It happens to you every single time.
You meet someone wonderful. You have such high hopes.
But the longer you’re together, the more you see his dark side. He pulls away right when you need him. Or he gets clingy right when you need some time for yourself.
Is this just what men do?
Maybe ALL men are like this. Maybe you just can’t count on them. Maybe this is the best you can expect.
But don’t give up just yet!
In this week’s YBTV interview, you’ll learn how your attachment style could be sabotaging your love life.
If you’ve ever felt alone, or needy, or suffocated in relationships, then you may be attracting insecurely attached partners without realizing it.
Dr. Dora Wolfe is a licensed clinical psychologist and attachment theory expert who helps clients develop the secure attachment they’ve always craved.
Find out where your attachment style comes from, the signs that your attachment style might be affecting you, and how to get what you need in your relationships.
What You’ll Learn
Every single relationship you’ll ever have, for the rest of your life, will be impacted by the template laid down by your very first relationship:
Your relationship with the person who raised you.
That’s the fundamental premise behind attachment theory.
Your childhood bond with your primary caregiver (usually your mother) shapes your future relationships.
We learn what it looks and feels like to be loved from our parents. It makes sense that those early experiences of love would shape our expectations of adult love.
However, it goes much deeper than that.
“That bond is not only responsible for this psychological template of what we’re going to expect in future relationships,” Dr. Wolfe explains, “but it’s also very important for the neurophysiological development of parts of our brain.”
The way your parents react to you as a infant affects how your brain develops.
It affect the “parts of our brain that are responsible for things like empathy, social and emotional intelligence, flexible thinking, and affect regulation,” Dr. Wolfe says.
Even though the brain is malleable, those early experiences set you up to draw people into your life that re-create the way you felt as a child.
If you felt safe, secure, seen, and soothed as a child, you will attract relationships with men who are capable of meeting your emotional needs.
If you didn’t feel safe, secure, seen, and/or soothed as a child, you will attract relationships with partners who aren’t necessarily capable of meeting your emotional needs.
Dr. Wolfe sums it up:
If we have good enough parents, we are likely to have good relationships moving forward, and the exact opposite is true if we do not have what we need when we’re young.”
How Do You Know if Attachment is an Issue for You?
When you look back on your childhood, you may not be able to spot anything amiss. You had a perfectly normal childhood.
But Dr. Wolfe says that the biggest sign of attachment issues is not how you remembered your childhood…
But rather the quality of your adult relationships.
“If you find that you’re not able to engage in successful relationships, if you find that your needs aren’t met in relationships, if you don’t feel safe being vulnerable, if you don’t feel connected,” she says, then you may lack secure attachment.
A romantic relationship should feel safe and good. You should be able to get comfort from your partner. You should feel at home with him.
But many of us don’t feel secure or seen in our relationships. We don’t trust our partner to be there for us when we need him.
“What we know is that about 50% of us are securely attached and about 50% of us are insecurely attached,” Dr. Wolfe explains.
“Like has a tendency to attract like. And so we see a lot of securely attached people who will end up in relationships with other securely attached people, and the same is true for insecurely attached people.”
It seems patently unfair that an insecure attachment style developed in childhood can predispose you to insecure relationships later in life. But awareness is key. Understanding your pattern can help you break it.
One of the most common patterns in insecure relationships is this:
You’re stuck in a push-pull dynamic. You try to get close while he pulls away. You end up getting labeled as the needy or clingy one. But the fact of the matter is that your basic needs aren’t being met.
If that pattern sounds familiar, you may be an anxiously-attached person in a relationship with an avoidant person.
You think you’re needy, but if you had a securely attached partner who could meet your needs, you wouldn’t be so needy.
As Dr. Wolfe says, “We are only as needy as our unmet needs.”
Unfortunately, we tend to attract partners who give us what we expect. You don’t expect a man to be able to meet your needs, so you end up with men who can’t meet your needs. You fall back into the familiar role of having to chase him for breadcrumbs.
It’s a familiar role, because we see it modeled in our culture and society. “We have this stereotype of the needy woman and distant man,” Dr. Wolfe says. Cultural pressures reinforce attachment styles.
So how do we break free?
What a Secure Relationship Feels Like
A secure relationship provides the 4 S’s.
It makes you feel:
- Seen, and
“Our attachment figure is somebody that meets our needs,” Dr. Wolfe says. “In times of distress, they are people we can turn to, to feel protected and soothed.”
When everything is going smoothly, even an insecurely attached relationship can provide those things.
The real test of a relationship is when something difficult happens.
You’re upset, and you go to your partner for support and comfort. Instead of being there for you, he pulls away.
“That leaves people feeling very frustrated and very vulnerable,” Dr. Wolfe says.
“And then if we have a partner telling us, ‘You’re too much. You’re too needy,’ it reinforces that what we’re feeling isn’t okay—when, in truth, we all need that! We are all going to feel anxious, and we need partners to be there to support us and protect us and soothe us.”
But this isn’t just about your partner being able to soothe you. It’s also about you being able to soothe yourself.
When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you need to be able to receive comfort.
You need to be able to hang on if your partner isn’t immediately available.
An insecurely attached person might feel anxious and need her partner to be there for her immediately. She needs him to do and say exactly the right thing; otherwise, she’ll get even more upset. And maybe, no matter what he does, he can’t make her feel better, because she’s too dysregulated.
“We need to be able to work on ourselves as well, so that we can present in that partnership in a way that’s going to be productive and successful,” Dr. Wolfe says.
Changing Your Attachment Style
Even if you have an insecure attachment style, you aren’t stuck.
“It doesn’t matter where we come from. It matters where we want to go and what we’re willing to do to get there,” says Dr. Wolfe.
The first step is to understand your attachment style and your attachment history…
Not to criticize it or make yourself feel bad, but to understand where you’re starting from.
The next step is to ask yourself what you would like to change.
Even if you’re in a relationship with another insecurely attached individual, you can make small shifts in how you behave that may shift the relationship in a more positive direction.
Techniques like mindfulness meditation can help you cultivate a calmer, more regulated state. You experience your partner differently when you feel calm and grounded. As you feel more centered, you build up a greater sense of self and sense of confidence.
Therapy can also help.
Dr. Wolfe has worked with people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who’ve never had a secure relationship. The therapeutic relationship becomes the first secure attachment relationship that her clients have ever had.
Once her clients see and experience that kind of attachment bond for themselves, they’re better able to go out and create secure relationships in their own lives, whether it’s with their friends, kids, or romantic partners.
If you want to have a healthy, happy, securely attached relationship—no matter what your history looks like, no matter what your age or your current set of circumstances—it is absolutely possible.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
1:50 What is attachment theory?
3:05 Can what happened in childhood still affect us as adults?
4:03 The 4 S’s of Attachment
5:18 How do you know if you have attachment issues?
6:14 Secure vs insecure attachment
8:06 Gender and attachment styles
9:28 Why he pulls away right when you need him
11:17 The need to self-soothe
12:40 Healing insecure attachment
14:55 How you can do this work even if your partner won’t
17:29 Work with Dr. Wolfe
19:11 A secure relationship is possible
Dr. Dora Wolfe
Dr. Wolfe is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and attachment. Dr. Wolfe has over 20 years of clinical experience working with children, adults, couples and families. She practices trauma-informed therapy with a foundation of attachment theory and affective neuroscience and utilizes modalities such as biofeedback, neurofeedback, EMDR, somatic processing, and mindfulness into her work with patients. Find out how you can work with Dr. Wolfe.