Over the past three days I haven’t been able to sleep. One of my friends ran into my ex (yes, the one I wrote so much about) and told me all about his new ‘young and gorgeous’ girlfriend and their massive travel and family-meeting plans for Christmas break. And that house he talked about buying while we were together to raise our kids in, yup, he bought that too, right around the corner from where I live.
He’s a romantic, he said, that’s why at age 48 he had never been in a relationship for longer than 11 months. He was looking for the right person. As he was covering me with love and attention I thought: he must have been waiting for me.
I finally thought I understood the reason behind all the pain I had experienced in the past, it was all leading me to him: one of the world’s most avoidant men. How fabulous.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go backwards, I have zero desire to be with him or someone like that again, but my friend telling me this triggered my Anxious Attachment Style and I suddenly began experiencing the same pain and constant discomfort I felt when I was with him.
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Anxious attachment has no ground rules, it erupts with the power of a volcano at the mere sign of our beloved leaving us or putting distance between us. We feel that deep rooted fear of abandonment, that sense of not being enough, that feeling of unworthiness of their love.
We don’t turn inwards to ask ourselves what we need, how we feel, what needs to happen for us to feel happy and safe, instead we redirect our full heart, mind and attention towards them.
What do they need? What do they feel and what can we do to restore that sense of happiness so that they don’t abandon us?
When I found out my ex had moved on and this new girl had ‘won’, according to my friend ‘she managed to keep him for longer than I was able to and with an even deeper commitment than the one he had offered to me’.
Hearing her say this to me made me feel tiny.
I began asking myself so many questions: what could I have done differently? Would he at some point regret leaving me? Will he return when he breaks up with her?
Let me be clear, he is as avoidant as can be, therefore he will most likely repeat the same pattern over and over unless he seeks therapy. This poor woman, she is likely also to be in for an even more brutal ride — she arrived around Christmas time, which means that ahead of being discarded she will feel the immense joy of introducing him to her family and vice versa, something he does simply not to feel alone during the holidays. He had actually told me this when we were together.
Bottom line, he’s not the type of partner you want for life because he’s not likely to stick around for life.
The crazy thing is that when I was triggered, my anxiety wasn’t directed at him, rather it was mainly redirected towards my current partner. What if he did the same? I began to wonder.
Without my new partner having done anything wrong, I began to panic. I became a bit cold when he called, I activated some awful mechanisms I had learned from previous relationships.
I was scared I would have to loose him too.
Where does this kind of attachment come from?
Typically avoidant attachment comes from our childhood.
I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about attachment styles to read the book ‘Attached’, however, to sum it up, (even though some of us had very loving parents) we were not given the unconditional love we needed to create secure bonds in relationships.
We likely have interiorized a mechanism that tells us that if we work harder, if we are just a little better, if we prove how worthy we deserve to be loved just a little bit more.
We have interiorized the belief that we aren’t worthy of love unless we work for it. Often, those with an anxious attachment style, don’t even love themselves unconditionally.
Recently I began an accreditation course towards a psychometric assessment which measures the strategies we activate to make the best of our lives. Do we count on ourselves, on others or do we trust the universe to have our back?
During the course I learned a very valuable lesson: when we are children, until we are self-sufficient, our parents have to provide us with a secure bubble we can grow and develop in. In this bubble we are allowed to fall, to mess up, to experiment without consequences because they love us unconditionally and therefore we learn to trust, to love, to let go.
Anxious attachment individuals are likely going to have developed a strategy where they count primarily on themselves. Funny enough, even avoidants have mastered the same life strategy, with the difference that us anxious people are looking for approval and connection by focusing all of our energy on the needs of the other, whilst avoidants cope with it by turning on their ‘it’s-best-to-shut-all-emotion-and-attachment-off-so-I-don’t-suffer’ switch.
Un-triggering our ‘anxious’
It’s never easy to shut it off, that little voice in our brain that panics at the mere sign of abandonment. Becoming aware of it is key.
We need to remember that each part of us, each voice speaking inside of us is actually there to help us, it’s there to save us from future pain. If you look back at the first time you heard this voice, it was probably a very long time ago. This is probably a self defense mechanism you assembled as a child.
Let’s take a look at what happens in the most rational way possible:
- Event: something big or small triggers our avoidant part. It may be our partner being focused on something different from us or our relationship, or a day when they are colder to us (even if that’s only due to the fact that they are immersed in their every day lives) or something they said. Bottom line, something happens which reminds us that we are not worthy of love unless we fight for it and work for it.
- Trigger: we are triggered. Our anxious part is desperately trying to solve the problem. It’s trying to make sure we are not abandoned. All of a sudden our entire focus is on the other person. We no longer really know how we are feeling, anxiety has taken over. Instead we begin to wonder what they’re feeling, what we can do so that they come back to us and conspiracy theories of anything that could potentially have gone down to lead to this moment.
- Action: the action we take now is key. First and foremost we need to breathe. One of the most quick, easy and effective breathing methods is square breathing as it resets your central nervous system. It’s 4–4–4–4 for 4 times. Inhale in 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale in 4 counts, hold for 4. Repeat 4 times. Okay. Let’s think rationally for a second and refocus our energy on ourselves. Anything your mind is telling you about the other person at this time is written by our own brain, it’s not necessarily reality. This is the time when instead of thinking of how we can love them harder, we need to figure out how to love ourselves harder.
Meditation & breathing
Guided meditation can be very effective. Last time I was triggered I went on a free app called Insights Timer and I looked for a guided meditation on anxious attachment. The voice was telling my inner child that they are safe, that they are loved, that they are okay.
Our friends are wonderful, but when you are triggered, unless you have a friend who is able to listen to you without passing on judgment or advice on your partner or potential partner, it’s best to work with a professional. A professional can help you identify what to do when you are triggered and to look back at what triggers turned on that switch.
Surround yourself with the right people
We often repeat the same pattern of choosing people who make us prove over and over that we are worthy of love. It is so important in adulthood to choose friends and loved ones who are the exact opposite, friends who will love us for exactly who we are. Just by existing, they remind us that we are worthy of love.
Choose a secure or a self aware partner
A partner with a secure attachment style will throw water to your fire. A secure partner will hold your avoidant until it calms down.
My current partner, when I first introduced him to attachment styles, told me that he thinks all of us are a little avoidant and anxious and secure, each in different proportions. Wow, I thought, what a mature thought.
In truth, his primary attachment style is secure, however he told me at times he sometimes has avoidant triggers. The first time I activated one, he warned me straight away.
You are amazing, but I feel triggered.
In these situations, I try very hard to take a step back and give space to his needs as well, just as he does with mine.
We are both aware.
The other day we almost ended things as we were both extremely triggered. We stopped, individually, and looked at the ground we were standing on: I was running towards him and he was running away.
He stopped running and I stopped chasing. He asked me for some space and I stepped back.
I cannot tell you that I am healed, for I am not.
I am a work in progress, as I believe all of us are. As I struggle to learn more, to become more self aware and in control when triggered, I am will continue to share my findings so that together, maybe, we have a shot a not messing up a good relationship when it comes our way.
Maybe the key is caring a little bit more. For some, to care a little more about others, and for others, to care a little more about ourselves.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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