Where Healing Happens: Harnessing the Beauty of Attachment-Based Therapy

Aug 23, 2019Relationship & Couples Counseling, Trauma1 comment

How comfortable and secure do you feel in your relationships? When you’re experiencing conflict with your partner, how do you typically act? As a child, what kind of relationship did you have with your parents?

We are all representatives of the people in our lives. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with interpersonal relationships. Maybe you feel too guarded around others. Perhaps you constantly feel anxious that others will leave or reject you.

Attachment-based therapy teaches you how you connect, grow, and express vulnerability with others. It also teaches you about safety and trust in relationships. Let’s explore how this therapy can help you.


What Are Attachment Styles?

Psychologist John Bowlby first developed attachment theory by observing how infants attempted to reestablish proximity and safety to missing caregivers. In subsequent years, his colleague, psychologist Mary Ainsworth, studied the individual differences in how infants reunified with their parents after a period of separation. She used these findings to organize different attachment styles.

Secure Attachment

Children with secure attachments perceive their parents as safe and supportive. Caregivers respond appropriately to their child’s needs. As a result, these children feel free to explore the world- while also knowing that their caregiver is physically and emotionally available to them.

As adults, these individuals tend to have secure relationships with others. They feel relatively comfortable giving and receiving support, but they also know how to self-soothe when needed.

Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment

Children with secure attachments desperately fear rejection and abandonment. Their caregivers may have been inconsistent with how they reacted to distress. The responses may have, at times, been overly dramatic, insensitive, or intrusive.

In their adult relationships, these people tend to feel insecure and ‘on edge.’ They often worry that people will leave them, but they often engage in self-destructive behaviors (clinginess, excessive control) that reinforces pushing the other person away.

Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment

Children with dismissive/avoidant attachment styles typically grew up in homes with detached or emotionally unavailable parents. Their caregivers did not properly attune to the child’s pain and sensitivity, and these children had to learn how to essentially take care of themselves.

As adults, these individuals tend to be guarded or “shut off” from their feelings. Often, they present as overly independent, as if they do not need support or assistance from anyone. In times of conflict, they tend to struggle with showing vulnerability or even expressing authentic emotion.

Disorganized or Fearful/Avoidant Attachment

Children with disorganized attachment usually grew up in homes that were full of crises. One or more of their caretakers may have been physically abusive or otherwise unpredictable and unsafe (i.e., using drugs). Children often wish they could leave, but they also equate home as their safe place.

As adults, these people live in a constant state of ambivalence. They often feel an equal sense of fear for being too close and too distant from other people. These tend to engage in volatile and chaotic relationships. Relationships are full of lose-lose situations; they desperately hold onto their partner during times of anxiety, but they then feel smothered when the other person the next moment.

What To Expect In Attachment-Based Therapy

Attachment-based therapy helps strengthen a sense of secure attachment. Under the notion that secure relationships are essential for self-worth and self-growth, treatment will primarily focus on building trust and safety within the therapeutic space.

Attachment work isn’t just for individuals. Clinicians may also operate from this framework when treating couples and families. The overarching goal is to understand how certain experiences have compromised one’s interpersonal development. From there, the goal is to learn how to rebuild a sense of secure attachment with others.

For example, a client may realize his mother was emotionally absent during childhood. Instead of nurturing her infant when he cried, this mother left him alone to soothe himself. When he went to mom for support, she reacted with cold and detached responses.

This particular client may enter therapy because he struggles in his current relationships. He doesn’t know how to ask others for help, and he certainly doesn’t feel comfortable leaning on his partner for emotional support.

These behaviors will start to emerge within the therapy room. The client may struggle to talk about his issues. He may assume that the therapist doesn’t really care. In attachment-based therapy, the clinician provides a safe, holding space. He or she may gently confront these observations- all while remaining secure and consistent. With time, the client can learn to relax and trust the therapist. And by learning to trust his therapist, he may be able to learn how to open up and trust others.

Final Thoughts

Attachment-based therapy can help people use the experiences from their pasts to change how they react in both the present and future.

Therapy provides a safe, healing space to explore your satisfaction in interpersonal relationships. Are you interested in learning more? Contact me today to get started on your journey.