Attachment theory: What a dirty room taught me about how I view relationships

Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t “should’ve” done something. You can only Do something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!

I had some guests over a few weeks ago and one of the lovely ladies visiting subtley suggested that we think about cleaning the house.

In our defense it’s a house with three dudes; and I like to think we do a pretty good job of keeping the place immaculate (a little sarcasm there) but apparently it just wasn’t up to par.

Well, I guess it just takes a pretty lady to motivate me to clean a bit. Throughout the process I couldn’t believe how much sh*t we had. Stuff we didn’t need, use, and really I didn’t even know existed.

It really hit me when I got to my room. A few months ago I had “Zenified” the room and got rid of so much stuff but somewhere from then until now it had lost its Zen mojo. Papers, clothes, and just stuff found its way back in.

As I was looking at my closet I couldn’t help but think about all the clothes that were in there. Honestly, I probably wear 10 t-shirts, 2-3 pairs of different shorts, 1-2 pairs of jeans, and maybe a nice button down here and there.

What about underwear and socks?

I don’t use those things. I see them as items used by “The man” to keep me restricted an confined (that was a joke). But seriously, I don’t use them. Not a fan… lets move on.

But it got me thinking about why I even have all of it, why am I “attached” to it? And not just that, it got me thinking about why I am attached to a lot of things in my life while at other times pushing things away.

  • People and relationships
  • Food
  • Leisure activities
  • Money
  • Possessions/material items

So I did my homework, read some books, conducted some research, and got in my own head and the heads of some friends.

This post mostly has to do with personal relationships but I noticed how my attachment style showed up in other areas of my life as well.

This is what I got for you Limitless crazies.

Are Strings Attached?

What is attachment theory

Attachment theory sums up the long-term relationships between humans varying on many different levels.

  • Romantic
  • Sexual
  • Friendship

But as I mentioned earlier my attachment style shows up in many other areas of my life as well.

  • Food
  • Money
  • Posessions/material goods
  • Thoughts and ideas
  • And more…

Attachment styles

Psychologist Mary Ainsworth conducted numerous studies and experiments (read more about them here) and came up with three common attachment styles. Later a fourth was added.

  1. Secure (60% of population): Obviously these adults are more satisfied in their relationships, have stronger bonds, communicate more effectively, and feel connected and comfortable about freely exploring relationships. They’re confident about exploring interests and expressing emotions, are independent but also able to express they’re desire to have someone in their life. They can easily prioritize relationships, work, health, finances, etc… and are comfortable and able to adapt to change.
  2. Avoidant (20% of population): They associate intimacy with a loss of independence so they minimize closeness as much as possible by keeping any relationships at arms distance. The crazy thing is we (and I say we because I have these tendencies) is that they want to be in close relationships but the loss of independence is so overwhelming that it keeps them from doing so. What makes matters worse is that society places such a premium on independence, yet dependance is needed based on biological fact. Avoidant types will often schedule their life around work, activities, etc… to be “too busy” for intimate relationships.
  3. Anxious (15% of population): Typically preoccupied and very sensitive with their relationships as it’s all they can think of. Usually concerned that their partner, friends, or other relationships won’t be there for them or love them back. They are very sensitive to small cues in a relationship and tend to analyze everything. Some common ways to describe this typer are; “clingy” or “needy.” The anxious types need constant reassurance from the people and their life and are very susceptible to hold onto poor relationships.
  4. Disorganized: Disorganized attachement types only represent a very small population. They are both fearful of commitment and getting to close to someone. They can be very moody and unpredictable, and are very susceptible to abusive relationships, or substance abuse.

For most of us our attachment styles are developed before the age of 18 months through the early relationships with our parents or primary caretakers.

As an infant the way your needs are met lead to your attachment style. So for example if your parents were very loving but not around a ton it may help to explain why you struggle with certain romantic relationships, friendships, or in other areas of life like with food, hoarding, etc…

As I started to learn a bit more about the attachment types I was curious as to what category I would fall under. I found this test, feel free to check it out if you’re curious too.

I found that I was a mix between secure and avoidant which helped to explain why I’ve always had a difficult time committing to not only relationships but a host of other things as well; as I tend to jump from one thing to another.

So if you were wondering if you can have a combination of styles the answer is yes, you totally can.

It has also always been a tendency of mine (and still is really) to deny the importance of loved ones and argue that I don’t need anyone and can do everything on my own or by myself. It’s always been very easy for me to turn of my emotions in even the most heated discussions, appear un-empathetic, and sometimes carry what appears to be an I don’t care type attitude.

Why we’d rather experience physical pain over emotional pain

Humans experience physical pain and emotional pain in the same regions of the brain, a region known as the anterior cingulate cortex.

Stimulation occurs in this area of your noodle not only when you feel physical pain like when you are cut, burned, or hit but also when you feel emotional distress like being isolated, excluded, or experience the loss of a loved one.

“…Feelings of insecurity get the heart and the breath out of synch and activate the sympathetic nervous system as if we were dealing with a threat (elevated heart rate and blood pressure), and can create a sense of unease in the chest, and even pain. People who have been hurt by others often have retracted chests and downcast postures, which are muscular ways of protecting the heart and closing off the self from fully engaging with others for fear of being hurt again. And people in insecure relationships are more likely to have cardiovascular (and other health) problems than those who are more secure…”

Studies have shown that the majority of people prefer physical pain over emotional pain. It may have to do with the confidence that physical pain will disappear fairly quickly while emotional pain is often anticipated to linger.

