Vulnerability and Attachment Wounds in Romantic Relationship

This blog is inspired by the topic of vulnerability. I wanted to write about it after writing about the sacred emptiness because vulnerability is what births inside the chrysalis of sacred emptiness.

A new form of vulnerability births in the emptiness…based upon attachment wound healing…that opens us up to a more joyful and fulfilling experience of being vulnerable.

Attachment wounding is the root of not being able to be vulnerable in relationship with others and self. Attachment healing turns the tables and allows vulnerability to become a secure and happier experience.

My reflections on attachment will be very brief and stream of consciousness…

If you want to know more in detail there are a ton of books, Youtube videos and podcasts on attachment theory.  I highly recommend listening to the “Psychology Today” podcast. The subscription is only $5 dollars a month for many deep dives into pertinent psychological topics. Kirk Honda is my favorite describer of attachment theory (and any topic in psychology) as he makes content accessible to everyone with a harmonious blend of knowledge and heart.

This is my reflection on vulnerability and attachment today….

Our brains are the place we develop our personality (ego) very early on in life (infant to about age seven) based upon how we are parented by our prime caretakers. The personality formation is strongest the younger we are and gets cemented after age seven.

Our attachment style is the aspect of the personality that relates with others and with self. It is the way in which we desire relationship, behave in relationship, and express vulnerability.

The romantic parter most closely mirrors the prime caretaker and hence, we face our attachment style/wounds the strongest in romantic partnering yet attachment styles show up in every single relationship including the one you have with yourself.

You do not need to have experienced trauma or abuse to have an attachment wound. If you have endured trauma and abuse your wounds are specific to that yet a child can develop a very deep attachment wound in a home with zero abuse and no big traumas.

The avoidant attachment style/wound (often broken down into anxious avoidant and dismissive avoidant) is created by the prime caretaker(s) not tending to the child’s emotions. There is no emotional attunement. The parent(s) do not talk about feelings or they may see emotions as weak, dismiss them, or avoid them. Boys may be more apt to be taught to repress their emotions due to cultural conditioning as well.

As with everything psychological, avoidance shows up as a spectrum. How much did your caretaker(s) avoid your feelings and avoid feelings in the home between family members? There tends to be a basic structure in the avoidant home with bedtime, meals, routines with school, etc and there may also be morals taught and other principals that foster the mind but the emotional realm of the child is not seen, acknowledged or nurtured.

Avoidant style people do not feel safe in close relationships because they feel cut-off from their own feelings. They experience anxiety around intimacy and tend to use dismissive remarks or behaviors to maintain a certain level of detachment, independence and aloofness in relationship. They either believe they do not need intimacy or they push intimacy away in a variety of ways that may be unconscious (flippant remarks, sexual impotency or lack of desire, minimizing issues and the feelings of the partner) or conscious (having a strong belief about the independence they feel gives them strength, for instance or saying they are not relationship oriented).

The avoidant style is often called the island.

Anxious attachment style people (often called preoccupied or ambivalent) is created when the prime caretaker(s) sometimes tune in to the child’s emotions and sometimes ignore them. The key is inconsistency in attunement and often anxiety connected to emotional attunement when it is present. There is some semblance of structure in this attachment style as if there were no structure in the home it would fall under the disorganized attachment style but the structure does tend to be as inconsistent as the emotional attunement. Maybe meals and bedtimes are not always around the same time or maybe the structure is generally chaotic though the child is fed, taken to school, and put to bed at some point. Perhaps the child switches homes a lot or is handed off in a chaotic fashion. The anxious attachment style is often referred to as the wave.

To be clear, emotional attunement is when the care taker responds to the child’s feelings, names the feelings for the child so they may learn to name feelings themselves, nurtures the child when upset and models how to tend to feelings in a loving way no matter what feeling is arising. Emotional attunement when secure in the caretaker, does not cause intense anxiety. The caretaker is not anxious when the child is hurting nor are they living in anxious fear of the child getting hurt in the unforeseeable future.

Anxious attachment creates a person who is not sure if they are loved. Do you love me now? How about now? If you find out (insert trait here) about me will you still love me? The anxious person needs constant validation and reassurance that they are loved. They don’t have any consistent sense of being tended to that is imbedded in their sense of self. They fear love leaving, being abandoned, and being betrayed. They may put themselves at constant fault for creating abandonment or they may build a false case where their partner will leave them due to (insert criticism here).

The wave is very overt with their insecurity and feelings. The island is very covert as beneath every island is a wave but the island is too anxious to deluge. Avoidant people want intimacy deep down underneath their fear just as much as the overt wave. It’s as if islands have an extra defense mechanism around their anxiety that the waves do not posses and this is molded by how we are parented. 

The wave is usually the pursuer of the island. Islands and waves tend to attract each other because the island needs the overt display and pursuit of the wave for them to feel loved and the wave is used to feeling insecure about not being loved and very familiar and comfortable with chasing the unavailable island. It’s a recipe for healing or disaster depending on how willing and skilled the partners are in dealing with these wounds. Without skill or willingness the island first pushes the wave away and then the wave overwhelms the island when they express needing more and this pushes the island away more until both express extreme versions of avoiding and deluging. 

Disorganized attachment is molded in the brain when the there is abuse in the home, major trauma, or the care taker(s) do not provide adequate structure or emotional attunement to the point where it is neglect. Disorganized people may vacillate between being an island and a wave, never feeling a consistent sense of self. The disorganized wound is chaotic and never follows a certain pattern other than the pattern of not being patterned.

