One of the hallmarks of trauma are feeling powerless, stuck and unable to change the situation we are in. And that is because when traumatic events occurred we were a victim of our circumstances and had no way of avoiding or changing what has happened.
For example, when we were children, we didn’t have any choice in how our caregivers responded to us. And a real threat as this pandemic brings tied with the feeling of being stuck inside the house and maybe seeing that old soothing tools/things that used to make us feel better are no longer help us may bring us back to those early times when we had no choice and no way to make things better for ourselves.
If you feel this way, this post is to let you know you are not alone.
Feeling like we cannot find relief no matter what we do can be so challenging and you have all the reasons to feel activated and even angry at the situation. Actually, I encourage you to allow the anger to come up and release it in healthy ways – maybe going for a run or shouting into a pillow.
And I also want to let you know that even when things seem as stuck as they used to be, our current adult version has options.
Here’s a few things that may help us show our nervous system that we are not back in the traumatic event, but in a present where we can do things to get unstuck:
- Notice when thoughts like “nothing works, there is no point” pop up and try to look at them like an observer “I am having the thought that nothing works” without arguing with that thought
- Get back into your body – get curious about the sensations you are feeling and gently look around and describe the place you are in (out loud or mentally) – this will bring yourself back into the present
- Seek evidence when the tools you use do work, or simply when you are feeling more centered. Take out your phone or a piece of paper and write down “I felt anxious and I have tried x or y soothing tool and I actually feel calmer” or “Even though this days I have the thoughts that it does not get better, I now notice my mind is more clear and I am enjoying my cup of coffee”
- If you tried soothing tools that did not work, that’s okay. Our job is to simply bring our attention back into the present moment as many times as we can with orientating tools like taking in the surroundings to show our nervous system that we are no longer back when we were stuck and powerless. With practice, this can help us heal the past and disconfirm the beliefs that we are powerless.
You are not alone and whatever you are going through makes so much sense.
Remember – We are navigating these challenging times together.
The the body has two complementary nervous systems: 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝘆𝗺𝗽𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗰 (arousing) and 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗮𝘀𝘆𝗺𝗽𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗰 (calming). Both are needed not only for psychological balance but for survival. Without a parasympathetic modification, the heart would beat too quickly to sustain life.
In an ideal situation, there is a smooth balance between the two nervous systems. The sympathetic is dominant in action, exercise, emotional and sexual arousal, as well as in stressful situations. The parasympathetic takes over in relaxation, sleep, meditation, massage, gentle touch, connecting deeply with another person etc.
When there is a real or perceived threat, the sympathetic system automatically goes to a fight or flight response. Either fighting or fleeing can resolve the stress. If neither is possible or successful, the sympathetic arousal can get so extreme that it is too much for the body to handle, going into total shutdown mode, sending the person into a state of freeze.
This can be full collapse, dissociation, or a more partial freeze such as an inability to think clearly or access words or emotions, or to move parts of the body.
We see this intense response in animals as well short term—example: the goat that freezes completely when scared. However, animals get out of the freeze response once the threat is gone. For humans, on the other side, it can continue even after the threat is gone.
Knowing how these states manifest is crucial for understanding how we should self-soothe and show our bodies we are now safe. Trying to convince ourselves to get out of these states is futile since even entering these states is not something we do with awareness – The amygdala perceives the threat even before cognition happens. That’s why we may have panic attacks even though nothing threatening has actually happened.
Photo source: https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-stay-calm-in-a-chaotic-stressed-out-world/
I am planning on creating a series of posts to include how we can bring our bodies back to a state of homeostasis – a balance. Also, by understanding how each defense response works, you can understand why in some situations you react the way you do.
- Why you have panic attacks
- Why if you have anxious attachment (your past linked abandonment to a life threat) you may go into fight, flight or even total shutdown
- Why you cannot fix anxiety no matter how you consciously convince yourself to do so
Which state do you experience most often?
Sending love to everyone and hope this is useful!
Head onto my bio to be on the mail list to receive the next attachment style guide.
