Most of our behaviors and motivations are subconscious. We don’t think too much about where our thoughts and feelings come from, we just experience them as they come. As Codependents, we often have reactions that are either way over the top or are not in sever or appropriate to the situation.
Because our attachment style is determined within our first three years of life, it’s important that we have some insight into why we do what we do, if we ever hope to change it.
Not having our attachment needs met in early childhood leaves us with a core belief that people cannot be trusted. It shows up as feelings of anxiety, insecurity and an inability to relax and feel that things will be alright. Fear of abandonment or a fear of rejection in our adult relationships is often directly correlated to the experiences we had with our parents as infants.
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby believed that babies were nothing, but the reflection of the 100’s of thoughts and actions reflected back at them by their caregivers. If a parent was unresponsive to the child’s needs that child would develop a neuropathway from those repeated experiences that people were not dependable. Bowlby postulated that the earlier these events happened, the more enduring the pattern.
The Avoidant attachment style assumes others will be hostile and rejecting. They have an I’ll get you before you get me type of coping strategy. They make no apologies or excuses for the armor they openly wear. They are uncomfortable in intimate relationships and prefer solitude. They tend to seek out partners who also have insecure attachment styles. It is estimated that 20% of the population have an Avoidant attachment style.
Clingers need to be in relationships. They always feel that their partners are never as close as they would like. They are over-givers and often choose partners who are users and incapable of ever truly loving them. They have a very serious fear of rejection because they were rejected by their caregivers. They tend to seek out partners that also have an insecure attachment style. It is estimated that 10% of the population have this type of attachment style.
The Wobbler type of attachment style is a combination of the two. They have a very real desire to be in a relationship, to experience love and intimacy, but they have a difficult time overcoming their trust issues or fear of abandonment. They tend to seek out partners that also have insecure attachment styles. It is estimated that 20% of the population have a Wobbler attachment style.
Those lucky enough to have a Secure attachment style find it easy to get close to others and open themselves up. They have appropriate amounts of trust and expectations. They are comfortable depending on others and being depended on. They are fine being in a relationship and equally fine outside of a relationship. They tend to make friends in school who are also securely attached and also have romantic partners that are securely attached. It is estimated that 50% of the population is securely attached.
Cortisol Levels and Attachment
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced when an infant feels threatened, scared, traumatized or abused. It is the fight or flight hormone. If an infant secrets too much on a consistent basis it can cause permanent brain damage making them hyper sensitive to otherwise harmless stimuli. Exposure to too much trauma early on can also have the opposite affect making a child unfazed or unresponsive to what others would normally have an aversive reaction to.
Although abusive or neglectful care has a deeply rooted effect on how we relate to others throughout our life, our attachment style is not etched in stone. Getting to the bottom of why you act the way you do in your relationships is essential to changing it.
Figure out what attachment style you have. This isn’t about blaming your parents – it’s about gaining insight and being mindful of your tendencies. Next, take a look at the types of partners you’ve had in the past. What attachment styles did they have?
Rather than just acting out mindlessly in relationships, pay attention to your default tendencies. Are you needy and clinging? Are you avoidant and unemotional? Do you always have your guard up? Do you blow hot and cold? Do you want a relationship, yet fear being in one at the same time?
When you notice your tendencies be mindful of them. Challenge them and bring logic into the equation. If you tend to be mistrustful, ask yourself – Do I have a reason to be mistrustful of my partner? If the answer is no, then allow yourself to proceed and be open to the possibilities. If you are needy and clinging ask yourself – Do I have a reason to feel insecure or am I acting out of preconditioned beliefs?
Recently my brother and I got into a disagreement. I firmly believe that he was being really inconsiderate and treating me in a way that did not feel very good. I was direct – I called him and told him how this was making me feel. He didn’t accept any responsibility, in fact, he passed it off to others and didn’t acknowledge my hurt feelings. As I thought about it later on, I was able to see that his nonchalance was triggering the way my mother would behave when I was upset. She would make me feel like what I wanted, felt or thought wasn’t important. She would act aloof or in a mocking manner and she would not acknowledge the validity of my points, or my need to be heard and understood. When I brought logic into the equation I was able to ascertain that:
- He is not responsible for my feelings or what triggers them
- I am over-reacting because of my past experiences.
- I am responsible for how I react
- I should react in a mature, logical and respectful fashion regardless of his behavior
- He is responsible for his behavior
- His behavior was shitty and hurtful
- The appropriate response from him should be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an apology, followed by not repeating the behavior
- I cannot force him to accept my point of view and I cannot change him
- Through my actions I teach people how to treat me
- I am the protector of my well-being and I must enforce my boundaries at all times
What he had done had really upset me and affected my mood for days. I was feeling rejected and abandoned by someone I really love and it was definitely hitting all the buttons from my early childhood experiences with my mother. I always felt unwanted by her, I felt rejected and emotionally abandoned and this was bringing back those painful feelings. I had to take a step back and review it logically and see it for what it was, rather than piled underneath all of the layers of hurt and abuse that he wasn’t responsible for.
Dr. Wayne Dyer always used to say, “You decide whether you live in a hostile world or a loving world.” When you believe the people around you are not trustworthy you tend to attract untrustworthy individuals. Believe in the goodness of others, believe that you are healthy and can overcome any obstacle, be mindful and challenge your tendencies and before you know it you’ll feel more secure and be able to trust yourself and others.
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