Not having a strong sense of self is also the case for the island and the wave. Sense of self is developed in the brain by the child being emotionally attuned to and given proper structure by the caretaker(s). This is a literal process that happens in the brain (mirror neurons) that forms sense of self in relationship with others, self, and the world. With all attachment styles other than secure attachment, the sense of self is shattered in varying qualities and degrees of intensity based upon upbringing mixed with temperament (nature and nurture).

The temperament (soul, true self, the mysterious uniqueness we each posses) of the child plays a big if not a bigger role in the shaping of the sense of self.

A shattered sense of self is the attachment wound.

Secure attachment happens when there is no trauma or abuse and the caretaker(s) tune into the child’s feelings in a nurturing and loving way while also providing the child with a consistent structure. This assures the child develops a healthy sense of self if there is no trauma or abuse outside the home and if the child is not born with a struggling temperament due to multigenerational wounds or a past life wound (if you believe in this).

It is important to note that a child may also absorb anxiety from any family member conflict even if it has nothing to do with them. Families usually have the one “healer” or empath of the family who tends to absorb the anxiety from other family members and become mentally or physically sick as a result. These types are more apt to struggle and often cannot discern their feelings from the feelings of others due to their sensitivity levels yet they are also meant to be as sensitive as they are because they are the healers of this world.

Attachment wounds also present inwardly with self. For instance, you can have a disorganized attachment with yourself where sometimes you tune into your feelings and validate yourself, sometimes you avoid your feelings using some form of addiction or avoidance to ignore them, and sometimes you tend to your feeling but feel filled with anxiety and self doubt about whether you are good enough.

You can also express different styles consciously and unconsciously. For instance, you can be a wave consciously and an island unconsciously by consciously wanting and choosing intimate partnership yet always unconsciously attracting unavailable islands…or…when you attract an available partner you really like, you start pushing them away by finding fault with them at every turn. In this way the island and wave within the self and in partnership tries to find harmony.

The healing of attachment wounds is rooted in learning how to be vulnerable in the relational field and with self. This starts to show up when you no longer need to build a case against self or the partner, drink booze or take recreational drugs to feel comfortable, lay on the criticism, demand proof that you are loved, or push away the other with conscious or unconscious tactics of any kind.

Being vulnerable and intimate looks like letting each other in your feelings, communicating your feelings, being transparent about your feelings, and tending to one another’s feelings….whether during an argument, when times are rough, or during times of passion, joy, and tenderness. It means showing the real you and allowing yourself to trust your partner.

First you may need to do this for yourself but this is not always the requirement. Some people heal more through being vulnerable with a partner (or friend) first. We can build a sense of self love by going within and being alone and also through being in a relationship. It takes the right relationship if it is the latter. You cannot build a sense of self love with a partner who is unable to create intimacy and be vulnerable with you much of the time. Maybe not all the time, as we are flawed beings learning how to love….but a good chunk of the time at the very least.

Also, if you are an island, being vulnerable and close with another may not feel good for a long time. Perhaps years. You have to be willing to enter the not feeling good zone and go through the anxiety and fear. You have to be willing to enter intimacy with more courage to learn how to be vulnerable in the first place. This may feel awkward and challenge your avoidant personality that has protected you for so long. You have to learn how to trust another to care about you and you have to learn how to want to be cared about.

If you are a wave you may enjoy intimacy and even being vulnerable but you come on like a deluge every time you get triggered. This is important to understand for the island and the wave…

The moment you are triggered your animal brain takes the driver’s seat and your higher mind takes a hike. This means that you go into flight/fight/freeze mode and you cannot come out of it through logic, talking, or anything cognitive. When the wave is triggered they deluge the partner who is usually an island. When the island is triggered by the deluge they minimize the communication from the anxious wave which then triggers the wave more who thinks the island is a jerk which triggers the island more who thinks the wave is crazy and the storm intensifies into destruction.

When you get triggered in the relational field all you can do is breathe, touch, and/or take space from the other in order for the higher mind to get back in the driver’s seat. If you both are triggered, stop arguing and breathe, touch one another or allow one person to take some space. Nothing will change how to recover from a trigger because it is brain chemistry. Skill is vital when learning how to become vulnerable in a way that creates feeling more safety and joy.

Most of us are used to vulnerability feeling scary, disappointing, taxing, overwhelming and leading to our detriment. Islands build a mote around them acting like they don’t need a partner or intimacy, in order to survive. Waves desperately try to make the partner their one safe place in all of life’s pain and chaos. Both feel slayed by vulnerability. Both need to learn how to build trust through building a sense of self.

This is the key of all keys. Building a sense of self.

When you have a strong and solid sense of self you can allow yourself to trust getting hurt in the relational field because you can return to yourself as the safe place.

This is the healing of codependency, toxic unions, and everything relational. When you no longer fear being hurt, rejected, disappointed, broken up with, being single, or left alone because you have a safe, reliable, and loving sense of self to return to if the worst happens. Life never gives us a guarantee in the external world so we need the self to be the security and foundation. Islands, don’t contort this to mean you don’t need intimacy in one form or another. The sense of self is a home base and not an escape hatch to avoid the relational field.

It can be safe and feel fulfilling to be vulnerable in the relational field if you build your sense of self and love yourself with more emotional attunement and loving structure. You won’t give your power away to the partner or to addiction or avoidance. You can handle emotional pain and discomfort and in turn, experience a form of joy in relationship that arises only by being tuned in and true to self. Reparenting the self blossoms us into our true self.

True self creates vulnerable and intimate relationships that heal and fulfill our essential needs and desires in waves…and when the waves wane we can return to self for sustenance on a healthy island that can still welcome the other….

 

 

 

 

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