Center for Shared Insight, PC

Podcast: How Attachment Theory Helps You Grow

August 25, 2020
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

Dr. Kristen Hick and Dave Glaser, host of the Believe Be Real Be Bold Podcast, talk about various topics, from ways to cultivate self-awareness to resolving conflicts with your partner in this podcast. Framed around understanding behavior through attachment styles, Dr. Hick and Dave remind listeners to be more compassionate for themselves and others as they discuss these relationship topics. 

In this post, we’ll recap some of the highlights of this conversation.

Improving Relationships Through Self Awareness

Romantic relationships are a portal to self-awareness. Romantic relationships can teach you about yourself if you tune into the learnings that exist within conflict, disappointment, and even moments of joy. As you learn more about yourself and become more self-aware, you project less on your partner and own more of your behavior. Therefore, you can begin to both understand and communicate your needs in response to conflict, instead of pointing the fingers at your partner when you are unhappy. 

Of course, even if you learn to 100% own your response and reactions to your partner, your partner has their own “stuff” that they are working through. You might wonder how you help them cultivate similar awareness without putting them on the defense. An effective and tested way to do that is through non-violent communication or using “I statements”. Examples of these strategies are using phrases like:

"I feel X when…."

"I felt X when this happened…"

Instead of:

"When you did X…."

"You are making me feel…."

Moving away from “you” statements and toward “I” statements help bring defenses down and subside conflict so that you can have a reasonable conversation. Changing the way you communicate by using “I” statements can help your partner cultivate more self-awareness without putting them on the defense as you work through both minor and more significant conflict in your relationship. However, doing so requires you to understand how you feel, and what you feel, and that takes a certain level of courage, and a commitment to introspection.

If you are just getting started on your journey of self-awareness, look for dedicated groups that are committed to this cause, self-help books, journaling, and others who are also on a similar path. If you work with a therapist or another objective professional, commit to “doing your homework” between sessions by using resources like books and journaling exercises. This work is a gift you give yourself and your future relationships

Understanding Attachment

We often talk about avoidant, anxious, and secure attachment types, because they are the most common. However, there are variations on those main types, with one of those being an unresolved or fearful-avoidant type (depending on the theorist or researcher, they can go by different names but have similar meanings). They have a mixture of both anxious and avoidant attachment traits, including that they have negative views of themselves and of others and often expect the worst to happen. This attachment style forms out of small and/or large traumas, usually within relationships, and therefore, get triggered easily in relationships. 

They often subconsciously respond to relationships and closeness in a perplexing way; while a fearful-avoidant wants a relationship, they also put up walls quickly. When a partner can actually meet their needs, they are triggered by the vulnerability and want to protect themselves. This leads to self-sabotaging behaviors and a deep need/desire to protect themselves. Similar to anxiously attached individuals, they exhibit “protest behaviors” where they sabotage the one thing they are seeking by not returning texts after they finally get the response they were wanting or finding things wrong with their partner just as they’re getting the closeness they wanted. This response is due to fear, so it’s important that fearful-avoidant partners progress a lot slower in a relationship because they don’t trust a good thing when they have it. Rather, they are programmed to believe the worst and are often waiting for and even creating an environment for things to go wrong.

Dr. Hick and Dave also talked about how fearful-avoidant attached individuals deal with break-ups. They might have a hard time getting over casual relationships, which often stir up a lot for them internally, and may want to keep people on a “what if” list, after they are able to get some space from them. Similar to avoidantly attached individuals, individuals with this type of attachment style, often reach back out after they have had some time to get distance and re-establish a sense of safety. These attempts to reconnect with the anxiously or securely attached partner, can be confusing to them after being pushed away. In contrast, anxiously attached partners often hold on longer and engage in second-guessing, often with a sense of self-blame and anxiety. For the anxiously attached, distance is anxiety-provoking and it’s comfortable for them to stay attached in their minds.

Overcoming relationship triggers and conflict

Resolving relationship conflict is possible when partners have a mutual desire to do the work, a high level of personal insight (which can be enhanced through self-work and ongoing therapy), a willingness to learn about themselves, and are receptive to feedback. It’s important to commit to working on your relationship together, understanding your patterns and cycles, and how you might trigger each other. Recognize that just because someone has aligned values, doesn’t mean they are going to communicate effectively with their partner. 

So often, conflict is not about the person or situation, but is more about what got triggered in the person’s attachment. If you and your partner are going to fight, know your default reaction based on your attachment, and don’t take every conflict personally. With your partner, create a plan for disagreements so you can come back more regulated. That might look like creating space or creating a container. Remember that when you are in conflict, you are almost always dealing with past wounds, not the present situation. The present is just triggering you and communication becomes very primal when you are in conflict. It’s important to teach your partner what you like or need in a relationship. Don’t assume that they understand how to make you feel loved and appreciated. Don’t assume they know what triggers you.

Throughout this podcast, you’ll learn more about yourself and your opportunities for growth within a relationship, including with yourself. Dr. Kristen Hick serves clients in her Denver office, Center for Shared Insight, and supports clients on their journey of self-discovery, including improving their relationships and better understanding their attachment style. 

If you’d like to learn more about her services, contact us for an intake session.

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