Healing Disorganized Attachment
Disorganized attachment represents a structure in the brain, not just an attitude. Fortunately, neuropsychology has shown that brain structures can change with adequate input and supportive environments. But, they don’t change overnight.
Getting a disorganized attachment person to take responsibility for their behavior can be quite a challenge. Often, they are motivated by identifiable pain, such as a breakup or a trigger of their childhood trauma. But pain may place them in victim mode rather than on the healing path, especially if they are in unhealthy relationships.
If they are open to learning about disorganized attachment, the healing journey can begin. The journey itself is day by day, watching and growing into responsibility for their emotional state at all times.
The goal is to redirect their energy inward instead of holding the world or someone close to them responsible for their emotional state. Of course, quality self-care of the brain will go a long way. The brain responds to proper nutrition and exercise, as well as meditation.
Low conflict environments are also essential to healing. High conflict environments will continuously trigger the high-alert response. The brain structure further solidifies, not heal.
Understanding the healing process as a journey rather than a task is important not to work through the process with pressure. Disorganized attachment adults are not in need of fixing, but developing their brain.
#1 Recognize your triggers for feelings of abandonment. Feelings of abandonment arise when we feel disconnected from others and from our selves. When we feel such fear and anxiety that we begin to question our own self worth. In these moments we will do anything to stop feeling what we are feeling. We may run and cling to others or take a scorched earth tactic of angrily lashing out at our loved ones. We do this as we feel out of control and want a way to feel some semblance of control and also power. But at the end of the day it leaves us feeling lonely, sad, and afraid. So take a moment to reflect on what leads you to behave in this manner. When that threat of loss starts to take shape, what is happening in your life and with the people in your life that are making these feelings come about? Internally what emotions are being signaled? Physically how does your body feel? What urges do you have ? (hint they are usually either the urge to run, to hide, or freezing-exactly the mechanisms of the stress response system)
#2 Learn how to self soothe. Moving from tip 1 right here into tip 2, think of them like steps. Do 1 then immediately move here to 2. Unfortunately, your parent/caregiver was unable to teach you the techniques for self soothing so you have to take it upon yourself to learn those tools. This will require you to look carefully at the times when you feel calm and tap into that feeling. What kinds of things do you like to do that make you feel calm that are healthy. For most folks they fall into the movement category. This is how we first learn to self regulate, by moving in rhythm. Rocking, walking, dancing, etc. Remember as we develop in the womb we are moving, in the amniotic sack, so this is the most natural way we can go about feeling calmer and more regulated. For others maybe you want to stop moving. Instead you can choose to lay or sit down. Then there are those who only want or can only move parts of their body, usually hands and/or feet. In these moments focus on the rhythm of your heartbeat, the rhythm of parts of your body, the slow and methodic breaths you are taking.
Once you start to calm your nervous system physically you will start to notice and have more agency over your thoughts or your cortex. It is here where you can start to do some self talk. Speak gently to yourself. Talk to yourself in a way a loving person would speak to a child, after all your inner child is what is having the hard time in these moments. So speak gently to that part of yourself. Remind yourself that you are deserving of love and connection. That you have wonderful people in your life and name those people, slowing picturing them in your mind as you say their names. You can also reflect upon the ways they show you love and connection and how you show them love and connection.
The goal here is to just calm yourself down and get your cortex online. Do not react out of that out of control triggered emotional place.
#3 Ask Yourself what it is you are needing in this moment. As you begin to feel calmer you will start to see the thoughts that you are having. Explore those thoughts with curiosity and not judgement. Realizing that you are triggered ask yourself “what is it that I need right now?” You can find this out by further exploring and asking yourself, “why was I so triggered by_______?” Remember to still be kind to yourself and that you are just curious about what is going on. Although you may be used to being criticized I don’t want you to criticize yourself. So many of us have an angry voice inside ourselves that is critical and can say mean things to us. But it’s not the time to listen to that voice and in fact with enough practice that voice can be silenced and/or ignored.
Once you have identified what your needs are then you can think about how to communicate that to your loved one.
#4 Learn how to communicate your needs appropriately. This takes practice and no one gets it right 100% of the time so again be gentle and patient with yourself. Thinking about what your needs are and what you want, you can then start thinking about how to express this to your loved one. You do need to know something about who your loved one is and their communication style in order to get the messaging right, but generally using “I” statements works best. “I” statements such as, “I need you to say good morning to me because it makes me feel loved and cared for. I know you love and care for me but this extra step is really validating and eases some of my anxiety. Can you try to do this more often?” Or something to that effect. Here you are communicating your needs clearly, the why of it’s importance and then giving your partner a choice. Now of course be mindful of certain things:
- Make sure you are truly in a safe and loving relationship otherwise this can blow up in your face and make you feel worse if the person does not reciprocate. When I say safe I’m not only talking about physically safe but also emotionally safe. It’s normal to feel some nerves or anxiety when having to be vulnerable, especially if you are not used to do this, but if you feel fear or terror then your relationship may not be safe.
- Be mindful of your tone of voice. Be calm and clear not accusatory or angry. Those emotions can put someone on the defensive and in those moments your message will not be heard with the intention that you want it to be heard.
- Be gentle, patient, and forgiving towards the person you love. They may not get it right 100% of the time so you will have to also remind yourself of this and not blow up at them for getting it wrong sometimes. Again we all want to be treated with love, respect, nurturance, and kindness so keep that in mind when you are communicating with those you love.
Bonus Tip: Grieve the loss of your inner child and find a way to accept and move on without repeating your parent/caregivers mistakes. It can be hared to come to terms with our own pasts and our relationships with our parents/caregivers. We may have feelings of anger because they did not give us what we needed, whether that was because of their own unhealed trauma, their own mental health struggles, or just general lack of knowledge and understanding. We are tempted to look at other people who did get what they needed from their parents/caregivers and feel angry or jealous. It’s ok to acknowledge that this is how you feel but remember you have control over your own behaviors. You can choose to be angry and lash out at your parents/caregivers or others as a way to make yourself feel better but in the end it really wont. Being able to grieve what you didn’t have and accept it is part of healing. When you allow yourself to grieve you expel that hurtful energy rather than bottling it up. The bottling up leads to negative emotions that will cause you to behave in ways that don’t make you feel connected to others in the way you want to. So as you grieve and feel your different feelings be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Surround yourself with others that love, nurture, and care about you. Be open to experiencing love in different forms from others who are not your parents/caregivers. This will help ease the pain and reinforce what you all ready know, which is that you are worthy and deserving of safe, nurturance, love, and care.