Attachment science has found that the longing for a felt sense of connection is a primary need, especially when threatened. Isolation is inherently traumatizing. Many people experienced this during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Just as losing connection with loved ones is traumatizing, disconnection with ourselves is so too.
Our survival-oriented response may kick in and when it does our higher brain functioning is no longer “online”. When it does, we often start reacting in ways that are familiar to us and provide relief in the short run. However, in the long run we become more disconnected from ourselves and our ability to give direction to our lives.
“A felt sense of safe haven connection calms the nervous system and primes emotional balance” (Johnson & Campbell, 2022). From this secure base, one can actively explore and learn. The more securely attached a person is, the more autonomous one can be. Securely attached people tend to be more emotionally healthy and resourceful.
Separation distress is what comes up when connection is lost. As a result, there may be protesting (in the form of anger), or clinging behaviour. And if an attachment figure does not engage, depression, despair and detachment may come up.
Key questions in love relationships are “Are you there for me?, Can I count on you?, and Do you feel for and with me?” When these needs are not met, a person can develop an insecure attachment strategy, of which there are three: anxious, avoidant or dismissing and fearful-avoidant.
Our past experiences tend to shape how we experience the world and ourselves in it. Insecure attachment leads to mental health issues. We can continue to react in an automated way based on emotional experiences of the past. And continue to reshape the future on our model of the past. Or we can decide to free ourselves from the bonds of the past.
Through corrective emotional experiences a person can become securely attached and have lasting change. One can become more open, responsive and engaging with self and others. This will enable a person to better deal with existential life issues and feel more alive.
The process of becoming more psychologically flexible means that one becomes less reactive to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This enables a person to focus on what is more important and build a more rich and meaningful life. It entails that we become present thoughts and feelings that are alienated, frightening and acceptable within us, find rationality and order in it, not pathologize it. This process creates connections within a person that dissolves blocks and lets organic growth happen.
From that more secure base a person will experience the world with a greater sense of ease as the fight/flight response is not triggered. There is more resilience and sense of agency to give direction to one’s life.
Johnson, S. M., & Campbell, T. L. (2022). A primer for emotionally focused individual therapy (EFIT): Cultivating Fitness and growth in every client. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/A-Primer-for-Emotionally-Focused-Individual-Therapy-EFIT-Cultivating/Johnson-Campbell/p/book/9780367548254
Counsellor & Psychotherapist