Loneliness is something everybody experiences from time to time, but chronic feelings of loneliness are not typical to the human condition and do not need to remain typical for you. If you do experience chronic feelings of loneliness, you may need to work on something psychologists refer to as your Attachment Style.
By doing so, you are likely to find it easier to kind to and truly aware of yourself and your needs, and in turn relate to others in a more satisfying way. Part of the pain of loneliness can be that it is hard to understand why loneliness continues to be your experience over time. Lacking the understanding can leave you feeling hopeless to change it.
So what is Attachment Style?
Attachment refers the particular way in which you relate to other people. Your style of attachment was formed at the very beginning of your life, during your first two years. Once established, it is a style that stays with you and plays out today in how you relate in intimate relationships and even in how you parent your children. Understanding your style of attachment is helpful because it offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.
Below is a checklist to see what your attachment style is.
(This checklist is the work of David Narang, Ph.D., a clinical Psychologist and practicing Buddhist specialising in Attachment Theory)
Characteristics of Secure Attachment in Adulthood:
(Not all need to be present)
– You trust that others will be there in your time of need, but you also actively participate in helping yourself.
– You are able to ask for emotional help when in high distress and you are also ready to provide emotional help for others.
– That said, a securely attached person operates from a foundation of curiosity about others, also showing others one’s own thoughts and feelings, instead of fixating on providing or receiving help.
– When remembering childhood, you remember positive events, but also remember some which were painful. You have a balanced view of your childhood relationships.
– In an unstructured social situation such as a party, you mingle fairly easily. Curiosity guides you to learn about others while also giving information about yourself.
– You will not excessively self-disclose to those you don’t know well.
– When facing conflict in a close relationship, a person with Secure Attachment may become angry, but will not typically overreact (e.g., by saying things which are too destructive, or by becoming preoccupied with thoughts about ending the relationship), nor withdraw from and become cold toward the other. In fact, after the storm of the conflict has passed, one might actually feel closer to the other and may sense that they now understand each other better.
– However, if coming to realise over time that a relationship is truly toxic, a securely attached person will move to terminate that relationship, but will do so without simultaneously closing off to his/her other relationships.
– Relationships grow and develop gradually, and if they must end because the relationship isn’t working, the relationship likely ended gradually as well until the conclusion of unworkability was reached at last.
Characteristics and challenges of Attachment Anxiety in adulthood (not all may be present):
– Preoccupied with whether or not others truly care about them, and whether others would be available in their time of need. This leads to continually testing others to check.
– Preoccupation with checking if others remain available often prevents devoting focus to becoming curious about who others are or about who one is oneself.
– Often feels in need of others for emotional support, and sometimes feels it is impossible to get enough of that support. In times of need, may lean on others without also being an active part of helping oneself. May forget to express gratitude about help already provided, out of fixation on the feeling of wanting additional help.
– Overly sensitive to possible and actual rejections.
– Frequent strong, painful emotions.
– May not see one’s own important strengths and what one has to offer the world.
– When remembering childhood, may remember everything that hurt, but may have trouble remembering the good parts about it.
– In conflict, may be explosively emotional, then trying to make up for it later by being highly submissive and apologetic. This high emotionality is due to having a lot of emotion and to having trouble soothing oneself. Thus, may say and do things during conflict which do long term damage to ones relationships that one later regrets.
– Relationships may begin very quickly and intensely, with early disclosure of ones deepest thoughts and feelings, and may end just as quickly.
– Intensely pulls people close when feeling lonely, and may abruptly push someone away when feeling vulnerable about being uncomfortably close.
– If in a miserable relationship, may stay too long, preferring misery to the absence of a relationship.
– Relationships are viewed as the solution to one’s problems. One’s reasoning may be that if only one can find the right person, one will be happy at last, preventing one from doing work to find some solutions within oneself.
– Loneliness is created most directly by ongoing thoughts preoccupied with questioning the quality and worthiness of both oneself and one’s relationships, which prevent one from relaxing and gradually, consistently deepening one’s relationships.
Characteristics and challenges of Attachment Avoidance in adulthood (all may not be present)
– Able to relate when there is a job to do, help to give, or a clear topic of discussion. In a more informal social setting (e.g. lunchtime at work, a party), may have great difficulty starting or maintaining a conversation with others. Struggles with the small talk needed to start new relationships.
– Difficulty asking for and receiving help from others, especially emotional help to calm down when upset. When receiving help, may not be gracious about it because it feels upsetting to need help, or alternately may feel compelled to pay it back.
– Obsessed with competence, feeling excessive pride when competent, and unwarranted shame following failure.
– Often wants to share him/herself with others but just doesn’t know how.
– Difficulty listening to others thoughts and feelings. Rushing to problem-solve and give solutions before accurately understanding what their experience and problem is.
– When thinking of childhood, thinks of relationship with parents as generally good, but memories lack enough detail and depth to accurately reflect the complexity of one’s history.
– In times of need, withdraws from others, feeling it burdensome or irritating if others want to help. This may leave one with too little support, while hurting those who want to help.
– In times of conflict, may really stiffen up and focus excessively on proving that one is correct, focusing too little on mutually creating the solutions and understandings of each other that finish the conflict and sustain the relationship.
– May end fundamentally workable relationships too quickly.
– Given the lack of closeness in relationships, may focus excessively upon work, tasks, goals, and material success, distractions that don’t solve the loneliness.
– Loneliness is created most directly by the difficulty in letting others know the details of one’s deeper thoughts and feelings (often not consciously aware of those oneself), and the lack of closeness to self and others which follows.
So what now?
Approximately 40% of adults are not securely attached. If you relate to one or both of these attachment problems, the encouraging news is that people routinely build Earned Secure Attachment. Earned Secure Attachment is the same as Secure Attachment, except it is created through building it in adulthood. For example, a study of attachment style in adults showed that 66% of adults in a short-term (approx. 5 months) attachment-oriented therapy shifted their attachment style toward greater health, and about a quarter developed Earned Secure Attachment in this short period of time.
If you wish to place yourself on the road to secure attachment, you can do so with therapy and particularly one that incorporates mindfulness. Awareness of our attachment style is the first step to acceptance of our reality, and this gives us the room to change that reality.
Nobody deserves to feel loneliness, and we can all work our way out of it. It takes rethinking our thought processes over time and with support, but it is absolutely possible, as numerous psychological studies have shown.
To book an online or in person therapy session with Bébhinn, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an appointment.