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Episode 18

What is your attachment style
and why does it matter?

February 14, 2022
Take the free Attachment Quiz:

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 18 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I'm Sara.

[Kyle]: And we're here today to talk to you about attachments. I don't know if that's something familiar to you, if you heard that, I’m sure-- I’m sure you've heard that in some form or fashion. When Sara and I were kind of brainstorming on some ideas and topics to do for the podcast, I thought it'd be really fun to just do a podcast where we're kind of just, talk about what attachment is. Why it's so important to understand, what kind of attachment we have as adults and parents, because we're probably going to pass that on to our children and I think lots of times, I almost forget to do it and whenever I’m counseling or talking to parents, just because it's already kind of in my brain and maybe sometimes I forget to explain it, but then when I do, I find it's always very helpful to parents to know it. So, Sara, I wanted you to start first of just, what are-- What's important about knowing attachment? Why would that be helpful to people?

[Sara]: Okay. So, attachment is sort of how you are in a relationship and it's important, because usually it happens-- It goes way back to when you were a little baby and you were young, growing up. How did your caregivers meet your needs, be in relationship with you. The tension that's in a relationship, how is that handled and then, we carry that, we sort of learn, our brain learns how to be in a relationship with people and then, we grow up into adults, who then date people and we have those similar types of relationships with those people. Then we have children and we then attach or lack of attachment, we have this-- We build similar relationships with our children, if we do nothing, you know? If we do, let's say you have a great one or maybe you have some-- We'll get into the types, maybe there's-- Maybe your particular style needs some help because of what happened during your childhood. That you can-- You don't have to pass that on, but it's important to know, because if you want to change something, you sort of need to know what you want to change and know how you are, have that internal insight to go “oh, this is what happened, this is how I am in relationships. What do I want to do about it? What do I want to pass on to my children? And what do I want to change in how we relate to each other?”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, what I hope happens in this podcast is, I thought it was really fun to take a test and find out what kind of attachment I have or have had in the past, you know? And I think, what we hope to do by the end of this podcast, is for people to be able to maybe better identify the attachment that they have. We'll actually provide in the notes a free attachment quiz, I don't know if it's great, but I found it and it was free and I did it, it was fun! It was really easy! So, I just did it last night, it was great.

[Kyle]: So, I will attach that to the note. So, if you're curious like “man, I wonder what kind of attachment I have” and it really does explain so many things, because as you're saying Sara, this stuff happens basically when the kids like, zero to three. When their brain is like getting so formed and how so many important things, sleeping, eating, talking, walking, but also, how do I trust people? How do I trust-- Now, we know this in a lot of negative ways, if a kid does not get healthy attachment, you know, like they have really bad attachment, no one's responding to their needs, you know? This was studied quite a bit in eastern Europe, where there was orphanages of kids who were not being-- Their needs weren't being met.

[Sara]: Well, their physical needs weren't met.

[Kyle]: Physical, that's right, yeah.

[Sara]: But there wasn't-- So, their diapers were changed, they were fed, they wore warm clothes, but they didn't have any emotional connection with people.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and sometimes what happens to those kids, is they get a diagnosis like RAD, reactive attachment disorder and I’ve had a few kids like that in the school system when I was a school counselor and I know you've probably interacted with some in your-- In the practice, back when you were seeing kids and it is really hard because they trust nobody, you know? Like almost like a hug to them, isn't something that feels good, it's something that they want to flee from, because a hug is almost like trapping them, you know? At least in my experience with them.

[Kyle]: So, I wanted to talk real quick about, let's define those attachment, the different-- There's basically four different, you can feel free to look this up, but we'll give you a short definition and how to spot these. So, what are the four different types of attachments?

[Sara]: All right, the first one is secure, this is a person who doesn't have a lot of avoidance or anxiety in relationship. They trust that you're going to be there for them, they can share their needs with you and they're also free to go off and do things. They don't need you around all the time, they can go off into the world and do things and come back and you're there. It's a very secure-- I want to say peaceful, but it's a secure attachment, knowing my person doesn't have to be a caregiver, my personal relationship with me will be there when I need them, but I don't have to stay, I’m also free to go and--

[Sara]: It’s trusting relationships.

[Kyle]: I think like, in our marriage, I think we have a secure attachment and a sense of, if I have feelings or thoughts, I think you care about them. So, I think if I come to you with a problem, I think you want to hear them and I think it's helpful to bring them to you, you know? I don't think I need to tell you everything that I’m thinking about, otherwise, you know, you'll be mad at me or somebody-- I instead just go “oh, if I need Sara, she's there and she'll help me and if she needs me, I’ll listen, I’ll be there”, right?

