Change Your Anxious Attachment Tendencies for Better Relationships
A 4-step writing process that helps me calm my insecurities in my relationships
I discovered that my adult attachment style fell in the category of anxious-preoccupied in therapy. As my therapist rambled on about the attachment styles and their formation in the early years of childhood, I zoned out. After several failed relationships and deep-set insecurities, I finally knew what was making everything go all wrong. I knew the name of the monster that had my life under control.
I dived deep into my psychology books and the world wide web and found an article by Psychology Today, that summed up my relationship patterns perfectly.
“Unlike securely attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to be desperate to form a fantasy bond. Instead of feeling real love or trust toward their partner, they often feel emotional hunger. They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.”
I looked back at my failed relationships and found myself clinging to my partner constantly. I would constantly scan my partner’s facial expressions for any possible sign of disinterest. Any displeasure would result in panic mode and an intense fear of abandonment. I would feel that the world is coming to an end if they miss any date or plan. In addition, the constant nagging that “I am not good enough” for my partner haunted me. The end of the relationship spiraled me into a negative mess.
After months of therapy and reading about the source of the problem, I took a head-on approach to cope with it. I adopted Socratic questioning in my daily life to challenge the persistent negative ideas in my head.
Socratic questioning is a life-changer.
I discovered the wonderful concept in my last semester in college while we were studying cognitive behavior therapy or CBT, as it is popularly known as. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a therapeutic model that deals with psychological distress or dysfunction arising from the distortions in an individual’s thought patterns. For instance, one single failure can lead to constant thoughts such as “I am a failure.” Here, one single negative instance is generalized to the entire self.
In the CBT setting, it is asserted that distorted thinking is the major cause of psychopathology. The basic assumption underlies that the thinking mediates emotions and behaviors and thus, any dysfunction arising from unhelpful thinking can be dealt through modifications in cognition.
Socratic questioning is a major pillar of the CBT module. It involves the therapist engaging in a conversation with the client while focusing on five major questions with the intension of bringing insight into the self-defeating thoughts. As mentioned in a post by Positive Psychology, it aims to bring into awareness the knowledge that remains outside the realms of “knowing” and helps identify positive actions.
While in the therapy, it involves the therapist guiding the client in a non-judgemental and open manner, I have learned to use it by myself. Every single time, I find myself getting into negative thoughts, such as “My partner doesn't love me enough” or “I am a burden,” I quickly start scrutinizing my thoughts on a piece of paper.
Things You Will Need
- A notebook. This will allow you to keep a track of all the self-defeating thoughts you tackle with. Additionally, in the case of similar thoughts, you can refer back to the earlier pages for added motivation.
- A pen. I prefer blue, as it is associated with calmness.
- List of Socratic questions that will help you assess the negative thoughts.
- A quiet, distraction-free place.
1. What I’m Thinking
I start with writing down the constant thought that is bugging me. For the purpose of demonstration, I will choose “I am a burden.”
The purpose of this step is to have my thought right in front of me. This makes the thought tangible and easier to deal with.
2. Why do I think so. How could it be incorrect?
This step involves drawing two columns. In the left-hand side column, I jot down everything I know which supports my belief. On the right side column, I write every fact that contradicts the thought.
Some questions that can help in this process are
- Why do you think of yourself as a burden?
- What supports the thought you have written on the top of the page?
- When have you not felt like a burden to others?
- Any incident that made you feel worthwhile to other people?
The purpose of this step is to make myself probe into evidence I hold in support of his negative thought so as to help myself realize that it is not necessarily backed up by evidence. In addition, such questioning might help to see the evidence in support and against the belief and thus develop a more balanced view of the situation.
In the above writer material, you can see that I looked at all the events that happened during my date and tried to draw an inference based on both the columns. Even though, it was a tad bit difficult, initially to make myself remember the things that he did that made me feel loved, once I was done writing the columns, half of my distress disappeared. I immediately started feeling much better.
3. What could possibly happen to me?
In this step, at the bottom of the page, I jot down the consequence of the thought.
For example, what worst could happen if I am a burden to others? This allows me to see the worst possible implication of the negative assertion. Sometimes, I inflate the consequences to a great magnitude, when the result is much smaller in intensity. I believe that the world would come crashing on me when the result is much lesser and easier to handle.
Another miracle question that works wonderfully at this stage is “What would you say to a friend who is in a similar situation?.” This allows me to distance myself from the belief and see it more objectively and kindly.
Here, I have also gone out and actually engaged in behavioral experiments to establish a clearer and accurate picture. Once I had this thought that my partner didn't want me around, instead of sulking at home, I went out with him and realized that he greatly enjoyed my company, contrary to my earlier perception.
Here, I was able to think of the worst-case scenario and assessing my preparedness for that. Realizing that I would be able to overcome any challenge was soothing and reassuring.
You can refer to this worksheet for an easier process.
4. The summary
Once I am done with all the above-mentioned steps, I turn to the next page and give myself a free rein to write the conclusion. This conclusion tends to stem from all the evidence and contradiction that are available to me.
Based on the data available, I construct a balanced thought. It is not a positive substitution to the negative thought, rather is a more realistic picture of the circumstance. This allows me to think rationally. Additionally, I use this to vent out my emotions and insecurities until nothing is left in me. This helps me to come out of this process with a lighter heart and mind. My feelings and thoughts are detangled.
Some questions that I answer in this section are:
- Is this thought only black or white, or there is any space for grey areas for this thought?
- Am I misinterpreting the situation? (based on the evidence available)
- How would other people see this situation as? Would that be any different from this?
- Is my thought an over-inflation of the truth? What are the pieces of evidence telling me?
- Is the thought more of a habit or a fact? Where is this habit coming from?
- What are the chances of the scenario that my thought are bringing up, actually happening, and whether it is the worst-case scenario?
Since this was one of my latest assessments, I was able to think much more rationally as compared to my earlier such endeavors.
Most of the time, my summaries sound like I am talking to myself, and encouraging me to look at the situation in a more balanced way. I tend to think about how I would have reacted if my best friend was thinking about this.
Thinking about my best friend in the same situation helps me become nicer to myself.
When I started using this exercise, It was strange.
I would find it extremely hard to look at my thoughts objectively and hunt for contrary evidence. However, after engaging in this process for several months, now I feel extremely empowered whenever I fill my tiny notebook. Even though I can do this in my head now, writing makes the process much easier and therapeutic.
While a lot of things go into a successful relationship, the Socratic questioning has really helped me deal with my insecurities and fear. Sometimes, my partner and I sit down together and go over the fear and insecurities. Including him in this process has brought us closer. Additionally, since my partner knows about this, he is able to understand me better.
“True love is born from understanding.” — Gautama Buddha