Sunday, February 16, 2003

HSPs and Attachment Style

In both the original "Highly Sensitive Person" book and the subsequent Workbook, Elaine Aron talks about how we learn our "attachment style" in childhood, and it tends to reflect in our adult relationships... and will continue to do so unless we do some serious personal growth work to break the cycle (if it is toxic).

At my roots, I have a "mixed attachment style"-- which Elaine Aron actually told me is "a plus"-- so I suppose it is all in how you frame it. I know that "preoccupied" represents what I learned from my parents (perhaps with a dash of "fearful avoidant" thrown in)-- this was the result of growing up with two people who were far to busy tending to their own agenda to deal with a kid. Which is not to say that I was "lacking" in anything, except "emotional nourishment." My folks travelled extensively, and even when they were home, they were very busy being "glamorous." My father was a Narcissist who didn't even like children; my mother was a co-dependent social climber, alternately drowning her sorrows with prescription drugs and alcohol, and seeking the emotional intimacy her husband couldn't give her, from her child.

But whenever my parents were away, I was in the company of a loving and supportive elderly aunt with whom I experienced a "secure" attachment style. It was completely OK for me to "be me," sensitivity and all. As such, I know how both sides of the fence "feel," and that evidently makes me "wiser," somehow. Intellectually, I can grasp that-- I know what "healthy love" feels like.

That doesn't mean that I have made smart choices, however. On some strange "compartmentalized" level, I seem to have had "secure" relationships with friends, but something quite different with "love partners," probably helped along by the fact that each time I have "attached" has also coincided with periods of my life where I had chronically low self-esteem. So I "chose" people who had not the slightest ability to fill my emotional needs-- except in the context of me being an "unhealthy" person, playing the insecure-avoidant-fearful script learned from my parents. But then I would start to work on myself, only to wake up and wonder "what am I DOING here?" and "How did I GET here?"

A thing I came face-to-face with a few months ago was that I have never been "single, available and looking" at those times of my life when I was the most "together" and mentally stable, feeling good about who I was (poor relationships, notwithstanding)-- my relationships have all started in periods of deep distress, darkness and confusion, when I was feeling "not worthy" and trying to "earn approval."

And what kind of person do you think might find that attractive? Sorry, no prizes for getting the right answer....

Most of the above is "past tense," however. These days I am pretty close to having worked into a state of mind where I am capable of recognizing and choosing a "secure" attachment style-- but I am still in a relationship that was originally based on my having a "preoccupied style," so how that's going to play out, I don't know.

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