are developing as you are reading this. 

Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partner's brain can help you defuse conflicts and spark intimacy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

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Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends



By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson brilliantly sums up what happens when couples get stuck in negative and reactive cycles: “In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about the healing power of love and emotional responsiveness in a love relationship: “Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”  

The father of Attachment Theory, British Psychiatrist John Bowlby, summed up what Attachment Theory teaches us about the key relationships in our lives: “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature.“ Bowlby also wrote on how relationships with key “others” are vitally important in the growth and health of all individuals.

Given this information, here are some conclusions about vulnerability:

Attachment Theory teaches us that key relationships (in childhood with an adult care-giver and in adult romantic partners) play a huge part in the human development of a safe haven and the strong ability to be in the world and take risks; the risks are tolerable because the person knows that their partner has their back emotionally and will be there when they reach out in need.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, is a highly effective couples therapy modality that focuses on helping clients learn to communicate the softer primary emotions (think vulnerability, or the need for acceptance) that always lie underneath the more surface emotions (think anger, contempt, and defensiveness) that put us in a negative cycle of hurt and disconnection.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) brilliantly supports couples to share their vulnerabilities, which leads to the creation of an emotional “safe haven” and a strong bond that can stand firm in the face of life’s many difficult emotional challenges.

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Ed Peterson LCSW, MBA is an EFT certified therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specializes in individual, family and couple’s counseling. Would you like to meet with Ed? Send him an email to discuss scheduling: peterson.ed.lcsw[@]gmail.com

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships and 10 Steps to Keep Them

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7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them 

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” 
- Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be 
and Embrace Who You Are

What are boundaries? What comes to your mind when you hear the word “boundaries”? Does it have a positive association, or a negative one? Do you consider “boundaries” as limiting or freeing? Necessary or unnecessary? Many ask, are boundaries even necessary, particularly in this one special and perhaps even I-so-wanna-be-vulnerable-with-this-person? I say, “Yes”, they are necessary. Being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Let me repeat; being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Healthy boundaries should not stifle a healthy relationship, they should let it flourish. Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. 

Here are top 7 boundaries I recommend you focus on:

1.       What you expect from the relationship

2.       What you will tolerate emotionally

3.       Your financial preferences 

4.       Your sexual preferences

5.       Your attitudes towards family and friends 

6.       Your activities and hobbies 

7.       The importance of your dreams

There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and what they do for your relationships. Boundaries are essential not only to your healthy relationship, but also, to your healthy life. And trust me, they are not rigid constrictions intended to suffocate your precious relationship. Boundaries can, should, and do change as your relationship progresses. And this is why discussing them with your partner periodically is so important. Know where you stand and let your partner know.

So, you might ask, how do I set healthy boundaries? Here is what Dr. Dana Gionta suggests:

1.       Name your limits. Communicate what you can and cannot tolerate.

2.       Tune into your feelings. Pay attention to your discomfort and try to answer what is causing it.

3.       Be direct. Talk about how much time you need to maintain your sense of self and how much time you want to spend together.

4.       Give yourself permission. Pay special attention to feelings of guilt, shame, fear, self-doubt. Boundaries are about self-respect, so give yourself permission to set them.

5.       Practice self-awareness. Again, tune into your feelings and honor them. Explore your options.

6.       Consider your past and present. Where we come from and how those relationship functioned are vital to how we tend to act, and what our emotional needs are.

7.       Make self-care a priority. Put yourself first. Honor your feelings. As Gionta says “When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend”.

8.       Seek support. Friends, family, support groups, therapy, published resources are all good options. 

9.       Be assertive. Follow through. People are not mind readers. It is important to communicate with your partner that they have crossed the boundary, and then work together to address it.

10.   Start small. Assertive communication takes practice. Start with something that is not overwhelming.

So, next time you feel pressured to break your boundaries, know that all healthy relationships have boundaries. And, remember that setting boundaries takes courage, and courage is a skill we can master. One last thing I would like to mention is, do follow through, know when it’s time to move on. Remember, you can only share how you desire to be treated in this relationship, and you can’t make yourself responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. You deserve respect. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to consider ending the relationship. 

Healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you stay open, trust your instincts, and communicate with your partner and you both are engaged and invested, the relationship can only get stronger as it progresses.

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment!

Please Fix My Kid

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Please Fix My Kid

By Ben Kroff, MFTI

Please Fix My Kid

By Ben Kroff, MFTI

When our cars aren’t working well or something is broken, we are fortunate to be able to simply drop the car off at the mechanic and let them solve the problem; they do their mechanic magic and call us when it’s all fixed and ready to go. It would be AWESOME if we could drop our kids off at therapy, let the therapist do their thing and have them call us when our child is ready to listen, cooperate, get out of bed, go to school, get good grades, treat their siblings better and make better choices.  

Unfortunately, kid problems are more complex than car problems. When a child starts exhibiting symptoms of distress, whether they are behavioral, emotional or psychological, we need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. What is happening in their home environment, social circle, or academic setting? When our child is displaying problem behaviors, it is a sign that something in their environment needs to change. Just as pain in our bodies are signals that we need to change something, if your child is in pain, or if they are causing you pain, it is a sign that something in his or her environment needs to change. Often this change is not something that the child alone is going to be able to accomplish, even with the help of a qualified therapist. The child is part of a larger system that is impacting his or her mental health. The best chance for successful change will be found when working with the child’s most significant relationships.

When waiting for our car to be serviced we can enjoy flipping through magazines, scrolling through Facebook or even eating popcorn in the waiting room; if you are taking your child to therapy and are enjoying quiet time in the waiting room or running errands during their session I would invite you to reconsider how this time is spent. If the therapist hasn’t invited you into the room, ask if you can join. There is much to be gained in joining your child in their pain, in seeking to support and understand and be involved in their recovery. Maybe not every session will be appropriate for family members to join and your child and their therapist can identify those times, but more often than not great work can be done by bringing the child’s significant relationships—like their relationship with their parents—into the therapy office together.

Ultimately, healing comes through nurturing connection. If your therapist has not offered this approach or doesn’t feel comfortable with involving more of the family in therapy, you may want to look into switching your child to a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). These therapists are trained in therapeutic models that incorporate this larger, systemic family approach. At the EFT Clinic many of our clinicians are LMFT’s and all of our therapists have been trained in relational Emotionally Focused Therapy. We look forward to helping you and your loved ones.

Ben Kroff is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at The EFT Clinic and is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Ben or any of our many experienced therapists, call our office at 385-695-5949.

Do I Matter?

Do I Matter?

Ben Kroff, MFT Intern

Do I matter? 

If you've never seen "The Still Face Experiment," please click the link or scroll down to view it now! It will forever change the way you interact with your children, grandchildren, or significant other. The video shows how distressing it is for an infant to feel disconnected from a caregiver. The visible distress that overtakes the little ones is heartbreaking and incredibly insightful! 

Human beings are designed to thrive through connection to other human beings. As mature adults, we cannot pretend that we no longer need this connection. In Emotionally Focused Therapy, there is something known as the “$64 million dollar question”. That question is, "Do I matter?" What happens when we feel like we don't matter? We fall into distress just like the little babies did in the "Still Face Experiment" and we begin fussing and crying out for attention.

Have you ever been on a phone call and had your little one immediately begin tugging at your pant leg? They have sensed your shift in attention. You are no longer available so they begin doing all they can to get you reconnected to them. 

What are you doing to reassure those who you value that you are available and responsive to them? Do you see how desperately they are trying to get you to connect? Notice the similarity of the parents' facial expression when they are non-responsive to their children. Now picture what your face may look like if you are glued to your phone or otherwise distracted while your child makes a bid for your attention. I imagine it looks very similar to the still face of the parents in the video. 

Let's practice putting down our distractions, turning toward each other, and connecting. Let's look at our loved ones when they speak to us. Let's show by our focused attention to others that they matter to us. This small change will do miracles in calming the conflict in our relationships. 

Ben is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at the EFT Clinic. He is currently accepting new clients. Call our office today to schedule an appointment with Ben.