Compassion is crucial when dealing with maladaptive attachment styles. The solution to moving yourself or someone else toward a more secure way of relating is often about learning to ask the right questions and having some empathetic imagination: What might be causing these specific behaviors, and what might you or this person actually need? Ehrensaft says that with her clients, often adoptive parents and their adopted children who are struggling to forge a bond, she coaches the parent to imagine what the child may have experienced prior to adoption that’s prompting their anxious or avoidant reaction.
Before my divorce, I would have nightmares about my husband happily being in relationships with other women. Although he wasn’t actually cheating on me, these dreams caused me to experience frequent anxiety and panic attacks. I knew the end of our marriage was inevitable. When I started dating again, after my divorce, I didn’t want to repeat my earlier mistakes. Learning how to maintain that balance between asking for reassurance and self-soothing was the first step in applying attachment theory to my day-to-day relationships. I had to start small, practicing this with my close friends, siblings, and coworkers until I felt confident enough to really start dating again over a year later.
Tesoro affirms this experience, saying, “Thinking about what your needs are, how they’re being met, and how you feel if they’re not being met or unable to be met in these relationships…is a useful framing to understand the history of our attachment. Also, asking yourself how you might remain ‘over your own center of gravity,’ or rely on yourself when necessary, to act from a place of groundedness, is helpful.”
Whether it’s a therapist, a friend, or a partner, having secure figures in your life can change everything. Jessee Lovegood, an MFT candidate in the East Bay area in California, does a lot of reparative work with clients who have attachment trauma, and often serves as such a person. “[When] I work with my clients who have so much attachment trauma, the most important thing to me is to show up consistently for them,” Lovegood says. “Be there when I say I will, apologize when I’m not, continue to be a warm and calm presence in their lives. The most important thing is to show up for them.”
Finding the right partner for you
Not only is it tempting to go with what’s familiar, it can sometimes feel unavoidable, and relationships between anxious and avoidant people are extremely common. After all, this pairing replicates a lot of the patterns created in childhood. But once you’re aware of your patterns and behaviors, it becomes possible to change them. And while finding a partner who makes you feel safe will go a long way to help, it can only supplement the work you’re able to do on your own.