Often, clients aren’t ready to do the work necessary to repair their attachment disturbances until they come to see the suffering that Insecure Attachment creates. I started attachment work after an unhealthy relationship with an unavailable woman. The fact that she was unavailable initially helped me feel safe. I thought it would serve to protect my heart from too much attachment and codependency, but as I started opening my heart more to her, her unavailability became increasingly painful.
A securely attached person probably would not have gotten themselves into a situation like that in the first place, but if they did, once they saw their partner really was not available to them, they would have left. I, on the other hand, felt stuck. With my preoccupied attachment and fear of abandonment, leaving felt even scarier than staying. I had subconsciously recreated a pattern from my childhood, where I felt stuck in a home with parents that were often misattuned and could not meet much of my attachment longing.
As children, we have no choice in our primary caregivers. We learn clever strategies that help us get as many of our attachment needs met as possible by our caregivers, while shutting down the ones that cannot be met by them. As adults, however, we get to choose our partners for close relationships as well as how we go about meeting each others’ attachment needs. Unfortunately, the attachment strategies we learned as infants are so foundational to the development of our Internal Working Model of attachment that they rarely change on their own. We end up repeating our childhood dynamic; a doomed attempt to fix what happened in the past by continually recreating those same conditions in the present.
We end up repeating our childhood dynamic; a doomed attempt to fix what happened in the past by continually recreating those same conditions in the present.
There are many ways to restructure these foundational attachment strategies. Brown & Elliott (2016) put forth a Three Pillar approach to healing attachment disturbances in adults. The first pillar, restructuring the Internal Working Model of attachment using co-created secure imagery, takes place within the Ideal Parent Figure (IPF) framework. We use the IPF framework at The Adult Attachment Program because in our experience it is a particularly efficient and effective method for repairing secure attachment disruptions in adults.
I was lucky enough to discover the Ideal Parent Figures methodology a little over a year ago and it has changed my life. My close relationships have become much more healthy and fulfilling as I am getting more of my attachment needs met. I am now much more comfortable being with others in vulnerability and authenticity. But, what surprised me most was how much my relationship with myself has changed. I have become much more confident, letting go of significant fear of rejection while gaining self-esteem. And my most authentic sense of self, rather than my defense mechanisms, now guides most of my life.
Attachment researchers have also noticed how many other functions of a healthy and thriving sense of self appear to be related to secure attachment. Neuroscientist Allan Schore wrote in a 2017 essay on modern attachment theory that secure attachment is key to right-hemisphere brain development, particularly functions related to stress and affect regulation, social functioning, and the sense of a coherent embodied self. Empathy also appears to be right brain dominant and deeply related to attachment. In fact, the vast majority of psychotherapy work may effectively be targeting these same aspects of brain development.
Many people think of adult attachment as a simple typology system that informs your relationship style, kind of like Love Languages. But modern attachment researchers like Allan Schore (2017) and Dan Siegel (2001) believe it is foundational to many aspects of development… ?— Josh Kelly (?,?) (@KoshuaJellyfish) April 12, 2022
While the IPF methodology is an astoundingly direct method for attachment repair, it is still a lot of work. We are repairing an entire childhood worth of embodied memories of times our needs were unseen, ignored, or rejected. There has to be part of us that is ready for this, and committed to it, before we can really do this work. But I can tell you that it is absolutely worth it. Life is significantly better and easier with the background sense of well-being and ease which characterizes secure attachment.
Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment disturbances in adults: Treatment for comprehensive repair. W. W. Norton & Company.
Schore, A. N. (2017). Modern attachment theory. In S. N. Gold (Ed.), APA handbook of trauma psychology: Foundations in knowledge (Vol. 1). (pp. 389–406). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000019-020