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Adult Attachment, God, and Each Other

Sometimes parts of our lives can feel very hard. For most of us, most of our lives are not overly challenging. We live in comfortable houses with family we love. Perhaps we have the blessing of going to a job that is fulfilling and rewarding; we have found a church that has become for us a family of faith and a community of great support; we have hobbies we enjoy and friendships we treasure. As the popular t-shirt says, “Life is good!”

But, what about when we hit an obstacle in our adult lives? What if we are laid off from that job? Of if we find ourselves in conflict with our neighbors, church members or even our own family?  What if we are happy with our lives and we have put our lives and relationships on “auto pilot,” but suddenly find that we are no longer “on track?” What do we do then?

Navigating Life’s Changes

Some parts of our lives may be harder than others. Cruise control in an automobile is a wonderful invention. If you set your cruise control on a long interstate trip, you will likely get better gas mileage and decrease the chances of getting a speeding ticket. However, if you are on a journey up a precarious mountain, that wonderful cruise control is no longer a helpful tool. The twists and turns of mountain driving require a higher level of intentionality than does highway driving.

Some (and for many of us, most) of our lives are like highway driving. We have done these relationships with co-workers or family members for so long that all we have to do is to do what we have always done. It has worked in the past, and we can expect it to work in the future. But, what about when we encounter unexpected turns and twists? What about when the way we have done relationships no longer seems to be leading to the expected and hoped-for returns or consequences? How do we react when we find ourselves disappointed in the day-to-day interactions with those closest to us? And if we’re not responding in healthy ways, can we move from unhealthy reactions to healthy ones?

Relating to Others

Beginning in childhood and extending into adulthood, most of us have one of four ways of relating to others, ways that are commonly referred to as “relational attachment.” Our style of relating is connected to and influenced by our style of relational attachment. Most of us will have one of these four styles that is most characteristic of how we relate to others most of the time.  

  • The first attachment style is secure attachment. In securely attached individuals, we find good self-esteem (a generally positive view of self) and good sociability (a generally positive view of others.) Securely attached individuals would generally agree that most people can be trusted and they generally find it relatively easy to become emotionally close to others. The other three attachment styles are different presentations of insecure attachment.
  • The second attachment style is anxious or preoccupied attachment. In anxious attachment style, we find people with lower self-esteem (a sometimes negative view of self) and good sociability (a generally positive view of others.) Anxious style attachment may result in an individual thinking that they would very much like to be close to others, but that they find them to be reluctant to allow as much emotional closeness as they seek.
  • The third attachment style is the dismissive-avoidant attachment. In dismissive-avoidant attachment style, we find people with good self-esteem (a generally favorable view of self) and lower sociability (a sometimes negative view of others.) These individuals are oftentimes comfortable without having close emotional relationships and may highly value independence and self-sufficiency.
  • The fourth attachment style is fearful-avoidant. In the fearful-avoidant style, we find people with low self-esteem (a sometimes negative view of self) and low sociability (a sometimes negative view of others.) This style of attachment is most common in individuals who have experienced trauma or loss in their formative years of development. They frequently deal with a strong desire to be emotionally close to others, but a fear that this closeness will result in them being hurt. It is also common for this attachment style to have difficulty expressing their emotions.

Most people have a secure attachment style most of the time in most of their relationships.  However, it is possible for an individual to operate out of one of the attachment positons only some of the time or only in some specific relationships. When you are securely attached and you are dealing with someone who is also securely attached, that is like highway driving. Set the cruise control and relax!

However, when you realize that your relationship strategies have stopped working, it is possible that either you or those with whom you are interacting are operating from one of the insecure attachment positions. When that happens, there is hope for change. With the help of loving, caring individuals or a trusted therapist, we can learn to interact in healthy ways and move into a fifth category of relating called “earned security.” We do this through examining our histories, raising awareness of our current unhealthy relating styles, and practicing healthy relationship strategies.  

Relating to God

Our adult attachment style is greatly influenced by our childhood experiences. The way we were parented, the safety and comfort of our childhood environment, and the early relationships we had with key adults will influence our adult style of attachment. Recent research also indicates that our attachment style can also impact our relationship with God:

  • Securely attached individuals seek secure attachment with a Heavenly Father who they believe to be trustworthy.
  • Individuals with an anxious attachment style may believe that God is looking for an opportunity to punish or reject them yet they may be deeply drawn to pursue a relationship with God.
  • Individuals with a dismissive attachment style may not value their relationship with their Heavenly father and may be reluctant to seek God’s face through Bible study and community within a Christian fellowship.
  • Individuals with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may believe that God is seeking to punish them and they are not likely to believe that pursuit of a relationship with God is a high priority.

The good news is that whether we are thinking in terms of our relationships with others or our relationship with God, we can have a secure attachment style, or if we do not have a secure attachment style, we can develop earned security. By being very relationally intentional and taking positive steps to improve our relationships in the ways mentioned earlier, we can relationally interact from a position of good self-esteem and good sociability (even in cases where that does not seem to come naturally to us.)

 

This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist newspaper as a part of the Faith and Family series.

 

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