People with ambivalent or anxious attachment deal with a lot of anxiety in relationships. Their caregivers showed them love in an inconsistent way, the reason why they never knew when they will get their needs met, and when they will not, leaving them hypervigilant and insecure.
Having suffered actual abandonment or experienced the death of their caregiver, they can be overly aware of any hint of abandonment, which activates their defense mechanisms, sending them into the fight, flight or even freeze response. That means that at the slightest change in their partner’s behavior their defense mechanisms will show up in an attempt to keep them alive, leaving little room for the rational brain to come online (it can be even a slight shift in the way their partner responds or behave).
The tendency for those anxiously attached is to reach out to their partner to get comforted. Growing up with caregivers that were meeting their needs at times (maybe when they were crying louder or when they threw a tantrum), they learned that their needs can and should be met by others. As infants, they did not feel safe enough to explore the surroundings because they were afraid that if they are not hypervigilant and instead will go exploring, their parents will not be there when they will return.
This healthy exploration creates the idea that the world is safe enough for us to explore it. Without this foundation, we grow up hypervigilant and wary of people’s intentions.
A secure child not only has the foundation to go out and explore the world but is also taught how to self-soothe and process their own emotions by having a parent who is attuned with them (not one that takes over their emotional turbulence). In other words, an anxious parent will be distressed when the child is distressed, while a secure parent will hold space for the child’s emotions and bring them to a sense of calm instead of borrowing their emotional state.
The fact that people with an anxious tendency did not receive healthy modeling of how to deal with their emotions yet had their needs met at times, left them craving outside safety and soothing without allowing them to learn how to comfort and self-soothe themselves.
As I always say, these are simply adaptations. It’s the way we’ve learned to survive and it takes time and conscious effort to teach our nervous system that we are safe now.
Since for us, those with anxious attachment, rejection, and abandonment meant that our lives were in danger, the healing occurs when we teach our nervous system that losing a partner is no longer a threat to our survival. We are adults and we now have the tools to not only stay alive, but create a life where love is nourishing and stable. Where we are comfortable with knowing that even if our partner will leave, we will be more than okay.
“Yes, But . . .”
I loved the adaptation Diane Poole Heller talks about in The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships book. She talks about the “Yes, but” response that we develop as a survival response. As a child with unreliable parents, if you take in those rare moments of love and support, you open yourself up to a lot of additional pain when the abandonment happens later. So you learn to overlook the good things that feel too threatening. This continues in love relationships where even if the situation has drastically changed, your attachment system doesn’t know this. Our job is to be aware of this tendency and know that we have to be intentional in observing what our partner does good. I suggest starting a gratitude journal or keeping a notebook close to write down whenever your partner does something you appreciate. This way, whenever you feel like you tend to think that they never do something good or that they don’t love you, you have all the proof that says otherwise.
How to start healing this attachment style?
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.
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 learn 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 learn 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.
If you want to learn more on attachment styles, the attachment course comprises all the tools to heal your attachment trauma, to reprogram your beliefs around love and to heal the pursuer distancer dynamic, there is a container teaching you exactly this here: https://mindfultricks.teachable.com/p/how-to-heal-insecure-attachment-styles