Deep Thoughts About How to Repair that Attachment Disorder of Yours

(Just toss the ball back to your partner…Just toss the ball back to your partner…)

Our attachment system is programmed in infancy, designed to help us survive in this wild world (much like primates).

There’s a lot of talk going on in the collective about toxic takers and super-givers, victims and perpetrators, primordial holes in the soul, the antics of grown-up adult children ruling the world — and the deep heartache some of us experience as we awaken to the fact that not all humans can give and receive love with good will and equanimity. An emerging field of psychological science says the reason behind the relational chaos all boils down to what is now known as an attachment disorder.

Children need attention. Lots of it — and I don’t know if we ever grow out of this desire for constant connection and emotional validation to remind us that we’re alive, and that as the aches and pains of life move around inside of us, that we’re needed, we don’t have to go through this process alone, and because of that, we’re safe. For whatever reason, disconnection feels a lot like death to the human central nervous system — until we learn to use our logic to control these primitive, biologically adaptive responses to the perceived threat of our own aloneness.

And because this is so — this is just the way we humans are — the test of our sanity becomes how well we can experience gratitude for the experience of life in the moments we feel the most alien.

Self-soothing is what people call it. And when we don’t know how to do it, we so often resort to trying to control ourselves, by trying to control others. And that’s what causes so much human drama to abound.

Determining Emotional Availability

There’s a caveat here — another paradox, a proviso. And it’s that we humans aren’t here to live alone. No man is an island. To try to do so would be impossible.

Because we’re pack animals. We’re here to co-regulate — to support and be supported as we ride through the rocky waves of life. We need people to take care of us in the beginning of our lives and at the end, and throughout the middle, we grow into who we are in concert with others.

You’ve got to find your tribe to survive. You’ve got to be able to give and take. To be in touch with your feelings, to be able share them with others in a respectful way, requires emotional intelligence. It’s a skill not all are taught. It requires an openness and willingness to be vulnerable that not all are equipped to provide.

Alan Robarge, attachment trauma therapist, compares emotional availability to a good ole fashioned ball toss. When someone is emotionally available, values and is comfortable with connection, you toss them a ball (via a line of communication) and they toss it back — back and forth it goes. And even though life gets tough and busy, and blunders and mishaps that need to get cleaned up happen left and right, they will always eventually return the ball back to you within a reasonable time frame.

Not all of our connections are meant to last forever, but an emotionally available person will alert you as to why they no longer wish to toss that ball back to you when the time arrives. They will let you know that the connection has meant something to them and give you the information you need to understand why it will no longer be a part of your world.

This is how people with a secure attachment style interact with others. Other signs of a secure attachment include:

  • comfort with both positive and negative emotions
  • sensitivity to the feelings of others
  • a sense of confidence as they reveal their thoughts and feelings
  • little fear of rejection
  • the ability to let go of a connection without interpreting the loss as abandonment
  • a non-threatening view of intimacy
  • a natural capacity to treat others like gold (and an attraction to people who treat them like it as well)
  • tolerance for ambiguity and conflict in relationships
  • the ability to assert themselves and express their needs and willingly meet other’s
  • the capacity to apologize without being overcome by shame
  • play and laughter and the ability to “let go” around others

And then there’s the rest of the population that, for reasons that stem back to the first year in life, have major challenges with all of this.

Fifty percent of the population has an insecure attachment style.

Understanding Insecure Attachment

Don’t hate the need. Find a new strategy to meet the need.

Everyone has a need for connection. However, the first type of insecure attachment that we’ll discuss (the avoidant type) had infancy needs that were neglected and rejected so often as a child that they grow up forgetting that they have needs at all. It’s not that these types don’t crave intimacy, like everyone else, it’s that the emotional centers of their brain are shut down due to the lack of emotional reinforcement in their upbringing. Sometimes these types were smothered by an overbearing parent. Sometimes they had to play parent while they were still a child. However, this develops, the result is that the avoidant type isn’t skilled in processing emotion alongside someone else, and so deep feelings are interpreted as threatening. Once the floodgates open and their defenses are down, they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s for this reason that people with an avoidant attachment style feel much more comfortable with a love that figuratively and literally “far away.” But when it’s close up, they are often rejecting and neglecting of the needs of others, because this is how they’ve learned to treat themselves.

The other insecure attachment style (the anxious type) had inconsistent caretakers. These people’s infancy needs were met only part of the time, and so, whenever an adult intimate connection is made, it is accompanied by an overwhelming fear that it may at anytime go away. These types become so anxious over the potential loss of connection, that they’ll often self-sabatoge in their relationships. They’ll take a bludgeon and club to death any potential union as soon as there’s a lack of responsiveness or insecure behavior expressed by their partner. These types need frequent reassurance to believe that their relationships are safe — and so often find themselves attracted to avoidant types who will reconfirm their long-held belief that their needs will never get met with regularity by another. Protest behavior ensues.

Then there’s the third type of insecure attachment style (the disorganized), which develops when a child grows up fearing their caretakers. This happens in households where more extreme abuse and neglect is present, when the parent whom they rely on for their survival needs — to protect and nurture them — becomes the source of their discomfort, instead of relief. People with a disorganized attachment style don’t exhibit one way of coping with their need for and also fear of connection. When someone is avoidant, they’re anxious. When someone is anxious, they’re avoidant. And when someone is secure, the relationship stability is so often interpreted as boring and eventually rejected, because there is a lack of drama and intensity; no familial feeling of familiarity, which so often resides at the root of that instant spark of attraction.

