While making a smoothie, my inner voice said, "I am afraid to form attachments to people because everything I love gets taken away." I don't know what it was about that smoothie that dropped that into my consciousness, but there it was. I stopped, grabbed my phone, and recorded what I heard. Releasing the words verbally, I teared up. Because I was emotional, I knew that statement must have some validity.
Maybe two weeks before this smoothie epiphany, my birth mother texted me that she wished we were closer after six years in reunion. I thought about that and chalked it up to being an introvert and using that as my excuse for us not being closer. When in actuality it is more likely an anxious-avoidant attachment that has kept us from getting close I am learning.
Emotional attachment refers to the feelings of closeness and affection that help sustain meaningful relationships over time. Attachment plays an important role in human connection.
The definition of attachment led me to the NPR website, where I took an online Attachment Style quiz pulled from the book Attached and scored 100% in the Anxious Attachment category. On this quiz, other categories are Avoidant and Secure. After reading the explanation below for Anxious, I snapped as if I was in a poetry reading as the words resonated in my soul. This is precisely how I feel in every romantic relationship and what led to the demise of each.
Anxious. You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like your partner to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner's moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner's behaviors overly personally. As a result, you tend to act out and say things you later regret.
I found an article by Dr. Saul Mcleod, who set out specific points of John Bowlby's Attachment Theory. What stood out to me is the belief that a critical period for developing attachment is two and a half years. It may never happen if an attachment does not during this time period. I was not officially adopted until 18 months after my birth. I spent the majority of that time with a foster family. I always wondered if I attached to that foster family only to be taken away at a time when I was starting to feel like I belonged.
A newborn child, fresh out of the womb, will be handed to someone else as if there were not an attachment with the mother and the connection never existed, nor was it important. If that were true, so many adoptees would not care where they came from, and DNA services would not be popular.
Attachment Styles are characterized by the following and can be combined and changed depending on the relationship.
Secure - You feel comfortable with someone and their ability to meet your needs.
Anxious/Preoccupied- A strong fear of abandonment
Avoidant/Dismissive - Unwilling or unable to get close to someone
Disorganized/Fearful - Wants intimacy but difficulties with trust
I sat down and thought about all my relationships to try and pinpoint the first time I could recall having an attachment to anything. The first creature I can remember loving was a miniature poodle named Shay Shay. She knew all my secrets and her soft white fur caught all my tears. There's an old photo from when I was maybe 10; looking at it now, I can still feel the discomfort and awkwardness I felt at that time. The only thing that felt safe was holding that dog. I came home from school at some point, and the dog was just gone. One day she was there; the next, she wasn't. The one thing I had grown to love and, in my opinion, loved me back was gone.
My dad was the next person who came to mind as someone I attached to. He was funny, caring, and affectionate, making me feel safe. He made me feel heard even when I was in trouble for something. Then something happened to that feeling when I was 16 and pregnant. Maybe he no longer saw me as a little girl but as a young woman. Our relationship remained strong, but it was different in my mind. His love for me was no longer unconditional. Although I am sure he didn't stop loving me through my pregnancy, it shut him down emotionally at a time when I needed him most. My father's shutdown and the shutdown of the boy I got pregnant by definitely affected my ability to attach to others.
There are plenty of 16-year-olds that have given birth and raised the child. The fact that I was not one of those contributed to my attachment issues. For the longest time, I would worry about what others would think of me after they learned I had relinquished a child to adoption. I would punish myself and not allow anyone to get close. Some assumed I must not have had an attachment to my son, but that is the absolute furthest thing from fact. My attachment to him as an adult is probably tinged with the same anxiety as my other relationships.
During a difficult time in a recent relationship, my partner told me that it was easy for me to push him away because I did that with my son. I realized how much this person I had spent years with did not know me. Or maybe he just wanted to hurt me. Either way, the result was that I did not feel entirely accepted, and our relationship ended. Our attachment styles were more than likely in conflict.
My attachment to my mother (adopted mother) has always been one steeped in anxiety and fear. I was afraid that I would disappoint her or that she would give me the cold shoulder for a couple of weeks if I made a decision she did not agree with. My mother is not subtle in her disdain. Luckily my healing journey has shown me that I do not need to accept that in adulthood, and our relationship has improved.
I realize that with the two children I raised, my anxious attachment was projected on them. I was and still have anxiety that they will be taken away so I tend to be clingy. My 25 year old daughter is one of my best teachers as she now calls me out when my anxious attachment style becomes overwhelming.
I found this quote in my search on adoptees and attachment styles on the Focus on the Family website and could not agree more.
"...every adopted child has experienced a disrupted attachment. Whether you stood in the delivery room and caught your child as she was birthed by her birth mother, whether you adopted a teenager who had been through a dozen foster homes before coming to you, whether your new child survived famine and hardship and the death of his parents before arriving in your home – that child is no longer with the person who gave him or her life. That is the first disrupted attachment. A child, even a pre-verbal child, recognizes that this is the first loss they have experienced." --Wendy Kittlitz
Things I know:
I do not attach easily to anyone.
Perspective adoptive parents should consider their attachment style and how that will affect their ability to attach to a new child who has experienced a disrupted attachment.
Adoptees should consider how early experiences with attachment has followed them into adulthood.
Here are some more resources on Attachment Theory:
Epiphany Smoothie Recipe :-)
1 large banana
A bunch of spinach
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
5-7 frozen strawberries
1 Scoop Protein Powder