[Sara]: You don't worry about abandonment. The person's gonna be there.

[Kyle]: I like the example that we look at-- Sometimes when we're at like, when our kids were little, we'd be at like a playground, you'd see that kid who's able to say “hey, mom, dad, I’m gonna go run off to the playground”. They give their parents a hug and they go off to the playground and then you'll see them, I mean, what would you say, four or five minutes into that play? You'll see them look back and you'll see them check in. They might even run back and share something about what happened on the playground.

[Sara]: “Hey mom! Watch me! I’m gonna jump off this thing!”

[Kyle]: Yes, but the whole time, they're not like needing mom and dad to watch them the entire time and they're also able to let go and go over there, right? So, typically in most-- I guess the percentages are when I looked this up, it was like 57% of the population has secure attachment, is what the study said and so, they're able to do exactly what you said. So, now let's move from secure into different types of insecure attachment.

[Sara]: Okay. So, I’ll go into avoidant next. Avoidant is where you haven't been able to trust that relationship. So, it's almost more “I can't trust you to meet my needs, you're not going to be there for me, you don't care about my internal world, how I’m feeling”. It could be physical needs, it also-- But I’d say more importantly, it's your emotional needs. “You're not really going to be there for me, I can't trust that, so I’ll just do it on my own. So, I might be in relationship, but I’m never-- I’m going to stay a little closed off. I’m not going to trust that relationship, I’ve gotta- It's just me and then the world”.

[Sara]: And so, those people, even though they're in relationship, there's always space there, there's always distance that they can't trust that you're really-- They're avoidant.

[Kyle]: How would that happen as a baby? Like you just said, insecure it'd be the kid, the baby has a need, the parent meets the need. You know, kid’s hungry, kid’s-- So, how would that happen in in the zero to three time? How would a kid start to build this avoidant type of attachment?

[Sara]: Let's say the child's crying for some reason and if they-- When the caregiver doesn't come, then the child might learn “okay, they're not gonna be there for me, I’ve gotta figure this out, it's just me”.

[Kyle]: I’ve almost heard it said this way, I remember one kid and this was a college kid, talking about when they were four and they remember being very upset and they were throwing a tantrum and their parent put them in timeout and just walked away and told them to, you know, basically figure it out, you know? “Don't come back until you're done with this” and I remember the kids saying, they remembered at four having the thought “okay, I’m on my own, I need to figure this out on my own. It's not good to bring it to them like, they don't want to see this”, you know? So, I would think almost avoiding attachment was happening at that point for that kid, where they started to get this story of “you don't want to see this stuff that's happening in me, so I’ll just avoid sharing it to you” and lots of times I find, Sara, that that can cause real issues in the teenage years, because the kid has learned that message throughout the early years of like “you don't want to see me throw a tantrum, you don't want to see me be scared at night and when I’m thinking monsters are in my room, because that's annoying to you”, whatever it might be.

[Kyle]: So, the kid shuts that part down and says “well--” But then that can be real problematic in the teenage years, whenever the parents are wanting them to open up about their feelings and say “why are you so--? Every time you come home and you just close the door and you don't open up!”, right? Now, it doesn't mean every teenager who does that has avoidant, you know, attachment, but that that could be a sign and then when they get into a marriage, you can see how that would be a problem.

[Kyle]: Because then the spouse will have a real hard time connecting with them.

[Sara]: It's people who have a really hard time with intimacy. “It's very uncomfortable for me to be vulnerable to you”, because in their brain it goes back to “the moment I was vulnerable, that didn't go well”. So, they're gonna-- That intimacy, even in the teenage years or in relationships in the future, is just-- That's a very unsafe place, so they're not gonna be intimate with people, they're gonna hold back.

[Kyle]: That's great. So, then the third one, the next-- the third form, but also the second form of insecure attachment, what would you call it?

[Sara]: Anxious attachment and honestly, my best example of that to me are dogs [Laughter]

[Sara]: Dogs have anxious attachment. Now, that's almost where “I’ve got to stay super close to you! And I’ve just got to share everything! And I’ve got to hang on really, really tight, because I don't know what's going to happen! I can't let you go and--”. You'll see dogs who just have to follow their owner around and they have to constantly pet it and use--

[Kyle]: Constantly need reassurance.

[Sara]: Yeah, “don't leave the house!” and you see this clingy sort of anxious, they almost over share and they're over invested in the relationship and that's where you get those relationships with people like “whoa, man, I need some space”. Is there's just this anxiety about it and you can feel it, it feels like “oh, yeah, I need to wipe you off or what's--?” and they're worried, they're so scared of losing the relationship or something not-- Again, it's a lack of trust in the relationship. So, I can't-- Where the other one wants to stay away, anxiety wants to stay close.

