Why It’s Possible To Have Healthy Attachment Styles
Understanding the attachment process can help you have a more peaceful life.
by Cindy Hunter
Last week we made our annual sojourn to the beach. As is typical, we planned our vacation to coincide with our good friends. That put one of our daughters a block away from her lifelong best friend. Perfect proximity by my way of thinking.
My long ago Outer Banks trips with my childhood bestie “June Bug” conjured up mystical memories of surf, sand, and the joy of joining another family, albeit for just a week. The fact that these trips only happened for me between the ages of 10 and 15, forty plus years ago, has done nothing to dim their luminosity in my memory.
And so it goes, periodically, that I must entice my mountain-loving husband and kids back to the place where life was at its best for me as a child. For many years, I did not consider what prompted my migration back to the shore. I, like many, just knew I experienced spiritual and emotional rest with the waves lapping at my feet and my children playing in the surf.
Expectations vs. Reality
What gave me pause, though, many years back, was how often these trips didn’t quite recreate my lofty memories. Maybe it rained too much, or the boogie-boarding conditions were less than ideal? Just as often though, even when the sun shone brightly and the waves were perfect, there was often a relational hiccup that made the one-week community we were trying to build fall somehow short. Case in point: every other year when our kids were young we rented a mini-mansion and headed to the North Carolina shoreline to share a week with three other families. In all, we numbered 12 children and 8 adults. That’s a lot.
More than once, after only a few days together, I begin to feel, I don’t know, left out maybe—not centrally important as plans were being made all around me and seemingly without my input. These people were my good every day friends. We met often back at home. But something about being in close under one roof at the beach made me desire more intense validation and hyper-focus on whether I was being chosen.
Interestingly, my husband, seemed oblivious to any relational pull to connect. In fact, as I tried to ramp up my visibility he went in the other direction. He also was not central to the action and became in ways, nearly invisible. While these vacations created in me a drive to make a bigger splash, he seemed to want a perfect splashless entry, where no one noticed him. I wish I could say that in my discontent no one suffered with me. I am a counselor by profession after all. The truth is perhaps murkier.
We all have different attachment styles
Since that time, I have discovered insights that have helped to explain what might have created some of the swirl in which I lived, and into which I sometimes sucked my friends. From a book called, The Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, I learned that we all have attachment styles, styles that are developed in our youngest years and that often stay with us unless we seek to understand our story and experience healing within relationships.
From a book called, The Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, I learned that we all have attachment styles, styles that are developed in our youngest years and that often stay with us unless we seek to understand our story and experience healing within relationships.
Take me. I was raised in an environment that felt unpredictable and, at times, barren, but this landscape was punctuated by intermittent beach trips with “June Bug” where I felt spiritual communion as I ran along the shore and reveled in being noticed and in belonging. This, then, created an Anxious/Ambivalent attachment style in me where I lived in high alert, longing for connection. As an adult, I was drawn to recreate some of the most poignant moments of my youth and, strangely, to also relive my insecure attachment style.
My husband, on the other hand, has a more Avoidant Style of relating. People like my husband are raised in an environment where feelings aren’t valued, so they literally learn to just not have them! As people around him found ways, big and small, to bond on our beach vacation he would watch, somewhat detached and off to the side, once again reliving a script from long ago with no real awareness of how to live differently.
I can write this without tremendous shame because the intervening years have been mostly good to our family. As I sometimes tell my clients, understanding what is driving you is often the first step towards change. From Curt Thompson’s writing, and others like him, I found categories to understand the attachment process, and how we are often bound by insecure attachments. From there, I found fragments of truth to lighten the load. God has indeed given us a path that can lead us towards more secure adult attachments (being attached in a way that is neither preoccupied with being abandoned or avoidant and dismissive). For that we need both self-awareness and real connection with other people.
Understanding what is driving you is often the first step towards change.
As we were driving home from the beach last week I thought to ask my 16-year-old daughter if all was okay between her and her best friend, since her friend had seemed less outgoing than usual. My daughter gave me the “really?” look, as only a teenager can, and said that her friend needed some down time and probably wanted to hang out more with a sibling who was about to leave for college.
Still not completely convinced, I followed, “and you were….”,
“Fine, Mom!” she laughed. “I had an awesome week.”
Two friends, close enough to share some of life’s most poignant moments, confident enough to grant each other a wide berth when needed. Despite all the work I’ve done to understand the attachment process, healthy attachments, like the one my daughter has with her friend, still sometimes catch me off guard!
If you’d like to learn more about Attachment styles, shame and beauty, join LCI and Curt Thompson, M.D. on September 16th, 2017 at McLean Presbyterian Church.
About the Author
Since 1995, Cindy Hunter has worked in private practice as a licensed clinical professional counselor. During her career, she also taught at Capital Bible seminary as an adjunct professor for over 10 years. Cindy has been a part of the Lay Counselor Institute since its inception. She serves on the board, helps with training, leads labs, and supervises a group of Lay Counselors. She truly believes in the mission of LCI and it is foundational to who she is. She is the mother of an adult son and two teenaged daughters and currently resides in Maryland.