I have been told that the pathway to more secure attachment is through a positive relationship with a therapist or a romantic partner who can offer secure attachment. How does one get into a relationship with someone who offers secure attachment when that person is FA / DA and is attracted to DA people? The attraction just isn't there with someone who offers secure atatchment.
Hi willow. This is kind of a chicken and an egg problem. The key to earning secure isn't through having another relationship that "fixes" things for you. But another relationship that is secure (whether it's with a therapist, friend, whoever) does two things: 1. It doesn't trigger your existing attachment issues (fear of abandonment and / or engulfment) which allows you to have the space to do your self-work to figure this out (insecurely attached people trigger themselves enough on their own without the additional stress of an insecure partner also triggering them through the lack of safety and stability in the relationship) and 2. It models what a safe, stable relationship with healthier boundaries and communication looks like, so you can see and learn and process how another way of thinking and behavior may be better and start reconditioning your nervous system.
The question you're asking is very typical. Like attracts like, and insecurely attachment style people generally are only strongly attracted to other insecures who also lack full emotional availability. This tends to be because it subconsciously reminds you of dysfunctional childhood dynamics, feels familiar, is perhaps aggravating your anxiety which feels like overwhelming feelings so you confuse them with passion and attraction, maybe is even a dynamic you keep subconsciously looking for, replaying to "correct" a similar early relationship dynamic that was unhealthy (such as if you had a distant parent you felt you had to chase for love but never got it, you may seek to finally win over an equally distant partner). Or, you may simply feel bored if your attachment wounds aren't activated by your partner because you don't have a solid enough self of identity and self acceptance to process the calm of a healthy relationship as something secure and desirable. You may on some level want drama, chaos, your romantic relationship to provide only highs, companionship, and distraction from your issues with yourself.
I personally don't believe a secure relationship on its own fixes attachment issues, because you can be secure with another person but overall still have insecure attachment, which still negatively impacts how you respond to stress and deal with other parts of your life and other relationships, even if your romantic relationship is solid. It has to come coupled with self-work and a true motivation to change unrelated to the relationship and romantic partner ie it has to be for yourself.
So the easiest place to start, I think, is with a therapist. Because you get both benefits 1 and 2 if you find a good therapist who you mesh well with. You'll be learning better tools that insecures didn't have anyone to teach them earlier in life, perhaps discussing and learning how to process and heal past trauma, and you'll be in a steady "relationship" with someone who won't leave no matter what you say (because you're paying and it's their job to help with this), who isn't judging you, and who is modeling healthy boundaries. Therapy will get uncomfortable and be hard work over time, but sticking with it to get to the other side and establish that security with the therapist is part of the process. (This is also way too much to specifically put on and expect from a romantic partner.)
After you get through the first few months and start to gain a different perspective (though the process of really earning security will take longer), what happens is actually that who you're attracted to will naturally start to evolve and change. Because like continues to attract like, as you change and get more emotionally available and secure, those are the mirror qualities you'll start to seek. In my case, what felt like passionate love (attraction to avoidants) was me being triggered anxious and now feels exhausting and undesirable, that their behavior is distant, immature, not cute, not what I'm looking for. I'm more attracted to more secure people for the first time in my life, even if it isn't immediately butterflies (there needs to be a baseline physical attraction from the beginning, but it doesn't have to be all-consuming, because with a solid person, I'm finally experiencing that it really will grow if I like their personality). Now I want to take a bit of time getting to know someone and gauge their stability and consistency first. With that slower speed comes more trust and confidence. The butterflies may get delayed a couple months while this happens, but then when the attachment comes on, it's far more sustainable and based on a stable foundation.
Alexandra, wow, I am impressed with your insight and understanding, which is apparent in what you've shared. Congrats and thank you for sharing your experiences in personal growth! A Secure relationship though, is the only way to shift and heal attachment dynamics since attachment relationships are our most powerful means of healing from trauma. While it's true, Insecure peeps may express some Secure traits while relating to friends, colleagues, or some family members .... whom they are not fully engaged within a truly intimate relationship ... Mentalization can only develop within the context of an attachment relationship. I agree with your statement that a therapist, trained in Attachment theory and clinical application, is a productive avenue. For an Insecure, developing a relationship with a Secure, whether therapeutic or romantic, is a powerful and essential tool to shifting toward Secure attachment.
As a Secure, my qualities of Mentalization is at the heart of the Secure attachment dynamic. Mentalization is the skill of perceiving and interpreting human behavior (the human condition – self and other) in terms of intentional mental states (e.g. needs, desires, feelings, beliefs, goals, purposes, and reasons) of which accurate interpretation lends itself to accurately understand and respond to emotional states of self and other. A Secure will accurately interpret roughly 80% of the time and when they do misinterpret, they will quickly reassess and repair. Those with honed insight and sensitivity of self and others intentional mental states will improve their implicit attunement with an other over time within a relationship.
A Secure with highly developed Mentalization is:
Relaxed and flexible, not ‘stuck’ in one point of view . Can be playful, with humor that engages others rather than hurting or distancing (at other’s expense) . Can solve problems by give-and-take between own and other’s perspectives (collaborative).
Describes their own experience, rather than defining other people’s experiences or intentions . Conveys ‘ownership’ of their behavior (and resultant experiences) rather than a sense that it ‘happens’ to them.
Is curious about other people’s perspectives, and expect to have their own views extended by others’ perspectives . (Fonagy, 2010)
Mentalizing happens at the level of the brain, i.e. neural networks, the pattern of firing synapes within the brain, which are memory and triggers, and the brain can only be 'rewired' within the context of an attachment relationship.
The skillset of mentalization is where Insecure folks miss the mark, so to speak. Where these foundational skills, which are normally developed in infancy and early childhood, can be 'smeared' or distorted, or worse, arrested development (from consistent and prolonged attachment trauma by an attachment figure) to create whatever form of Insecure attachment in children. At birth, babies require their caregiver to accurately understand and respond to their emotional states in order to survive. The caregiver's capacity to effectively mirror a child’s internal state is at the heart of regulating our underlying experience of feelings, emotions and/or moods throughout our lives. The only way any distortion can be truly rewired at the brain level, is with Secure experiences overwriting Insecure experiences. This is intensive brain/body work, which Alexandra seems to know well, where one gains an understanding that feelings are not facts to be acted out, but are mental states to be understood, shared and then moved on from. With Secure, mindful, role modeling and mentoring, this process can take years, but is the only way to develop the gift and blessing of the experience of loving and being loved well.
For those who are interested, the writings of Peter Fonagy and other knowledgeable clinicians, like Jeb Kinnison, are very informative and helpful!
In regard to Willow's question of developing an attraction to Secure, is to 1st accurately identify a Secure potential partner! Then pay close attention to the cues within your own body, the triggers for boredom or lack of comfort in absence of drama/trauma, triggering etc., and accurately identify and interpret your body (sweating, fast heartbeat, sleepiness etc) and identify and interpret your mental state, your feelings, thoughts, beliefs etc. There is a space between stimulus and response and within that space is our power to choose our response whether you believe that to be true or not lol. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. (Frankl)
Identify that space between the trigger and the behavior and widen it (breathing, yoga, massage or touch, quiet reflection etc. whatever works for you), keep widening that space where identification and interpretation exists at the level of the brain (e.g. brain/body connection). As a FD/DA you are disassociated from aspects of your body and the body always keeps the score.... memories and triggers that are formed within neural networks formed in childhood. A current FD/DA 'attractors' are smeared, or distorted, and one of the methods you can start to work on yourself, outside of a therapeutic environment, is to pay attention to your body and create psychological space to adjust your mental states.