If you want to discover the right self-soothing tools for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Today we are going to talk about the avoidant attachment and how to heal it.
The avoidant attachment was created as a life threat response – the child was so emotionally neglected by their caregivers, that it had to learn to deny and reject his own needs. Moreover, they learned to not display any needs at all. They repressed them until they seemed gone.
Whenever feeling too vulnerable towards someone, the avoidant will retreat by shutting down emotions or avoid getting too close, in an attempt to avoid vulnerability. This is the reason why this attachment style is also known as “the turtle” or “the island”.
Avoidant attachment in relationships
Since their own caregivers denied their needs, rejecting any attempt of neediness the child must have displayed, the avoidant partner will be very disturbed if they see their partner showing any sign of “neediness” and “dependency”.
For them, it sounds almost like “I have been trying so hard all my life to not show any needs and here you come, doing all the things I’ve work so hard to suppress? No way I am going to tolerate that!” Actually, I am going to make you feel guilty for having needs like my caregivers did to me. I am going to tell you you are wrong for having needs.
Of course, this is an unconscious act of projecting a side of their personality that has been deeply suppressed. They are not aware of them doing it.
As they say, hurt people hurt people.
They feel overwhelmed by someone else’s emotions just like their caregivers were with their emotions.
I remember just the simple intention of trying to discuss a problem would irritate my avoidant partner. If I displayed any needs, he would go angry and then retreat. He just wanted me to drop it, and I thought I am the wrong one to want to solve things and have needs.
Suffering from anxious attachment, I thought he was right. So I tip-toed. I tried to become like him and not have any needs at all. But this is a cycle that never ends unless one decides to break it.
Now in a relationship with the same partner, only that we are both more securely attached, I am amazed that I am allowed to have needs with the exact same person. That it was never the fact that “that’s how they are”. No – that’s what they were taught. Once they heal, they can tolerate someone else’s discomfort. They are not overwhelmed by someone else’s needs. They can and want to solve problems and feel emotionally connected to their partner. Actually, my partner now initiates conversations about what he wants and needs. He even learned to voice his needs. I support him in doing that. Because healing attachment styles takes two.
Healing avoidant attachment
So is healing possible?
Of course it is.
Like any other trauma, attachment trauma can be healed.
Let’s see how healing the avoidant attachment can be approached.
First – if your partner is avoidant, don’t push them. They will just retreat even more. Give them space to see for themselves that their pain is their own. If you are going to push them to heal, that will just be their confirmation that you are the cause of their suffering.
If you are the one having an avoidant attachment – the way you can heal is by tolerating the discomfort that is going to show up when you get close to someone else.
In my clinical experience, people with anxious attachment tendency are usually faster to reach help. Why? Because they are the one wanting something and the partner is not responding. They feel immediate pain of not receiving the love they crave. People with avoidant attachment are more likely to find flaws in their potential partners and just think the reason why they could not have a healthy relationship just yet is the fact that they just did not find the right partner. It can take a few failed relationship until they start to see that the common denominator was..them.
I am just telling you this hoping that if you have avoidant tendencies, you can see whether you can relate or not.
And if you have decided to heal, here are a few steps to begin with:
• Understand and come to terms with the fact that the lack of care you received was unfair. But what you do from here is within your power
• Know there is no perfect partner that is going to be exactly what you need. Everyone will have flaws. You just need to differentiate between flaws and red flags. We all love someone who has flaws, and that is okay. We all have our dark side.
• Know that you are going to feel like wanting to run away when you will get close to someone. Your tendency will be to find flaws in them – that will be your weapon to feel at peace with the fact that you want and may run away
• Look at all the reasons why this attachment style is no longer serving you – we all need deep connection and this attachment style may push people away that actually might have been that special someone for you.
You have been hurt. I see you. I feel your pain. That was not right and a child should never have to go through that. You were just a child and you needed to be allowed to have needs.
My heart is with you and I pray you find the strength to be vulnerable once again.
And then one more time
Always one more time.
