In part one I briefly introduced Debra and her destructive relationship patterns and explained Bowlby’s attachment theory.
One of the reasons that these patterns exist is because of her attachment style. Here I will delve into this further with some examples of how Debra has chosen relationships in the past and the outcomes of these.
Last year, Debra, thought she had found a near-perfect match.
Their first date lasted from lunch until the early hours of the next morning as a walk followed lunch, then dinner and then a late cinema visit.
Seeing as she had work the next day, it was an unprecedented move to stay out so late. But the connection she felt was worth the exception.
For the next couple of months, they had the usual types of dates and things seemed to be going along nicely. Things changed however when Debra’s parents came to visit and he insisted on meeting them.
Debra said to me that ‘It should have been a happy milestone in our relationship to meet my parents, but I felt coerced and forced into it happening before I was ready, but I didn’t know how to say no.’
Not only that, but he changed from this nice caring man into an obnoxious and rude individual on the day and then proceeded to ‘ghost’ Debra afterwards. Soon after this the relationship came to an unhappy and unfathomable end.
Debra realised that this wasn’t the first time that something that had been so full on had come to an abrupt ending. What was really going on?
If we relate this to attachment theory, Debra and her exes had clashing attachment styles.
They had a tendency to show an avoidant attachment style – pulling away when things start to get too close. In the case of her last relationship he even instigated the avoidance by insisting on meeting her parents. To have met her parents meant that this could have been something serious and long term, so he shut down from her.
Why was Debra attracted to these types of relationships?
Well, her attachment style is anxious. She craves closeness, expresses emotions openly and chases affection. To an avoidant this signals all the reasons to shut down and detach.
When people meet and are unaware of their or someone else’s attachment style then chaos can ensue and no one is any the wiser of why this is happening.
The routes to these styles are almost certainly to be based in childhood experiences, as that is where we learn to ‘do relationships’.
(there are occasions when severe trauma when older can trigger bonding issues).
Research shows that learned attachment behaviours in childhood play out in adulthood with all types of relationships. But mostly with intimate partners due to the amount of attachment involved.
It also shows that men are more likely to be avoidant and women anxious in their styles.
We match up because the other person feeds what we know about relationships.
If you grew up in a household where my emotional needs were not met and you then decided to avoid relationships as they were too painful, you are likely to attract and be attracted to someone who in anxious.
This is because, in the beginning you will want their affection, their openness, as it shows that they care about you and it isn’t hard to get.
Once you start to become attached yourself, you will feel the need to pull away, to protect yourself from expected pain and shut down.
The same can be said for anxious people. You will mainly seek out people that are avoidant. You will give them love and affection, looking for affirmation that they care, but knowing they will eventually back away and you are left with your anxious chasing to be loved.
These can also lead to toxic/unhealthy relationships. If you try and sustain them then one will keep giving whilst the other is shut down and keeps taking, unable to offer anything in return.
As stated in part one of this piece, those that are anxious/avoidants tend to have and create the most toxic relationships. They are completely full on and then retreat, full on, retreat and so on. You therefore never know where you stand with them.
As an avoidant you will start to feel more comfortable as they back away and then won’t know what to do as they avoid. Drawing you back in each time they back off.
As an anxious you will chase them when they avoid and then your anxiety will clash as they play out in the same style as you. Or you will feed each other’s openness and sparks will fly! Only for it to return to pain as they withdraw.
This can lead to ‘trauma bonding’ in the most severe of cases, so you will find it increasingly difficult to walk away as you are always chasing the need for connection.
So, what happened to Debra?
Once she understood who she was attracting into her life and why she was attracted to it, she was able to look for the signs when she met someone new.
After several months of being single she met a secure person who offers her reassurance and the stability she needs. He genuinely appreciates her; she doesn’t need to chase him or hide any parts of who she is in case he backs away.
She says: ‘I still have my moments of insecurity, but I know that he is there for me and despite these moments he is consistent in how he is with me. Oh, and he doesn’t take too long to respond to my WhatsApp messages.’