Did you know that psychologists can predict your attachment style before you’re born? You’re probably thinking that this sounds crazy. However, research shows that your attachment style can be predicted while you’re still in your mother’s womb, with about 75% accuracy. This is because of the power of story. The state of your story is so powerful, that you’re likely to keep the same attachment style throughout your life, unless you have a major intervening event that changes your story.
Not many of us know our own story. Now I know what many of you are thinking. I know when I was born. I know who my parents and siblings are. I know where I grew up. None of these data points are about the story that I’m talking about. By story, I mean the narrative of how we’ve been impacted by those most important to us. I mean the remnant of the kind of person we’ve become, and who has left fingerprints on our lives. From an Attachment Theory perspective, we become largely the product of our most significant relationships. To have a secure attachment, the ultimate goal of Attachment Theory, means to have someone in your life that has your back emotionally. This doesn’t mean this person puts food in your stomach, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head. It doesn’t even mean a buddy who will back you up in a bar fight. Of course, all of these are essential. Rather, a securely attached person keeps track of you in their mind. This person is responsive to you when you’re in trouble, and notices when you’re distressed. By being attuned to the person that you’re securely attached to, you can tell when they are upset, and securely attached people want to respond to those they have this kind of connection with. If you’re trying to figure out who you’re securely attached to, think about the person that brings out the best version of you. That is who you are most likely securely attached with, if anyone.
Attachment Theory also suggests that most of us learn to manage our emotions in one of a couple of coping styles. One strategy is to dismiss most of our feelings, or at least the emotions related to being attached to someone important. Dismissives tend to feel little, and live as though they don’t need others. Those partnered with a dismissive often complain of not feeling loved or wanted, and wonder why their partners don’t want to be with them more, or open up to them.
The second style is to become preoccupied with attachment needs. The preoccupied person often feels overwhelmed with emotion and unable to get their arms around their feelings. They tend to live lives of emotional overarousal, going from crisis to crisis. The preoccupied’s partners sometimes experience their significant other as needy, and unable to get enough. Many preoccupieds live in constant fear of their partners being unfaithful, or perhaps see their partners as looking for other opportunities, even when they aren’t.
Both of these styles can be particularly challenging in the realm of romantic relationships. In Of Relationships & Storms, I tell the story of two couples attempting to navigate the difficult task of making a romantic partnership work. In this story I demonstrate the importance of coming to know your own life narrative, as well as the tragic results of not doing so. One of the main characters, Kathy, gets help coming to know her story, which has a life changing impact. Kathy finds people in a therapy group who can help her get to know herself and her narrative. These people help Kathy to develop new story.
All we need to develop our narrative is a willingness to be curious about ourselves, and a wise person to put their arm around our shoulder and be curious about us as well. This could be a psychotherapist, a mentor, a parent, or a wise old soul that knows how to reflect on personal story.
Dr. Mark MacMillin is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.