Your attachment style was laid down in the past and it’s pretty sticky.
While everyone is talking about living “in the moment” and reminding us all to “be here now” it’s easy to lose sight of how the “past is prologue” or “the boy is father to the man.”
The past gets a bad rap. We’re often told not to dwell on it and that living in the past is the stuff of Norma Desmond or a Eugene O’Neill play.
And that can be true. Experiencing the present as if the past is all there is can be a recipe for getting stuck. Being stuck in the past (depression) or even in the future (anxiety) is equal to unhappiness.
And who wants that?
Yet there is a difference between being stuck in the past and being aware of and connected to the past. It can be very helpful for our current happiness to have an understanding of what we went through–the highs and the lows–to get here.
It also just happens to show us our attachment style.
Exploring the Past For a Better Present
While many of the early therapists were focused on the internal world of a person, there were others who were also looking at the interpersonal one.
The first year or so is extraordinarily important for developing an attachment style or our emotional expectations for relationships.
What I mean by that is we tend to have an expectation for how people will respond to us. We may be more or less trusting, we may feel that people will probably let us down in the end, we may be constantly waiting for the shoe to drop in friendships and relationships so we read deeply into other people’s actions. Or maybe we truly believe that they’ll show up in the end–and often they do.
Often we have expectations for how people will treat us. Science tells us that we learned this before we learned to walk.
There are some great resources to learn more about this, but you could do worse than starting with the New York Magazine article on people’s Attachment Style. Not only is the science and research explained clearly, but it’s also written by a parent who brings her full vulnerable (yet, spoiler alert, attachment style: secure) self to the story. The article highlights why certain types of therapy are structured the way they are. While we are working to shift things internally, we are often using the therapeutic relationship to do some of the work.
While the article and much of the research concerns parents and babies, I’m writing about it not just for the dads and parents who read this blog, but for anyone who wants to better understand why they react and respond to others–friends, partners, co-workers–the way they do.
Patterns were laid down early and if we’re not aware of them we’re in danger of confusing the patterns with who we are.
Of having the patterns become us.
Because here’s the thing–if those patterns aren’t working for you, you can change them.
Attachment Cheat Sheet (More Coming Soon)
There are several attachment styles, but the big three are:
Which are you?
Which are your kids?
Which is your partner?
Check out the article and if you’d like to learn more about your own attachment style or want to shift how you interact with the important people in your life, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or contact me here. Your attachment doesn’t have to be as sticky as bubble gum on the bottom of your shoe.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.