One of the key insights in psychotherapy is that an event in itself doesn’t have meaning: events gain meaning through the personal filter of the experiencing individual. Four people at the same event, because they have four different filters or expectations, will experience it in four different ways. Using the imaginary example of observers of a fight in a car park, this article explores personal filters and their role in making meaning. We conclude with an explanation of what this means for the process of emotional healing in psychotherapy.
Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 4/4: secure and earned secure attachment
This is the final article of four about attachment, the way we form relationships based on formative experiences with carers, usually our biological parents. The previous three articles have described how the avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganised attachment styles are formed, how these attachment styles play out in adult romantic relationships, and the way psychotherapy may help resolve the issues inherent in each attachment style.
The insecure attachment styles – avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised – are characterised by compromises the child made due to unmet emotional needs. These compromises then form a blueprint for what is and isn’t possible in intimate relationships. The avoidant blueprint is the need not to give away emotions which feel dangerous to express; the ambivalent blueprint is the need to manage fear of abandonment; and the disorganised blueprint is an abiding hypervigilance as the world is not a safe place to be.
By contrast, secure attachment is characterised by the child getting enough of what s/he needs enough of the time, enabling the child to express emotional needs openly and appropriately with the expectation they will be accepted and met. This child, free from preoccupation with hiding emotions, free from fear of abandonment or the need to stay safe from danger, has an inner sense of security which enables a much greater degree of self-knowledge and therefore a better quality of relationship with others.
This article describes the parent/child relationship which develops secure attachment and how this plays out in adult romantic relationships. As with all four articles, the attachment style is illustrated by a song: secure attachment is characterised by To Do With You by Jake Thackray. The final section of the article explains that the ultimate goal of therapy is to provide the care and conditions to help the client move from an insecure to an earned secure attachment.
Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 3/4: disorganised or fearful attachment
This is the third of four articles about the way we form relationships, known as an attachment style. This article explores disorganised or fearful attachment. Taking early experiences with parents or carers as the blueprint, disorganised attachment originates in an abiding fear due to lack of safety, resulting in negative views about life, dissociation, and emotional disregulation. In adult life, this makes relationships problematic, as the primary concern of the fearfully attached is avoiding danger and, for that reason, emotions are either heightened or blocked and hypervigilance is the norm.
Each of these four articles about attachment includes music which exemplifies the attachment style. Disorganised or fearful attachment is illustrated by Björk’s Hyperballad. Finally, the role of psychotherapy is outlined, the process of helping someone with fearful attachment reach a place of emotional security and safety. Read more
Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 2/4: ambivalent or preoccupied attachment
This is the second of four articles about attachment styles, the way we form relationships and view ourselves based on early experiences of nurturing. The first article briefly outlined the groundbreaking research of Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby and described the avoidant attachment style, in which emotions are either unavailable or feel dangerous to express. This article explains the origin and characteristics of ambivalent attachment, in which the infant is preoccupied with the presence of the parent whose emotional availability is unpredictable, and carries this model of relationships into adult life, passively or angrily fearing that their partner doesn’t love them.
Each article ends with an example of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style, and asks how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. The ambivalent attachment style is illustrated by Harry Nilsson’s Without You and Radiohead’s Creep, and the combination of avoidant and ambivalent attachments in relationship is illustrated by Wham’s Freedom.
Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 1/4: avoidant or dismissive attachment
Often someone finds themself back in a familiar and distressing situation with a partner or friends, thinking ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ or ‘Why do I always end up here?’ The first step towards breaking out of unhealthy relationship patterns is to recognise the repetition, and our own part in perpetuating it, so that we have conscious choices about our own behaviour.
The attachment model for understanding relationships focuses on the nature of the bond between an infant and primary carers, usually the mother and/or father. In research, three broad categories of attachment were observed in children: avoidant, ambivalent, and secure. To this, a fourth category was later added, disorganised. Longitudinal studies have shown that, unless a positive intervention is made, the child now grown uses this primary relationship as an unconscious blueprint for their adult intimate relationships.
These four articles look at the childhood origins of each attachment style, what this looks like in adult relationships, and how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. Each article ends with examples of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style.
This first article describes the emotional unavailability of the avoidant or dismissive attachment style, illustrated by Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I, 10cc’s I’m Not In Love, and Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am A Rock.
What is this thing called love?
What is this thing called love,
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
~ Cole Porter, What is this thing called love?
In all its various forms, love is a frequent subject in the therapy room. As in Cole Porter’s song, some people’s experience is that loving relationships inevitably end, leaving them feeling foolish. Others experience love as a restricting prison, or as something powerfully desired but unattainable. Why is this? And how can counselling and psychotherapy help?
Seeing what we expect to see: the magic lamp and the circle of trauma
Recently I’ve been doing some work on my house and much of my furniture has been moved to accommodate the changes. I walked into the darkness of one room and reached out to turn on a lamp in the place it used to be. It wasn’t there. But for a split second, as if by magic, I saw it in front of me. I then turned to reach for it in the place I knew it now was, and realised the importance of what had just happened: for those in trauma, reliving expectations is a key part of experience.
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