Living in an era where ‘health’ is the ‘green flag’ sold above all others, we have all made ‘secure attachment’ our goal. Moving from one social media page to the next, it is easy to see that security in attachment includes consistency, safety, predictability, a space for exploration, etc. Is that all there is to it? And to what extent do we stretch ourselves to make sure our relationships resemble a secure attachment- what does this stretching do to us?
Relationships are complex and dynamic, shifting form as the individuals involved in them and the external situations they are a part of change through the course of time. A part of this complexity that is often missed however, is that relationships include not only the separate people interacting with each other, but also the space or dynamic formed between these people. That is, a vital part of our relationships is the potential space between two (or more) people; created by different histories, wishes, desires, irks, and temperaments of those involved interacting with each other. If we take the example of person A, the relationship they form with person B and person C might look and feel to be oceans apart, the former dynamic might be unpredictable, demanding, anxious, and volatile, while the latter might be consistent, relatively breezy, spontaneous and holding.
The current wave of popularity surrounding attachment theory has come at a cost, like all movements do, of missing the nuances and depth of the concept and of all we need and provide for our relationships. The hyper-focus on the individual has made us place attachment as a capacity within the individual, instead of the potential space in-between, rendering ‘security’ a personal project. As I think about some of my own relationships that feel disruptive and insecure, I realize that the dynamic between us includes broken communication, lack of concern, lack of trust, lack of visibility, and other dimensions of chaos. In the same breath, I also realize that to tolerate the intensity of this disruption and what it might mean for the future of these relationships; to make acquaintance with the pain, frustration, loss, fear, and uncertainty that comes with such chaos can be too challenging.
It is easier to trade in this challenge of discomfort with a false performance of security.
Within the deep insecurity such dynamics evoke in me, I find it easier, like many others, to become a flag bearer of security. As this performance plays out repeatedly, it serves as a bandaid, never addressing, much less repairing the wound of the relationship. This performance perhaps attempts three broad functions: firstly, it shields one from awareness of the ruptures in the relationship. Secondly, in claiming the ‘secure’ part in the theatre of the relationship, one (unconsciously) attributes majority of the badness to the other parties involved. This becomes a place for righteous anger that we often hear these days, “ah, I was securely attached…but they are avoidant, no matter how much good I give them in the relationship it can’t be helped..it’s just their attachment pattern.” Thirdly, we provide the other with what we feel is lacking in the relationship, unconsciously hoping that by giving what we do not get, the other might recognize and meet our needs. For example, if we feel that our partners or friends do not think of us enough, we might attempt to tell them just how much we think of them, hoping perhaps that they might realize we feel forgotten.
Wrapped up in the delivery of this performance, perhaps we try to convince both ourselves and the other to forget the anxious feeling of insecurity; yet as all psychological traditions remind us, the harder we try to forget, the more we remember. In our performance of security, the feeling of insecurity never stops pricking. We become insecure and anxious guardians of false security.
Thus, instead of being used as a tool that encourages our curiosity about both self and other, attachment theory becomes a defense employed to keep pain, frustration, anger and reflection out of sight. In other words, by claiming either one party or the other as secure, insecure, avoidant, or anxious, we split people into good and bad, black and white, clean and messy; forgetting that ‘grey’ is the essence of being human.