Attachments and True Security

Are you living insecurely or in security?

Attachment may or may not be a buzzword you have heard recently. In the counseling world this word attachment is used regularly to refer to the emotional and sometimes physical bonds a person creates with others in his/her life. Back in the late 1960s a British child psychologist John Bowlby coined the term attachment to describe the “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”. See more on Attachment Theory. After the somewhat disturbing 1960 studies by Dr. Harlow and Dr. Ainsworth, which is covered in this Crash Course video, the psychological field has only grown in its understanding around developmental and adult attachments.

In development, ideally, a secure bond is created when a child’s needs are being effectively met in a way that the child can learn to rely on and trust the caregiver(s). The caregiver is receptive to the child’s needs. When stress, pain, or fear comes over the child he/she can go to the caregiver without hesitation and receive comfort. Over time this secure attachment facilitates the child developing a stable and effective sense of self and confidence in who he/she is in the world. However, as many know, the ideal isn’t always so and all our upbringings have imperfection woven in. There are many who didn’t receive what they needed physically, emotionally, or otherwise in childhood.

Picture attachments on a quadrant graph; a secure bond is one of four other primary attachment styles. See What is your attachment style? for more information. Some adults exhibit different styles with different people. After researching your own style you can choose to engage treatment or healing no matter where you land. Attachment styles are not concrete and can shift with intentional work.  I would love to meet anyone who has gotten through childhood totally secure. Here is a link to a free attachment style assessment (please note this assessment is not a diagnostic tool. Please contact a professional about clinically interpreting the results.).

For so many, we’ve learned to push down some or all of our needs in order to feel connected or bonded to a primary attachment in our lives. For some there may even be a deep belief that there is no such thing as a safe or trustworthy person. It may have started out with a caregiver like a parent but has shifted to a spouse, friends, a boss, and even to God. For those who haven’t experienced a secure attachment or know what it’s like to fully trust another with their intimate thoughts and feelings, it may be easy for them to keep the patterns of feeling hopelessly abandoned when a friend doesn’t respond fast enough to a text message, or feeling like you want to bolt the moment someone genuinely empathizes with you or seems to care about your needs.  Some struggle even to articulate one emotional or relational need without feeling like a burden. I recommend the book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Gibson.

Many times not being able to form a basic view of trust in others or the world and subconsciously, or for some consciously, thinking that their needs somehow are a burden or should be kept to themselves lands them in a chronic state of insecurity. I appreciate the Google definition: “uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence”, and “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection”. Many times insecurity is the gaping wound that causes a person to become easily offended, lash out in anger, question every action of themselves and another, and make it difficult to trust someone who wants to genuinely care for us. This person may even experience a chronic state of victimhood. For those who struggle deeply with insecurity the states of being at rest or experiencing peace are foreign.

Remember how I said, some push down their own needs in order to feel connected to even God? There’s something in the counseling world called projection. Basically, casting a thought, belief, or feeling from within yourself onto another. One of the most common projections I hear people cast onto God is their experience with their own father (or father-figure). If someone’s father-figure didn’t attune to their hurts and fears how easy will it be for that person to run into Father God’s arms when they are suffering? So for some they are comfortable with Christ and his work on the cross, but internally pull back when they think of being vulnerable and honest with God as Father.  For those struggling with what some call “the father-wound” I highly recommend the book by Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child.

In my work with clients their experience of shame, insecurity, and a strong sense of being alone are almost always their underlying feelings and beliefs that feed behaviors or symptoms that initially brought them into counseling. To me, it is no wonder why God speaks in the Bible about Him being a secure fortress, a strong tower, a refugee, a loving and compassionate God, a God who knows us intimately and who wants to dwell with us forever. As you know, many struggle with the idea of being intimate with a holy unseen divine being. Yet, for others, their relationship and intimacy with Yhwh is more valuable than the breathe in their lungs.

A true understanding of God’s nature and character along with real intimacy with the Father is what I have seen establishes the ultimate security in a person’s life. The Creator of the universe, the One who is outside of time and space, the most Holy being wants to dwell and know each of us for all eternity. That deep sense of loneliness and fear of abandonment is perfectly fulfilled in Christ. Even those who report having a phenomenal childhood and who feel they don’t struggle as much with insecurity compared to their peers aren’t complete without fully receiving Christ and His Spirit. I realize that’s a bold statement to make, but it’s been my experience.  Intimacy with the Lord is the ideal secure attachment and this is where our true identity and confidence is found.

Because we were made in the image of a three-in-one God we know we are relational at our cores. We are meant to form secure attachments, primarily with the Lord and also with others, and walk out our lives in security. This is what I call “doing your work”. We are responsible to steward our lives well. If you had a flesh wound, I hope, you would treat it immediately before infection could set in. Similarly, if relational wounds happen and you don’t treat it the likelihood of toxic bitterness, disappointment, feeling victimized, and unforgiveness have a chance to take root. It is possible to heal from past relational wounds and form secure attachments while at the same time establishing confidence in your God-given identity. I’ve never met anyone who is secure in themselves who did it alone. For therapy, this is why finding a counselor you trust is so monumental. Secure attachments is vital to forming security in self.

I want to be clear that suffering and adversity in relationships are to be expected. However, those with a strong sense of security in who they are and where their value is apart from what they can do tend to be more resilient and bounce back from adversity.  I also want to communicate that you must use wisdom and common sense in who you choose to create emotional and physical bonds with. They call it attachment for a reason, separating two things that are attached isn’t pretty.  Remember, attacks of shame, pain, and fear continually persist, but those who find and receive their true security will prevail.

Next Steps:

Books

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find, and Keep, Love. By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller (2012)

So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us by Beth Moore (2010)

Articles

Adam Young’s 3 serie-article on attachment

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