Orlando Counseling Providing Relationship Therapy
"Why, oh why, do I keep going back? I know this relationship is toxic and I keep going back!” These words or some other closely related sentiment bounce off the walls during relationship counseling at least once a month.
Or when a relationship ends, “My ex is a total jerk! Why do I keep picking jerks?”
As an anxiety and trauma therapist providing counseling in Orlando, sometimes in couples counseling I hear, “It always ends up this way! She walls off and stops talking and I end up exploding and nothing gets resolved. It’s like we can’t even communicate.”
Relationship patterns can very often leave us feeling baffled and confused, at best, and downright powerless and ashamed, at worst.
First, let’s all just take a deep breath. B.I.G. inhale and even B.I.G.G.E.R exhale, ahhhh.
Rutted relationship patterns are really hard stuff, y’all. They can be crazy making and feel like an emotional roller coaster, much like riding a train through crazy town with no way to get off the damn train.
If you notice yourself in a relationship pattern that has you baffled, it is very likely you have unresolved early attachment trauma or wounding. Let me just take a moment to explore what I mean by this.
Whether you are breaking up, going through a divorce, or seeking couples counseling or marriage counseling, understanding your relationship patterns helps demystify things.
What is Attachment?
When it comes to attachment, we are looking at the assumptions we make about our self, others, and relationships. Some questions you can start to ask yourself to uncover your attachment beliefs are:
Do you believe you are worthy of love?
Do you expect others to be there for you?
Do you believe relationships are safe?
If the shit hit the fan when you were a kid, it is possible that you have Insecure Attachment, which can create some challenges to overcome in romantic relationships. Please notice, I said, “challenges to overcome,” not barriers or roadblocks.
Adults that have Insecure Attachment very likely had difficult relationships with their primary caregivers. At best, these folks have “attachment wounding,” which means their parents could have been a bit self-preoccupied, not attuning the child’s emotional needs. Or possibly a bit too controlling, not giving the child much opportunity to be independent. Or at worst, these folks experienced “attachment trauma” where parents were physically or emotionally abusive or neglectful.
There are myriad of other experiences that can cause Insecure Attachment, as well. There could have been the death of a parent, a sickness, or something else that created a big shift in the family system.
There are three types of insecure attachment that I will take a moment to explain.
In adult relationships, these individuals tend to have a preoccupation with their partner. They are focused on whether their partner is calling, texting, loving, hugging, touching, or in some way showing interest. For the purposes of this article, I will call these clients my Annie’s. My Annie’s get very anxious when their partners are not checking in with them because they fear their partner is abandoning them. It can be a terrifying experience. Some of my Annie’s literally have a physical stress response when they can’t connect with their partners. These folks need the connection to calm their nervous system.
My Annie’s tend to believe, “I am not worthy of love. If I can get ‘you’ to love me, then maybe I am worthy of love. I cannot trust ‘you.’ Relationships are not safe.”
Many of my Annie’s had similar childhood experiences with their parents. Their parents did not attune to their emotional needs and these folks were left longing for love and attention.
Many of my Annie’s learned to get attention, validation, and a sense of self-worth through physical beauty, people pleasing, acting out, body piercings, tattoos, or some other external way to be noticed.
These folks are fine not being in a relationship; however, if they are, they tend to have some walls up to prevent themselves from being vulnerable. Let’s call these individuals, my Ava’s. My Ava’s are uncomfortable with connection, emotional intimacy, and closeness. They can go all day without calling, texting, hugging, or touching their partner, and they are totally fine with that. If they happened to be partnered with an Annie, they can become flooded and overwhelmed by the other’s need for connection in the relationship, and then they shut down and physically or emotionally move away from their partner.
My Ava’s often have beliefs similar to “I am worthy of love. ‘You’ are not trustworthy. Relationships are not safe.”
Ava’s very often had parents that were overbearing, controlling, critical, and did not allow for self-expression, independence, or privacy.
My Ava’s learned to cope with these “over the top” parents by withdrawing, isolating, and disconnecting.
For my folks that fall under this category, relationships are hard. Let’s call these folks my Donna’s. My Donna’s can have trouble finding safe partners. They tend to get into unhealthy relationships. They send messages that say, “Come here. Go away.” Donna’s have a hard time regulating their nervous systems in relationships and often seem to lose control, having angry outbursts or struggle with depressive symptoms. They long for connection and then become overwhelmed when they feel closeness.
My Donna’s tend to have beliefs that are similar to “I am not loveable. ‘You’ are not safe. Relationships are not safe.
Many of my Donna’s had parents that were physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive. They had multiple experiences of conflicting internal messages. “I need my parents to survive” conflicting with “My parents are not safe.” Which is very confusing and disorienting for a little one to try to understand.
My Donna’s use many different ways of coping. Many will stay out of relationships all together. Or if they do choose to enter a relationship, they will oscillate between wanting closeness and wanting space.
Individuals with secure attachment are relatively predictable in their adult romantic relationships. They don’t panic when a partner doesn’t respond to a phone call or text message right away and they are comfortable with closeness and connection in their relationships. Let’s call these folks my Sally’s.
Sally’s tend to believe, “I am worthy of love. ‘You’ are trustworthy. Relationships are safe.” My Sally’s tend to pick partners that will confirm these expectations and are often in secure and stable relationships.
Many Sally’s had caregivers that consistently and appropriately attended to their physical and emotional needs, as well as allowed them to make mistakes without being critical. Sally’s parents were not overly controlling and allowed for independence.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh, great! I’m screwed because I fall under one of those insecure attachment headings,” please don’t fret. There is this wonderful thing called Earned Secure Attachment that paves the way to healing old attachment wounds and traumas so that singles and couples can settle into healthy, fulfilling, and deeply connected relationship.
Earned Secure Attachment
Earned secure attachment can happen in several ways.
It can occur by happenstance, where you organically find your way to a healthy partner and through this relationship, you are offered a corrective experience. In this healthy relationship you learn that you are loveable and worthy of love because your partner treats you with respect, encourages you, and supports you during times of stress. You learn that others are trustworthy because your partner shows up for you consistently. And you learn that relationships are safe because your partner allows you to make mistakes without criticizing or belittling. All of these experiences in an adult romantic relationship allow the person with insecure attachment to unlearn the previous limiting beliefs and adopt the new adaptive and healthy relational beliefs.
Earned Secure attachment can also happen for a couple that during couples counseling or marriage counseling from a qualified therapist. In session, the couple learns how to participate in the healing of each other’s attachment wounds. It’s helpful to understand each other’s attachment style and how they impact difficult relational patterns. The therapist can help the couple create an emotionally safe environment for healing to occur, creating a deeply emotional and intimate partnership.
Earned secure attachment can also happen through working with a well attuned relationship counselor, one that honors your boundary style, communication needs, and helps you regulate your nervous system in session. All of these things are actually done within the ebb and flow of the relationship. It is a sense you get from your therapist, a feeling of, “this person really gets me.”
How is your attachment style impacting your relationship patterns? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading and Happy Day!
Lauran is an anxiety and trauma therapist providing counseling in Orlando, FL. She also specializes in helping people heal old broken relationship patterns that keep them from finding, creating, and keeping healthy relationships with partners, friends, and family. Lauran uses a down to earth approach infused with cutting-edge therapies that go beyond traditional talking to help clients feel calm in their body and mind and find peace within themselves.