Trauma is more than experiencing child abuse, war, rape, etc but can often include attachment wounds. Often when one thinks about insecure attachment or attachment wounds we often link this to issues with abandonment related to adoption, neglect, or again child abuse. The truth is that issues with attachment, which often relate to insecure attachment, have more to do with mismatches in attunement and not getting ones emotional needs met. In Part 1 of this series I spoke directly about insecure attachment and how it links to trauma symptoms. Now in Part 2 I’ll focus more on how to identify whether or not you have insecure attachment and how you can heal from it.
When Attachment Goes Ary
Early disruptions in attachment or interpersonal traumas are basically a failure of the Social Engagement System. Essentially the caregiver(s) display a limited capacity to consistently, safely, nurture, and attune to their babies needs. The result is that the baby in turn displays a limited capacity for self-regulation. This is due to having a smaller window of tolerance, which happens over time and with this type of consistent misattunement or inconsistent attunement.
In instances of abuse and/or neglect, the child’s opportunity to utilize the Social Engagement System for care and protection has been overridden as their need for survival takes precedent. The child experiences overwhelming arousal (in the form of physical, sexual, and/or emotional harm) without the availability of attachment mediated comfort for repair (someone to provide safety, protection, nurturance, and co-regulation). Without adequate attempts to repair and development the Social Engagement System within a secure attachment relationship framework a child is unable to create a sense of unity and continuity of their self across the past, present, and future or in their relationship with self or with others. The end result is emotional instability, social dysfunction, poor response to stress, cognitive disorganization, and disorientation.
Even without abuse or neglect in an overt way, insecure attachment can develop when a child’s emotional needs are not met. This can lead a person to continuing to struggle with emotional instability, social dysfunction, cognitive disorganization and disorientation as a result. Again these behaviors come in a wide range, they are not just one way. Attachment related issues can have long term negative effects, such as: the diminishing capacity to modulate arousal levels, develop healthy, safe and secure relationships, and cope with stress. Attachment disruptions undermine the child’s ability to recover and reorganize, to feel soothed or safe.
There are three types of insecure attachment, Insecure-Avoidant, Insecure Ambivalent/Anxious, and Disorganized/disoriented Attachment. I will not go into the differences in this blog but instead I’ll generally talk about insecure attachment and it’s long term impacts.
Insecure Attachment, As a Whole
There are 3 categories within insecure attachment, but the theme that binds them all is anxiety. This anxiety can be manifested in a multitude of ways, but most notably the fear and anxiety around losing connection to others.
This fear can lead a person to being overly clingy. With this you may fear that if the person you want to connect with is not right in front of you, that somehow you will be forgotten. Or worse yet, that they do not like/love you. This then leads you to feel intensely anxious, afraid, and unloved. In order to alleviate this distress and feel connected you may frantically text or call the person. Often doing this repeatedly until you get an answer. You may also attempt to seek constant reassurance from the other that they are not going anywhere, but this is often not enough to fully alleviate your distress. The end result is that you get in unhealthy relationships or you find that you cannot keep relationships, which then perpetuates the feelings of loss.
Your anxiety can be manifested as fear of connecting, so you avoid close relationships. You may be afraid to be vulnerable with another therefore you never share personal details about your life and you have the ability to deflect attention away from yourself if someone attempts to get too close. People may have described you as cold or aloof. You might also have very extreme thinking or make blanket statements, typically around gender. “Men can’t be trusted, all women are manipulative,” etc which give you some indications about your fear of connecting. The end result is that you are fiercely independent and avoid intimate or close relationships.
Finally you may be someone who is a little mix of both. You state that you want to be close to others but when you get close to them you feel this tug of war, push pull phenomena happening. In one instance you may be very clingy, while in other instances you are pushing them away. Your emotions tend to feel intense, you intensely love and you intensely hate. If the other does something wrong then you find yourself feeling incredibly betrayed by them, like they do not understand or value you. Anxiety and fear are often present all time and you have difficulty alleviating this fear even when you get your desired effect (moving the person away or keeping them close). The end result is that you move quickly into relationships while also ending them with the same quickness and intensity. This only serves to fuel your anxiety and fear of loss of connection (abandonment).
Insecure attachment leaves a person vulnerable to reacting on impulse as they feel things so very intensely and have a limited capacity to self regulate when their attachment anxiety is triggered. Their methods for coping end up driving people away which is typically not their intent. Healing from attachment wounds requires you to start from the beginning. To find someone (typically a therapist but could also be a friend, partner, or anyone you trust) to begin to start that relational repair
Healing From Trauma Related to Attachment Wounds
Healing from trauma symptoms that are related to attachment wounds is possible. The healing process focuses on tuning into your body and your sensations when you’re with another person, typically an attachment figure. I want to add that as babies and children our attachment figures are typically the ones who care for us, parents, guardians, or really anyone in the care taking role. As we get older and enter adult relationships our attachment figures can be these people but often they move into romantic partners or friendships. So when your thinking about using these tips for healing you don’t need to think about trying to reconnect with parents or guardians, especially if these relationships were toxic, but you can think about building that secure attachment relationship with a friend or romantic partner.
#1: Explore the fear that you feel when you connect with another person. Reflect and ask your self what thoughts come up when you are trying to connect with another. These thoughts often come up as questions about your self worth, your physical appearance, your intelligence, or personality. You might even become fearful if someone pays you any type of attention, feeling anxiety or “weird” when the spotlight is on you.
#2: Learn to understand how your body responds when in the fear state and develop the tools you need to manage those reactions. Is there a change in heart beat? How about your breathing? Physically what are your arms and legs doing, moving away or moving towards someone? Get curious about what’s happening in your body and mind at these particular moments. Use grounding techniques to slow yourself down and not react on impulse. Give yourself time for the cortex to get online as opposed to just listening to the trauma reaction coming from your fear and anxiety.
#3: Practice these tools with others. Find someone you trust and feel somewhat close to and begin using these techniques. Notice what happens in your body when they are not with you, what sensations come up and what thoughts come along with it. Then ground yourself and allow yourself to move through the anxiety, reminding yourself that they are not gone forever or that they will be back. Whatever statement you choose, but say it every time. Develop with the person a method for communication that helps alleviate your distress. Maybe thats the person calling at a certain time or day of the week to build up that trust, using the in between time to practice using your tools manage your feelings of anxiety.
Attachment wounds can cause trauma symptoms. Just like the brain is wired to spot and respond to threats in your environment, it’s also wired for connection to others. Positive relationships can serve as a buffer to the development of long term trauma symptoms, as they serve as a reminder that there are safe, healthy, and caring people out there. Moreover, by being in a relationship with these types of people it reinforces your own good qualities which can be validating and boost your self-esteem, if you’re struggling with it.
The lack of connection only reinforces your fears and anxiety about “threats” being out there and the world being an unsafe place. Part of healing from your attachment wounds is to become more flexible in your thinking and your responses when interacting with others.
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These are just a few strategies, tips, and recommendations to help you heal from attachment wounds! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!
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Until we connect again,