For the disorganized type, emotions themselves feel like a problem that can’t be solved. Until they can be…

Growing into a Secure Space

The good news is that everyone has the capacity for secure attachment inside of them, although it takes a few years to develop and can often only occur in the context of a secure attachment (which requires at least one securely attached person). To do it, you have to grow into your ability to hold good feelings inside of your body, when you’ve grown so used to discomfort, intensity and pain.

Secure attachment feels like a warm bath — comfortable, relaxing, consistent.

Insecure attachment, on the other hand, feels like a hit of cocaine — big highs and big come downs.

And so, my advice to those of you out there who enjoy a good chemical rush to distract yourself from the numbness or pain you’ve carried within you for as long as you can remember, is to walk away from anyone who starts to display insecure traits, if a stable partnership is what you need to heal and what you ultimately crave.

If you find yourself becoming aroused and desirous when you have to wait four days to hear back from someone, it’s because your insecure attachment system has been activated. That sensation of painful longing, “the chase” to be met and seen and felt and received, is what you learned to attach to for your survival. It’s what you were taught to interpret as love — rather than the experience of having the real thing.

If you are a member of the half of the human population who finds themselves on the insecure end of the spectrum, the quest for romance probably has you writhing in constant cycles of agony and defeat, as you over-analyze the timing and tempo of the balls that are being thrown (or not thrown) at you, or reject all opportunities presented to be with a competent mate completely.

And so, if you want to have a different experience, these habitual impulses need to be carefully dissected. The lens of attachment studies helps us do that.

If this describes your patterns, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your attraction to the person you just want to throw a ball back to you, but for whatever reason isn’t? Does it have to do with how fabulous they are or what they aren’t doing for you?
  • Can you accept that this person may just be throwing too many balls with others in their already full life to be able to throw one back to you —or as soon as you crave? Maybe they are an introvert and get energy alone. Perhaps they have a time consuming kid or maybe a high demanding career, like being a brain surgeon. Can you not take their lack of responsiveness personally?
  • What if this person you are so desirous for is actually one of those evil narcissists we hear so much about, who only wants to throw balls back and forth with the people in society who have the most high status people wanting to throw balls at them? If you knew their true nature — and even if you could manage to wag your tail in a way that was seductive enough to engage their attention, that they would only suck dry the flowing fountain of light inside of you and discard your body once you’ve outworn your utility— would you still want to be in relationship with them? (You masochistic fuck, you.)
  • What are you looking to this person to validate inside of you, that you currently aren’t able to do for yourself?
  • Is there someone from your past, like a parental figure, who has treated you this way before? (Pssst…there’s almost always, without fail, a past template.)
  • Can you have compassion for the high probability that person may just be too triggered by life and past relationships to be receptive to intimacy right now and doesn’t have the skills to communicate this? And this is why they are ghosting you?
  • What inconsistent messages are you giving out to others who want to connect that you attach to when are given to you?
  • What will letting go of this unfulfilling relationship bring up for you about the reality of impermanence, the primal fear of abandonment, and the need, in this life, to be your own best pal no matter how others treat you?

Yes, our inner child really doesn’t like when people refuse to play with him/her/them in the sandbox. Yet, because we are striving to be adults now — and since the current state of humanity seems to be a fractured one — perhaps the best thing we can do to protect our hearts is to acknowledge the reality of what love isn’t and to choose interaction with only those who delight in it alongside of us. Because there are times when letting go can be just as loving as holding on; and sometimes avoiding insecure relationships all together is better than diving back into the devil you’ve always known.

At the end of the day, how do you want to feel?

Do you want to be fighting for scraps of affection or living your life lined up at a love buffet?

Relying on Inner Resources

Just look at this ball pit of connection waiting for you to dive into!

There is such a thing as eating too much food at once. The same goes with human connection. How much is enough? When will you have enough social validation to feel satisfied and worthy? For many people it feels like it never is — and that’s why so much of self-security comes from our ability to create the state of our internal landscape.

Yes, no man is an island — and because of this human relations remain our lifeblood — but can you grow your awareness to feel connection to the world around you, to you source, to the divine, when there is no attention on you at all?

Can you nurture yourself when your inner worms of unloveability start coming up to be released into the light?

Can you hold the feeling in your heart, if only for one moment, of having a right to exist without needing to be needed by another?

Do you really need a dump truck of balls poured on top of you to know that you’re valued and liked and aren’t going to left behind?

Because your ability to toss balls with others in a more fluid, unconditionally loving, and effective way is directly dependent on your ability to know in your bones that even in the moments when there is no one by your side, that when the traumas of everyday life and weird feelings appear once again, that there is a still purpose for you; you are empowered in this life.

There is no need to seek love when you are love.

There is no need to chase external stimulation when each breath is nourishing your existence.

And there is no greater blessing than to know that even when you are alone and life’s changes are stressing you out, that you are deeply connected to all of creation: to the trees, to the soil, to masculine and feminine principles within, the inner father and mother, the sacred beloved, your joy and your wonder.

Are you choosing to live in a world where love is around you and within you in depravity? Or abundance?

Because if you are choosing abundance than the next miraculous relationship experience is always waiting for you, just around the corner.

Like what you read? Check out my new book The Millennial’s Guide to Changing the World.