“Know this: it is okay to share how you feel, it is okay to be vulnerable and it is okay to take up space. There is healing in connecting.”
The way I find inspiration for each blog post has so far been a curation of relevant content; mostly Instagram posts and WordPress blogs. Subconsciously I feel a pull towards a particular topic and consciously I start looking for information and evidence that will back up my discovery.
This time around it has been an exploration of attachment styles and how they are formed very early on in our childhoods. It’s clear that there’s not much we can do about that. Especially when we may have been exposed to behaviours which shaped our level of dependency, before we were even self-aware. The beauty of re-parenting however, is that we can recognise what our attachment style is and how it is formed. Thus we can begin the journey of healing and hopefully form a secure attachment with others. Re-parenting will validate our inner child in ways that they weren’t seen or heard originally.
A blog I follow recently shared a post about the four attachment styles, focusing particularly on the disorganised attachment style (or what they referred to as fearful/avoidant). The other three are anxious/preoccupied, avoidant/dismissive and secure attachments. The writer also shared a link to a quiz from The Attachment Project, so if you’re not sure what attachment style you have, check that link out.
I was surprised to learn that my attachment style was an anxious/preoccupied one. I’m well aware that I suffer anxiety, at an obsessive compulsive level. Intrusive thoughts are at a constant battle with my rationality on a daily basis. Because of this, I am high functioning in social settings. I also experience long periods of time feeling burnt out and afraid to leave the house or even talk to anyone. Still, I assumed I had a fearful/avoidant attachment style. I feel safer staying at home and the thought of talking to others in any form (public, social media, phone calls etc.) is a paralysing fear for me.
Anxious/preoccupied people are usually afraid of being abandoned or hurt by the people they love; be it a romantic, familial or platonic relationship. They are either clingy or a chaotic mixture of needy and distant. Perhaps I’ve mistaken my tendency to keep a distance as a fearful/avoidant attachment style. My natural inclination to cling to someone as an outside form of validation (if they love me, then I am lovable) conflicts with my instilled fear that any clingy behaviour will push them away. Therefore, I keep a lot of people at a distance, emotionally and physically. Simply put, they are allowed to confide in me because they will most likely love me for that. In return, I cannot open up to them because there is a danger that they will retract that love.
This is in fact, an indication that anxious/preoccupied people are adept at putting other’s needs before their own. Hence the ‘preoccupation’ with attachment and the need to maintain it within relationships. More often that not, these types of people have subconsciously sidelined their needs at the expense of others or sadly, may never have learned how to practise self-care.
Life would be a lot easier for so many of us if we had been loved unconditionally as children. When the parent/s put conditions on their love it’s because they view their child’s ‘misbehaviour’ as something to discipline rather than a chance to identify what needs aren’t being met. As this post by Transforming Toddlerhood states, “[a child’s] behaviour isn’t inherently good or bad. That’s a judgement we place on behaviour. In reality all behaviour is communication.” Refusing to connect with a child who is momentarily dysregulated (having a melt-down or ‘acting out’) teaches them that expressing, what we generally believe to be negative emotions; i.e. anger, sadness, fear, is shameful or not allowed. Alternatively, for a child who does not feel seen or heard by their parent/s, throwing a tantrum might be the only time they receive attention.
Often we forget that a child’s brain is still underdeveloped. Therefore, the ways in which they communicate with us may be limited to what they’re capable of, at a neurological level. I truly believe most of the relational ruptures that occur between parent and child are borne from unrealistic expectations placed on the latter.
Something that was said to me a lot as a child was in regards to my tendency to be ‘argumentative.’ In fact, I was decidedly opinionated as a child and it had a lot to do with being celebrated as exceptionally bright as a young child. Over time, that same talent for knowledge and maturity beyond my years worked against me. I suddenly knew ‘too much’ and that threatened my parent’s authority. A particular comment I often heard in retaliation has stuck with me and still haunts me to this day.
“You’re such a difficult, argumentative child, one day you will end up all alone because no one will want to be with you.”
I cannot begin to describe the impact this one sentence has had on me. Somehow one of the many traits I possessed, be it learned or an intrinsic part of my nature, defined my worth to others. I was bad because I was argumentative.
Again, I am not playing a blame game. Rather than focus on the intent, I want to explore the impact. I fear I lived a great deal of my teenage years and young adult life living out this statement as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I grew into the label of ‘argumentative’ quite well. I used it as my weapon whenever, out of my fear of being alone, I ended up trapped with toxic people. It became a vicious cycle of never wanting to be alone but fretfully seeking out a person to re-enact a trauma bond with. I had convinced myself that no one decent or well-adjusted would ever want to be with me. I was a terrible person. I would push all that is good away. So I pushed it away before that could happen.
Indeed, the enlightenment that comes from inner child work can often be bittersweet. The ‘a-ha!’ moments are usually followed with the knowledge that what happened cannot be undone. Re-parenting is more of a healing process than a reversal. The child self has already walked through the suffering but she lingers within, not having had the chance to grow out of survival mode. When faced with an event that triggers past trauma, she reacts instantly. I need her to know it’s okay now and that I can take it from here instead. She doesn’t need to fight any more. Most importantly, her worth is not damaged by mistakes made. Her mistakes do not define her. She is argumentative at times but she is also many other things.
The more I make conscious decisions to think before I act, to choose assertiveness over aggression, the more my brain forges neuropathways. To me, it’s not much different to drawing a tattoo over a scar. The trauma is still there but I’m healing and look, I’ve also found a way to create something worthwhile from it. Already, I’ve learnt so much about myself by doing the work. Thanks again for joining me.