The Montfort Group

Uncovering Attachment: What Happened Then And How It Impacts Us Now

As I work towards achieving secure attachment, I’ve realized the importance of examining this aspect of ourselves for all individuals. It dramatically impacts relationships, especially significant ones, communication, self-esteem, self-worth, independence/dependence, coping mechanisms, responses during conflict/triggers, and much more.

Attachment is directly linked to our earliest developmental years, specifically ages 0-8. Our caregivers play a crucial role in shaping our attachment through their love, comfort, nurture, conflict resolution in their relationship, response to our difficulties at school, and support for us. These messages are pivotal in determining how we function in life and relationships in the future.

Have you ever come home from work to find your partner in a bad mood? What’s the first thought that comes to mind?

I know for me, historically, I would outwardly ask, “Is something wrong” and inwardly ask myself, “Did I do something?”

This sounds so normal. Right? And what I’ve come to understand is that it’s not. Usually, after I ask what’s wrong, I get the response, “I just had a long day at work.” This would temporarily alleviate my internal anxiety until I attempted to be playful/function as usual, and his mood would remain the same. The inner fear crept up on me once again. I might ask what’s wrong again and hear the same response. The more minutes that passed, the more anxious I grew.

I wasn’t aware that I didn’t need to take their mood personally or try to resolve it. A person with a secure attachment to their partner would recognize that their partner may have had a difficult day and may be feeling down. However, why do we consider being upset or angry as a “bad mood”? It is normal for someone to feel off-balance for an hour, a few hours, or even a whole day. They are entitled to feel different from their usual self.

When I try to make things better in my relationship, it’s really just my way of coping with my anxiety. I do it because I care about us and want to avoid rejection and abandonment. But sometimes, when I try to do something nice for my partner, like cooking or showing affection, and they don’t respond the way I hoped, it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me or us. This can lead to both of us shutting down and feeling resentful. It’s a cycle that repeats over and over, and it’s clear that something needs to change.

To clarify, I don’t criticize myself anymore for my past actions. I recognize that it was a learned behavior from my childhood where keeping the peace at home was essential. Additionally, my parents also practiced this behavior repeatedly. The main issue is the absence of conflict resolution, resulting in smiling, avoiding the problem, moving on, and repeating the cycle, ultimately leading to resentment.

You might find it amusing that I work as a therapist and assist individuals in coping with life’s challenges. Truthfully, it is humorous as well. Despite my profession, I am merely a human like everyone else.

I specialize in identifying five anxious attachment styles: pleasing, vacillating, avoiding, victim, and the controller. According to research, individuals who score high in pleasing or vacillating tend to choose avoiders as their partners. This creates a situation where both partners have learned to “cope” with their anxious attachment styles in opposite ways. As a pleaser/vacillator, I may want my partner to come closer and fix the problem, while my partner may prefer to handle it alone and avoid any fixing. Essentially, we choose partners who perpetuate the cycle. My boyfriend is exceptionally skilled at testing my patience and getting under my skin. Even though it can be difficult and intricate, we’re used to it. We often gravitate toward those who push our buttons the most.


Through healing and developing a more secure attachment style, I have learned not to take the behaviors of others personally. While it may have felt like their actions were directed toward me, I now understand that it was not about me. I have realized how much I used to allow the energy of others to consume me. Here are some examples:

  • not making plans without him on a Friday or Saturday unless he’s out of town or made his own plans
  • cooking breakfast, packing lunch, making dinner
  • going to say good morning when I hear his alarm go off and bringing coffee (even if I’m in the middle of doing something)
  • wholeheartedly believing he was supposed to be happy once I got home (I’m your partner, you’re supposed to feel happy when you see me, and I certainly should make the bad day better!)

 

*I promise, the list goes on and on and on*

My therapist once said: you have to ask yourself, am I doing these things out of my choice, or is this my default mode?

It was most certainly my default mode. And again, I stopped judging myself long ago. I didn’t know any difference and especially didn’t know how to change it. But I do now, and I practice every day.

I feel so much lighter. And better. So does my relationship. It can be challenging to explore your attachment, but the process can bring a sense of relief that many people have never felt before.

Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

I attended The University of Texas in Austin where I majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology. During my undergraduate coursework, I did research under Dr. Rebecca Bigler, where I studied gender and racial attitudes among children. Upon competition of my undergraduate degree, I moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University’s Master of Science in Counseling program and completed all the training to become a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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