If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk,
if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do,
you have to keep moving forward.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Welcome to Part 2 of the Attachment and Bonding Series! Last time we discussed the different types of attachment that typically occur, why they happen and some ways they manifest themselves in one’s daily adult life. To quickly review, these are Ainsworth’s three attachment types: secure attachment, insecure avoidant, and insecure ambivalence. Now, if an adult has formed an insecure attachment to a parent, it is very likely that that attachment style will become their pattern for all their future relationships. This can be a scary thought.
It is so easy for parents to “mess up” – to get so overwhelmed with life, but their kids will suffer the consequences. And those kids will grow into adults. But God has planned for us grace and forgiveness! Humans are designed to heal in all our nature - spiritually, emotionally and physically. Recent studies in attachment show that childhood attachment patterns can be repaired. The damage of childhood relationships can be healed, even for adults struggling with those learned patterns.
Below I have compiled a list of different ways to communicate and interact with our loved ones that can foster healing, growth and trust. These methods have been proven to be quite beneficial in healing broken attachment patterns and helping adults create more healthy relationship. At times, professional therapy may be needed to help people sort through their harmful history. With counseling - in addition to the loving support of family and friends using the techniques listed below - a person can be given a strong chance to change their lives, forever.
1. Model Forgiveness. Humans need repair and forgiveness to be modeled to us. Christ already provided us the best example of this through the Cross. But we often need other modeling from people around us. This reconciliation and repair process can heal insecure attachment patterns.
2. Eye Contact. Sharing loving, smiling, kind attachment gazes – even just across the room at a party or when your person knows you are lovingly watching them – but because you love them.
3. Playfulness. We often forget that adults need to relax and have fun too! Especially these adults with insecure attachment, they often did not experience enough healthy, safe play when they were young. You might be surprised at how safe, loving, and innocent play can really foster healing and reparative moments. For kids that can look like sports, picnics, or jokes. For adults that can look like mini-vacations, sports, or date nights.
4. Observe and Empathize. Some of our loved ones are more open to talking and sharing than others. Either way, we have to remain constantly open to listening or learning about them, whether they communicate verbally or non-verbally. Watch for signs of distress, such as sweating, shaking, anger outbursts, fear, avoidance, sadness… The key here is to take that knowledge, and express your care and understanding. Empathy means that you do not have to agree or feel their feelings, but that you can understand where they are coming from and care and love them no matter what.
5. Awareness. Just as we spoke about the importance of awareness of one’s behaviors and interpretations in Part 1 – it is again vital for us as supporters to be aware that our loved one’s reactions are not our fault. Sometimes their behaviors and words are not even really aimed at us, but at their past. We need to be patient in gently helping them realize that their behaviors, feelings and thoughts are being triggered by their past, but that they now have safe relationships.
6. Pacing. With this growing awareness of how your loved one’s personal pains are triggers, you need to help them pace themselves. Be mindful of the settings that create the most anxiety for him/her, learn what you can do to best support them in those settings and work as a team to help them navigate it in an emotionally, physically, and spiritually safe manner.
7. Relax. Just as playing together is healing, so is relaxing together. These adults often have not been taught how to manage their emotions in healthy ways. It can be so helpful for loved ones to model coping tools such as reading good books, getting a massage, deep breathing, bubble baths, coloring or painting. There are hundreds of different relaxation exercises – anything that gives you relief from a stressful day. It can be as simple of drinking your favorite strawberry smoothie or imaging you are at your favorite beach on a warm summer day! Find what works for you, what works for your loved one, and engage those as often as possible. By doing so, you are teaching them how to relax; effectively, giving them tools to better manage their difficult emotions.
For more help in understanding attachment, how it impacts of lives, and help foster healing in unhealthy attachment styles, you can look into the resources below as well as connect with a mental health professional.
ATTACHMENT REPAIR RESOURCES
Hi! I'm Dr. Linda Abdelsayed. These are just some articles I've created on various life topics. Hope you find them helpful! Check me out on the About and Contact tabs above!