Healthy Emotional Attachments

I want to make it clear that attachment is not all bad. The majority of securely attached adults typically have positive views of the self, maintain healthy relationships, stability financially, are in good health, have an optimistic outlook on life, are more productive, and are pursuing careers they are excited about.

Long story short, healthy emotional attachments lead to greater levels of happiness, productivity, and stability. 

The trouble in creating healthy emotional attachments is that more often than not insecurity finds insecurity.

Those that have an anxious attachment tend to flock towards those with an avoidant attachment and vice versa.

There’s some good new here too. If you’re the secure type you often attract other secure types. So note to self… start getting secure with the self (more on how to do this later). But also, secure types are able to deal with avoidant and anxious types and help to raise them up out of those attachment styles.

So spending time working on the self actually serves you and the people closet to you. That’s a win-win if I’ve ever heard one.

How to build a healthy attachment style

Because most of our attachment styles are formed within the first four years of life based on the relationship we have with our caretakers (and strongest the first 18 months).

But this doesn’t mean as an adult you can’t change your attachment style. However, it will take some work and time to see changes.

Attachment styles are also associated with confidence; confidence in the self and in others. So real quick, take a second (and an index card if you have one handy) and write something you think is GREAT about yourself.

Now take a look at three relationships in your life and write something you find GREAT about them. Carry this card around with you as a brief reminder when you need it.

Here are some steps you can start taking immediately to improve on your attachment style:

1. Realize you don’t need to completely change it: If you are the anxious or avoid ant type you don’t need to completely change your attachment style to become more secure. Simply becoming aware of it can help tremendously.

If you’re confused about your style I really recommend taking the test found here (for those curious I am highly avoidant but also display secure characteristics). Once you are aware of it begin to express your needs and wants clearly with the people in your life. You may scare some people off this way but at least you won’t be wasting your time.

You might be thinking, “but what if I come off as needy or clingy?”

Neediness is a request for help. Think of a baby crying, it can’t communicate in any other way so that’s how it expresses it’s need. However, as adults we have the opportunity to communicate more effectively.

As long as you avoid blaming those closest to you in your life for failing to recognize your needs you should be ok. Remember, clearly communicate first and then accept that it is there choice and not responsibility to meet those needs. You are not entailed to help.

2. See if there are other ways you can satisfy those needs: If you’re lonely do you need the attention of one specific person or can you start filling that void by taking up a new social activity like dancing, rock climbing, or exercise?

If you’re pushing people away consider opening up vulnerably to only one close relationship at a time. If that skill scares the heebie-jeebies out of you try opening up with yourself by journaling.

3. Appreciate what you have right now: I read a great quote the other day that stated the people you love will eventually be gone, your career will be over, and your beauty and body will change.

Depressing a little; maybe, but get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Appreciate the people and opportunities that are available to you at this moment.

Take a second and pick up your phone. Make a quick call to someone you care about and tell them thanks for choosing to be a part of your life. They don’t have to be, so say thanks.

4. Conduct a spring cleaning: Emotionally, physically, financially, possessions, or spiritually. We often tend to hold on to things because we’re of the fear that we may need it later.

  • We’ll over eat because we’re our bodies are afraid they might not be able to get calories at a later time.
  • We’ll hold onto relationships because we’re afraid we won’t be able to find another one.
  • We hold onto that forearm strengthening device just in case we need to open a pickle jar later.

Decide what you absolutely NEED, you can’t live without. If you’re not sure what you need ask yourself if this was caught in a fire or taken away from me how would I feel about it. If you don’t get that pit in your stomach feeling then let it go.

If you collect to much of the bad stuff (emotions included) there’s no room for the good stuff. Cut the extraneous and make more room for the good.

5. Let your emotions flow from your beliefs but not your beliefs from your emotions: Express yourself through your virutes and the things that are most important to you. Don’t allow one instance or outcome change your outlook.

6. Having without possessing and acting without expecting: That quote from Lao Tzu could not speak truer words if it wanted to.

7. Look at previous relationships to guide you: There’s probably a common theme in most of the relationships you’ve held over the years. Identify those key themes but as you do so try to avoid placing blame on anyone else. Accept full responsibility and only identify things that you can control, your behaviors.

8. As you become familiar with attachment styles identify them in others: As you become more familiar with your own style you’ll most likely be able to identify the styles of friends, families, and romantic partners.

Choose the right partners in crime. Look for secure individuals to surround yourself with or if you are secure try and raise up those that may need the help.

Continue living a life full of experiences

If you’re reading this I’m assuming you’re human… Unless you’re reading this sometime in the future. Then it’s possible you’re a robot 😀

Seriously, humans are social beings that rely on our ability to form tight knit relationships to help us navigate through life.

  • The ability to communicate our feelings; not only with another person but the self too
  • Mastering the skill of listening
  • Appreciating anthers perspective or walking a day in their shoes
  • Valuing not only similarities but our differences as well
  • And learning to communicate non-verbally

Are all ways we can better connect and build stronger relationships with one another and ourselves.

It may be a tall order to tackle but if we keep working at it eventually all of us will be able to arrive at beliefs about our life without prejudices and preferred conclusions.

That would be true security.

Live limitless,