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, unencumbered by preoccupation with hiding emotions, with 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.

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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.

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Hope in the therapy room

A question I am sometimes asked by clients, usually in the first few sessions, is “Is there any hope for me?” It is a fundamental question which goes to the heart of therapy. A way of understanding the question is ‘Will I be able to grow beyond my present state? Is change really possible?’ The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’.

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