[Sara]: And where you going back to the playground, this is the child who can't leave my side because, you know, and then the avoidant child would go off and you'd be like “where did John go?”

[Sara]: And your child's never checking in, they're not looking back at you. Developmentally this all changed, obviously if I’m talking about an older kid, they might run off.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, I’m very aware of that.

[Sara]: Talking about that younger child, they kind of look back and check in.

[Sara]: If they're avoidant, they run off and they could care less and you don't know where they've gone. If they're anxious, they won't leave your side. “I’m not gonna go down that slide unless you're right there with me”, at an age where they should know that they're safe enough.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I’m almost thinking though, as you're saying that, because I get the chance to spend a lot of time with teenagers, is teenagers nowadays with texting, it's like they'll say something and then they're looking at their phone.

[Kyle]: And they just start-- They're seeing a couple dots and they're like “they're going to say something, they’re going to--” and like the anxiety like, “I need-- I need reassurance, I need reassurance that what I just said, is going to be received well” and anytime I’m seeing that in a teenager or an adult, where they text and expect a text right back. If they don't get a text back, then that means that somehow, they're mad at them or somehow the relationship's over or that, you know. So, instead of it being like that, there could be a lot of reasons why they're not texting back. It could be they're thinking about it, it could be they haven't even gotten it yet, it could be-- Maybe they saw those and they're actually want to say something positive back.

[Sara]: When you see that insecurity, it's the insecure attachment. “I can't trust, I don't know what's going on!”

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, roughly, I think the percentages we said the most people, at least in the study is secure, most people are in the secure category. I think the next most common was anxious and then, the next after that was avoidant and then the least common, is the last one, which is the disorganized, right? Can you tell us about that?

[Sara]: Right. That's sort of your-- Disorganized is your avoidant and anxious [Laughter] You've got it all going on. You have the moments of “I’m going to [Unintelligible]. No, I’m going to push you away” and it's disorganized.

[Sara]: And it's similar when you're-- When you were younger, you didn't know what to expect from that caregiver and so, your reaction to that was these moments of anxiety and needing you close and then, being so scared by that I push you away.

[Kyle]: It might be-- I meant to say, I guess to give a picture of it, when they're little for the anxious one, I think the picture I read that I thought was really good was like, the kid cries, the little baby does-- The parent comes to meet the need, but then when the parent picks up the kid, the kid feels the anxiety from the parent. The parents like “I don't know if I’m doing this right!”. So, the kid's kind of confused, because the kid's like “wait, my needs are being met, but apparently the parent thinks there's something wrong here”, you know? [Laughter] “So, I’m feeling-- I think I should-- But now I’m feeling like maybe there is something I should be anxious about”, you know? And so, then like, that's where-- That can lead into adulthood where, I’m trying to meet a need, but then now I’m feeling anxious that maybe this need isn't actually getting met, there's more, but with the disorganized, it could be-- You never know, the parent someday might come in and meet the need appropriately.

[Kyle]: Sometimes the parent may come and get really mad at you for having the need, by the time the parent might come in and-- Can seem completely-- Not even care that you have the need, right?

[Sara]: The relationship has been very unpredictable, the response from my caregiver was very unpredictable.

[Sara]: And so, you grow up with that.

[Kyle]: So, I hope as listeners are listening to these, maybe you've spotted a little bit of where you're at, you know? I think there's a fifth one we want to talk about, that I think is super important, that I really think I fall into this category is, one, I want to say for every kid and for, you know, every person, every adult, it isn't like you have one attachment, right? I mean, it could be you had one certain type of attachment with one parent, another type of attachment with a different parent, right? So, can you speak to that a little bit? How it isn't just like, we're stuck in one type of attachment?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I was thinking as you're-- You could be listening to this and going “oh no!” [Laughter] You know? And just realize you can move between different styles, right? You could be mostly secure and you might have a relationship where you might notice “oh wow, there's a lot of anxious in that relationship or avoiding in this relationship or this one I just don't know, it's back and forth” and so, this is just a-- This isn't “let me go diagnose myself some attachment”, you know? It's just “oh, I can notice some patterns in relationships and wow, my grandma was great at doing this with me”. So, it's just to bring some awareness and so, that-- Because you can grow and change these, you can actually-- You can “oh, I have this anxious relationship or I think I kind of do that a lot” and really, you can still repair that, you can still parent yourself and get healing from that. So, it doesn't mean it's predictive of every relationship for you. Going forward, this is it for you.

