Adults also have insecure attachment types

Some adults who have suffered such distress as a child often say they feel they were adopted. How sad is that! It should be mentioned that adults have corresponding attachment or personality types, which are labelled secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. Research shows that about 40% of adults have insecure attachment to a greater or lesser extent, which helps to explain the myriad of relationship difficulties counsellors come across. The anxious-preoccupied people (ambivalent anxious as children) are overly needy, insecure in their relationship and constantly checking that their partner loves them, and may be jealous. They feel worthwhile and worthless alternately, and this ambivalence dictates their lives, for example when they feel worthwhile they like to meet other people and when they fell worthless they dislike meeting others. The dismissive-avoidant people (avoidant as children) are unlikely to have access to feelings, and see themselves as independent and perhaps ruthless, a weakness that they mistakenly regard as a strength. They remain constantly hurt because they cannot connect and often see connection as weakness. Fearful avoidant people (possibly disorganised as children) have some desire for intimacy, but then feel uncomfortable with the intimacy and opt out, harbouring an intense fear of rejection. They then become lonely and opt in, thus creating confusion and uncertainty in relationships. This becomes a tormenting cycle for the lover and the beloved. John Bradshaw in his book Home Coming explains this as a person moving between fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. It can also mean that in intimacy traumatic feelings buried during childhood and hidden in their subconscious are disturbed resulting in a withdrawal. The main characteristic of fearful avoidant people is anger and shame, and they are likely to use violence as a way of control.
By and large, those with an insecure attachment learn to relate in what Mark Grant describes as instrumental ways, able to express love but not feeling it, catering for the other’s material needs, trying to please others and stressing achievements in their spousal or parental relationships. When the emotional content is not available, however, the result is devastating to all concerned.
I hope you find these definitions helpful in making sense of yourself. If not do not worry. I find it difficult to define my own insecure attachment style. I believe that insecure attachment types have common facets and are not fully individually fenced. In real life it is the insecurity and what it does to you that matters, not the particular type that theorists struggle to define. What all the insecure attachments types have in common is that they create fear and the child creates a shell (psychic numbing or dissociation) to survive. The child represses an overwhelming fear of not surviving. Biologically, this may mean that the primitive brain and the amygdala block any overpowering emotion from trauma, such as the prolonged trauma of childhood mistreatment. If you wish for deeper information in how the brain deals with trauma you might like to consult Babette Rothschild’s works. She is one of the world’s leading experts on trauma. Because the child is unable to process the pain or to integrate the experience, it is blocked in the brain forever, unless properly treated. Very often it emerges in late teenage years or in adulthood as severe anxiety or depression, which is difficult to shift because the adult cannot connect these complaints to the protracted childhood trauma. In other words it is difficult for the adult to make sense of the unpleasant body sensations of the anxiety, because they are disconnected from the long drawn out trauma of neglect in childhood. Obviously it is easy to connect anxiety to a single trauma which can be recalled in detail. Again, much depends on the severity of the trauma, and it is worthwhile understanding that what is not a trauma from the adult point of view may be traumatic for the child.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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