With all the love
It’s time to move from fear to empowerment. It’s time to heal.
I’ve read several books on attachment styles and went to therapy just to find out that few people knew exactly how each attachment style heals. Most resources discuss the traits of each attachment style but few give resources on how to practically heal.
What are the exact steps we need to take to heal each attachment style?
As a short recap, attachment styles are the way we act and feel when we start feeling close or intimate in a romantic relationship. It’s the way our caregivers related to us which created our definition about love.
For those anxiously attached, their caregivers were misattuned – they received the message that it’s not safe to explore the world on their own. They needed their caregivers for comfort, otherwise, they felt triggered. But the caregivers were not always around to soothe them. So, as adults, they’ve learned that the only way to feel good is to receive external validation and soothing. However, they cannot always get it, as it happened with their caregivers. This roller coaster is familiar yet can be the recipe for toxic and unstable relationships.
For those avoidantly attached, their caregivers taught them they will almost never be available for attunement so they have to learn to not have any kind of needs and therefore, to be extremely independent. As adults, they feel like they don’t need anyone and have an extreme fear of being needed as well. They want to keep their independence no matter what, as their were forced to learn it.
For those with disorganized attachment, their caregivers felt overwhelmed when it came to meeting their needs, responding with aggression or intimidation. This made them triggered with or without the caregiver, with an inability to be soothed. As adults, they have a sort of “come here, go away” attitude. They want closeness but when they have it, they sabotage it.
So how do we heal?
Today we are going to talk about healing anxious attachment.
It took me years to understand why no one would ever be available to meet my needs. Why my partners were so cruel to not be there when I needed them. To ask for what I need so loudly and still not be heard.
What was wrong with them? What was wrong with the world?
Well, let’s start with the start. There was nothing wrong with them. They were just adults with needs, just like I was. They were not my caregivers, so they were not responsible to co-regulate with me whenever I was feeling distressed.
When we are seeing our partners through the lens of our anxious attachment, we think they are responsible to make us feel safe and happy. This is why I think that even if they would agree, this would be the sure way towards a codependent relationship.
For us, our job is to learn that our internal state is our responsibility. That we have to learn to befriend that inner child and be the parent they never had. To show them they are okay now, so we can finally fill the gap between what our conscious mind wants (love and healthy relationships) and what our subconscious mind thinks we need (external validation that we are lovable).
Quick insight – our subconscious minds directs around 95% of our behaviors so you can already see who directed our behavior so far. We consciously said how we are worthy of love and we want a conscious relationship but ended ruled by our subconscious beliefs.
How do change this?
Our inner child needs the soothing they never had from the caregiver. To show up as our adult, healthy and loving self, we have to learn to provide that soothing to them when we feel triggered. To remember it’s not our partner’s responsibility to soothe us, but ours.
The moment we feel the abandonment and rejection kicking in – we have to pause. The stories about how we will end up alone and abandoned will keep on going. But the adult inside of us can take control.
Take a step back and just breathe. Deep abdominal breathing, to show your nervous system you are safe now. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Try it out.
Your mission is to show your inner child that YOU won’t abandon him/her. That’s all they want to know. And no one besides you will ever be able to provide them the love and comfort that they expect from you, the now adult.
After you feel calm again, take a piece of paper and write down similar affirmations, while holding the image of your inner child in mind:
You are safe now with me
I will always be here to hold you when you are scared
I won’t ever turn my back to you when you feel alone
I will always have your back when you need me
My partner’s rejection is not a direct reflection of my worth
In time, you will love that self love is not outsourced. No one can give us self love and validation, and that’s what we need the most. You’ll learned to be rejected and not feel abandoned.
I’ll say that again – We can all be rejected without feeling abandoned. Actually, we can be rejected and know it has nothing to do with our worth.
Don’t forget – the more we detach ourselves from our attachment tendencies and we can see them as the child within us who just wants love and protection, the more we are able to work with, not against our attachment style.
In the next series, we discuss the other attachment styles and their healing.
Sending love to everyone,