Attachment theory explains why our closest relationships are vital to our wellbeing. Our close relationships help us be compassionate, caring, trusting, secure, and accepting. Attachment is so vital that without a loving connection, a child’s growth is stunted, and under extreme circumstances, some have even died from the lack of love. Through these experiences of attachment or detachment, children form expectations of reliability. It informs them how to relate to other people they meet throughout the rest of their lives.
But attachment theory isn’t just for children. Dr. Sue Johnson has developed a theory called emotionally focused therapy (EFT), which is based on over 25 years of research. Like children, adults respond and have the same needs for attachments. Despite age, human brains respond to physical and emotional threat the same way. When threat is present, alarm bells are sent off and we become afraid when vital relationships are endangered. Because of such responses, dependence becomes an important aspect in life. Humans innately need to know that others are assessable, reliable, and responsive to their needs. In short, we are affected by how others treat us and how we are received and perceived.
No one is completely independent. Yet there are two types of dependence: effective and ineffective. If key relationships are effectively dependence, it actually increases our autonomy and the more secure and well-rounded we become. Healthy attachments act as safe havens. In contrast, ineffective or unhealthy dependence promotes insecurity, paranoia, and anti-social behaviors.
When we face fear and uncertainty, our attachment needs are activated as that is when we need our key connections the most. Love is a safety cue that literally calms the threats of danger in our brain. In and through our safe relationships, we find increased ability to handle life with greater poise and grace.
When we experience conflicts in our important attachments, we face them in one of two ways: anxiety or detached avoidance. Anxiety is most often managed through aggressive attempts, meaning that when one feels anxiety in an important relationship, a natural response is to fight. Such behavior is actually a cry for help. The opposite reaction is detached avoidance, which is done to try to protect oneself from vulnerability. Such a person will act like they don’t care only to shield the deep hurt inside. Both strategies are employed because the fear of rejection or abandonment is so poignant. So rather than experience a panic attack or other such physically negative responses, other tactics are engaged in a proactive attempt. It’s better to feel mad than to admit one has been hurt, or so our subconscious will reason.
These tactics actually have value because studies indicate that the biggest failure of marriages after a five-year span is the lack of emotional responsiveness. Indeed, the biggest questions underlying most arguments follow:
*Can I count on you?
*Are you there for me?
*Will you be there when I need or call?
*Am I valued by you?
*Do I matter to you?
When these questions are secured, it is easier to talk about the bigger issues. Criticism and blame can go by the wayside. When such is achieved, the truth can be more accurately viewed. And the truth is that the relationship partners are both the victims and the creators of the negative cycle. It is this cycle which causes one to feel loneliness, abandonment, and upset. Yet, when one starts seeing the other person as one’s teammate, rather than the enemy, trust increases as does hope in the relationship’s future. Consequently, the sharing of true feelings without defense increases. Vulnerability can then be met with acceptance, trust, and gratitude. With these securities in place, the relationship can begin to heal and flourish once again.