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What is Attachment & Why Work With It?

While attachment styles have received a lot more attention in recent years , the science of attachment started as far back as 1958 with Bowbly (read more about him here).

Attachment, in simple language, is how our early relational experiences shape our view of ourselves, our parents (or caregivers), and the world. This goes far deeper than the old Fred attitude of "mom and dad are to blame for everything" into a science that can transform everything we know about ourselves and the world.

But before we can jump into that, we have to explain a bit of what the attachment styles are, and how bringing them into therapy is key for our relational, and intrapersonal, healing. I could give you a really in-depth discussion of these styles, and there are some great books on them (see resources here and here). But for the purposes of this post, let's keep it simple:




On a basic level, those with secure attachment enjoy a childhood in which they had available and consistent caregivers. They learned that it's safe to experience intimacy, open themselves, and that in general while the world can be challenging they have support to guide them through it, leading to a ton of positive outcomes for them.


Often those who present with this style, had caregivers, who even at times were deeply present with them, but who didn't do this on a consistant level, that matched their nervous system's needs. This results in a 'felt sense' in relationships that abandonment is right around the corner, and can fuel the need to be perfect, people-please as well as lead to increased anxiety and depression.


Those who come in with this style, often shy away from emotion. This might have been due to caregivers who told them their emotions where too much, or simple neglect from childhood. Either way, this results in a internalized sense to avoid what bubbles up in them, and often leads them to experience a deep sense of loneliness in relationships, mixed with shame, and fear.


Often those who have this style, come from a family with multiple stressors or concerns. Maybe there was drugs in the household, or intense abuse in some form, but either way this human's nervous system tends to crave connection, while at the same time fearing it. At times they will show avoidant behavior, and then flip into anxiety driven behaviors.


This is a style, that comes from doing the work of understanding our attachment style. Those with this style may not have had the upbringings that would lead to secure attachment, but through therapy, or other methods, they have learned to heal themselves in some pretty amazing ways, through opening themselves to others, as well a diving deep into their 'felt stories'.

Why do the Work? Why is therapy that is guided by attachment science so important?

Therapy is about a container that provides space, for whoever shows up, to meet their goals around healing. This can range from being more assertive in relationships, to challenging ourselves to go on the adventures we are most afraid of. And if a therapy is not grounded in the science of attachment, then it tends to lead to lower outcomes, as well as lower long-term success.

In addition, by including the science of attachment within the therapy container, a space is provided for someone to work on changing their felt stories. Often when clients come to see me, there is a part of them that doesn't understand why they are feeling the way they do. This part might be operating from an autobiographical sense of being, while their felt sense is telling them something different.

A huge part of therapy, when it is centered in attachment, is learning to cultivate an ability to listen to this felt sense. Call it intuition, call it the gut-brain connection, but regardless of it's name, it critical in our general sense of well-being. Having a therapy that doesn't just understand this, but works in a collaborative way with you, to heal these felt stories, is critical in long-term healing and overall mental health. It also moves us from simply going after the thing in front of us, which might be a symptom of our depression and anxiety, into a space that cultivates an ability to pause, and attend to ourselves and our parts.

And that ability, is always worth the investment, for it leads to so many positive outcomes in our lives and the relationships around us.

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