[Kyle]: I think that's what leads to a lot of confusion is, you might have a kid who one parent says “he's got a great relationship with me, like he talks to me--” and like the kid seemingly has a secure relationship with that parent, but then the other parent's like “yeah, he doesn't do that with me, he seems like he's always nervous around me, he's like--” he probably has an anxious relationship with you, right? And so, a lot of times that might happen with a mom and dad, because maybe the mom was with the kid, meeting the needs when the kid was little and the dad wasn't involved as much and then the dad came in later on and the dad didn't know how to do that as well. So, that's just like a typical example.

[Kyle]: So, then the teenager might seem more nervous or more anxious or the elementary age kid might around the other parent, than they are without-- And that can really be a thing of judgment, a thing of shame, where “what's wrong with me? Why won't my kid do--?” and so, I think this is just helpful to go “maybe the kid just has an anxious attachment with you at this point”, you know? But it's not something you can't overcome, because once I can see that and define it and say “oh--” Going back to our previous one, we talked about the toxic rupture and the follow-up, I would think that's what you're trying to repair, is you're trying to go back with the follow-up and say “let's create a secure attachment. That you know even when we have a break, I care and I’m gonna follow up”. Now, like you said, I’m gonna calm down and follow up though, I’m not gonna go “oh god, I gotta go fix this, I just have [Unintelligible]”

[Sara]: “We have to talk about this right now!”

[Kyle]: Because then the kid's gonna go “oh my gosh! You're so anxious about this!”, right? But-- [Sneeze] Excuse me. But it can be “I want to come back and I want to heal this and try to help bring some understanding, so we can have a secure attachment type relationship”.

[Kyle]: And the reason why you want to do that is, one, I think it helped me too, Sara, kind of going-- When we read the research of just about “you're going to give the attachment style you have to your kid”, okay? Because it just makes sense, because you're gonna relate to your kid the way you were related to, unless you intentionally do some work to do that differently, you know? And I really think that's the work I had to do when the kids were little. I’ve noticed with all three of the kids, how somehow, I got better and better and better at learning how to attach to them in a secure way. I remember with Abby, I didn't know what I was doing and I remember looking at you, as she would calm down with you when she was upset as a little baby and be so like, “I’m an idiot like, why can't I do this? How does Sara know how to do this? I have no idea”. So, then I remember that one time you left me home, you'd gone back to work and I was supposed to feed Abby and I was freaking out, because Abby wouldn't feed and the anxiety in me was like “she's gonna die! Like your daughter's gonna--”.

[Kyle]: So, I actually called her babysitter at the time, a friend of ours at the time named Carla and she had been watching Abby and I brought her over and Carla, she right away took the bottle from Carla. I was like “what is the problem!? I’m her dad”, but I didn't know at that time, that I think I was repeating probably some similar stuff from my own childhood about that that anxiety, about meeting the need, I didn't know how to meet it and immediately, the anxiety popped up. If I hadn't been conscious of it, I would have probably just repeated that with her the rest of our relationship, but thank goodness as you and I worked on that together, it got better with my son and then now with my youngest, I didn't feel any anxiety. When she had needs at night, woke in the middle of the night, I felt completely confident that I could meet them and I wanted to.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I think that's such a great example of how we can grow as parents and our knowledge of it, you know, little places where I go “oh, you know what? I’m a little anxious there, I’m a little--”. Just that it brings some self-awareness, so then you can go into the situation and say “okay, what am I gonna do about that? How can I--?” and you grew-- You got the skills, you recognized it. That's growth happens, we can change these things by that insight and so, it's just to bring awareness so we can engage differently in these relationships. We can pass on to our children with an intentional way of being in relationship, instead of just letting it happen, just doing the things we only know to do.

[Kyle]: So, I want to wrap up the podcast, because I’m at the fifth type of attachment, which is called “Earned secure attachment”. Okay, you give me the floor?

[Sara]: Yes, I’m giving you the floor.

[Kyle]: For you-- You can't see Sara; she just threw her hand at me like “you talk about that”. Okay. So, earned secure attachment, was so good to hear about that, because it meant that even though I knew, I knew throughout high school and even in my college years, I think I did have an anxious attachment when it came to relationships. I would get really panicky and there was a lot of moments of growth, but when I heard like “oh, you can grow into this earned secure attachment”. Now, there's a couple ways to do that. I think one of the ways that really helped me was faith, you know? Faith is really important in my life and I think the ability to believe and have faith that there's somebody bigger than me, who really knows everything about me and still likes me and not only likes me, but loves me and actually is there to help me. So, anytime I need help-- So, I think it really helped and even the research shows this, that that's a really helpful part of faith, is the belief that “maybe I don't know if I can do it with my spouse or maybe I don't know if I can do it with my parents or maybe I don’t know--” whoever it is. Maybe I don't even feel like I have friends, but I can go to somebody else outside of me that I can pray to or talk to, that really cares about me and cares about my problem. Is never saying they're going to abandon me or reject me; they sincerely just want to be with me and I think a lot of times in prayer, of just by faith believing that God wants-- That really helped me move more towards that.

