People with attachment troubles or other child trauma often ask: why is dating so difficult? It is, for a reason.
So instead of the dating hunt, I invested my life, fortune, and sacred honor to work for “earned secure attachment.” Dr. Dan Siegel says that’s when we start out with attachment damage from childhood trauma, but grow into secure attachment by earning it as adults. “It’s possible to change childhood attachment patterns,” as Dr. Mary Main says in a 2010 video.1
My plan: “become the change you seek,” as Ghandi said — and then a good-hearted mate will find me. Either way, eventually I’ll have peace in my soul.
Look, Ma, no hunting or begging – for once in my life! I’ve been begging since birth for a scrap of love like Oliver with his begging bowl, and I’m done. Dating website emails go to my spam folder.
I know it’s possible to earn secure attachment, even for those with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) like me who’ve had developmental trauma “since the sperm hit the egg” and thus the world’s worst case of anxious attachment.
I know, because as I force myself to share my most gut-wrenching fears and most body-wracking tears, in person, face-to-face, with entirely platonic “Safe People” 2, I’ve felt a deep movement of architectonic plates down in my body and soul.
I’ve felt a tiny, new, fragile, and yes, vulnerable part of myself growing slowly but surely for the last few years. And yes, there is no magic bullet; it takes time — months and years. But hey, what else have we got to do if not finally feel some mental health? “For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
Dr. Dan Siegel does say earned secure attachment can come from a relationship not only with a friend or therapist, but also with a “romantic partner.” But usually that’s a committed marriage begun young where two kids grow up together, not the on-off disconnect we get dating over 30.1
For me, dating would wreck my attachment process because a date “wants” something from us that we can’t do right now: affection, and often sex — as if we didn’t have a severe attachment wound. But we do.
“Safe People”2 do not want anything from us, period. They’re just humans like me: my grief partner, my girl friend, my Al Anon sponsor, my therapist — anyone who’ll simply sit with me for 30-60 minutes once or twice a week and do compassionate listening.
Anyone who will listen like a good parent should have when we came home with hurts to cry about (hopefully not asking for sex). Like Hello Kitty; she has no mouth; only big eyes that listen deeply.
And as they watch me share myself, they start to feel safe with me, because if I model it for them that emotions are a good thing to share, their mammalian brains pick up the vibe — and then they start to share their fears and tears as well.
That’s how attachment starts to grow: eye contact and emotional sharing; google “Limbic Resonance.” The goal is to make these eye-to-eye meetings a two-way street, not a “charity date.” That’s why the Grief Recovery Handbook works.
On the other hand, deep eye contact with a date mostly leads nowhere but the bedroom, which never cured anyone’s broken heart. There may be great sex, but without attachment, that only layers more trauma on top of the trauma we have already. (See the “Good Sex in Bad Relationships” chapter in “Women Who Love Too Much” by therapist Robin Norwood.)
Kathy’s “News Blogs” expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.