[Sara]: Yeah. So, it's the idea that, what you're saying is, even if you didn't get secure attachment, you can still-- They call it earned.

[Sara]: But you can grow into a secure attachment and I think that's just really beautiful and brilliant about us humans, how we can change, we can grow, we can become secure and I think we all are going to have relationships in our past, that were avoidant or anxious or disorganized and so, there's just a piece of being human, where there's little places where I’m going to want to recognize that and I’m going to want to go and to earn secure attachment.

[Sara]: I want to move in that direction, I want to be aware, so I can notice the spots and go “okay, let's move into some secure attachments”.

[Kyle]: I think another way to do besides faith, is just even in our marriage. I feel like there's been many times where, although I am pretty open and I felt-- There were times that “oh, I want to share this with Sara, but I don't know if Sara's gonna like what I have to say. I think that Sara might be kind of like annoyed or frustrated with that or dislike that or reject me if I say that”, but instead, I took the risk, because I believed it was important to do it and thank goodness, your response to it was helpful, you know? And I believe you've done that with me at times and shared with me and so, through that, I’m very proud to say I took that test yesterday and it came up I’m now secure, I’ve got secure attachment! It was great! [Laughter]

[Kyle]: So, I was really excited to see that, because I tried to answer all the questions honestly and it seemed like-- And I really do feel like I’m at that point now!

[Sara]: You did some work and you got there.

[Kyle]: Like I said, I turned 45 recently and I think I’m there now. So, I want to encourage all the listeners, we're going to include this link, it's just a place I found. Once again, I haven't researched this whole place [Laughter] It's and there's a free quiz and we'll include the link in the notes to this podcast. You can just go on there and you can take it, it talks about your relationship with your parents, your relationship if you have a spouse, that kind of thing and right now, I feel like-- I feel like since college, about 20-25 years now, there's been tons of growth, that I think is specifically tied to how I’ve healed some of the attachment issues I had from, you know, whether it's from childhood with my parents or whether it's through mentors in my life or whatever. There's been a lot of key moments where I feel like I’ve been able to move from having anxious or avoiding attachment, towards secure attachment.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think that-- I think it's-- It interests me, fascinates me how our childhood, we-- The Art of Raising Humans it's not just “oh, they're 18, they're raised” and we then just take over, right? Our parents did this work and then we just take over, but we continue to raise ourselves, we have to take that work and we have to do it now and we continue to do that in our life.

[Sara]: And I just think that's a really beautiful thing and an empowering thing, because we're not just stuck, we're not fixed, we can and I and I think attachment's a great place to see that.

[Kyle]: Almost like we can re-parent some of those spaces, right? Re-parent those spaces to where they do become secure.

[Sara]: Repair ourselves, we move into a place of parenting ourselves.

[Kyle]: Have you taken the quiz yet?

[Sara]: I’m sure I took one a long time ago, but I didn't take this one.

[Kyle]: Where do you think you're at?

[Sara]: I would say security.

[Kyle]: Yes! Okay, I think you are too.

[Sara]: relationship you’re gonna think “oh, but that one isn’t secure” [Laughter]

[Kyle]: Okay. Well, I hope you enjoyed this topic, I hope it was helpful. Once again, I want to make sure you don't come away thinking we're trying to do a diagnosis here, do any kind of-- This is simply just information, just hoping we give you information to raise your awareness and to help you move towards being the parent you want to be.

[Sara]: Yeah, and talk to a professional if this brings something up in you. Go talk to a professional about it.

[Kyle]: And hopefully, raising your kids up to be securely attached humans, because it's actually going to help them in their marriage and parenting in the future as well. So, thank you very much for listening, please go on to the podcast, comment. If you take the test and you get a-- We'd love to hear about it, what did you come up with? Right? Did do you feel like it was a good explanation of your childhood and how you grew up and did it really connect with you? Which ones kind of really resonated with you as we explained though? So, we'd love that feedback from you and we just hope you have a great day. I know it's probably cold wherever you're at, so I hope you're warm and in front of a fire listening to this podcast. So, give us five stars, tell your friends about it, we'd love to help as many people as possible. So, have a wonderful day.

[Sara]: See you later.

[Kyle]: Bye-bye. 

[Kyle]: The Art of Raising Humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only.

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