If you are not familiar with bipolar disorder, it’s a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings or extreme emotional highs and lows.
While we all have our emotional ups and downs, these emotional states usually don’t last long, and usually don’t dramatically change our behaviour. When someone has bipolar disorder however, they can be extremely happy, positive, energetic, full of ideas, forward looking, wanting love, closeness, a future and all that good stuff one day and the next day (literally), they want you to leave them alone because they are feeling sad, hopeless, depressed, pessimistic and have no interest or pleasure in saying or doing anything, and no interest in you or the relationship.
They even tell you they don’t love you anymore, don’t feel anything for you anymore, are not attracted to you anymore, and at that moment when they are saying it, that’s how they truly feel. They are not playing mind games, testing you or being “difficult”. They are going through the depressive spell and are being honest about how they feel.
When the manic phase peaks, it’s like they don’t remember the things they said in their depressive state. That’s why it’s called bipolar disorder, it’s like dealing with two completely different people.
The repeated cycle of intense affection followed by withdrawal can feel like a non-stop rollercoaster ride on steroids especially if you have no idea what’s going on with them.
Then the client describes the relationship their ex has with his or her parents (usually mother), and I am like, “disorganized attachment”.
I came across an article by written by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. that I thought explains so well how disorganized attachments form. She says, “Children are born with the instinct to seek care from adults; their survival depends on it. They are therefore highly motivated to form an adaptable strategy to get their needs met, even by a far from perfect or unsafe caretaker. A disorganized attachment results when a parents’ behavior is unpredictable, confusing or erratic. The child has no organized strategy that allows them to feel safe and get their needs met without fright and terror”.
She talks about “Strange Situation” test conducted by attachment expert, psychologist and researcher Dr. Mary Ainsworth.
In the test, parents where told to leave the room and then come back, leave a second time then come back again. The goal of the test was to measure the reunion behaviour on the second reunion.
Dr. Ainsworth found that a child with a secure attachment will get upset when the parent leaves, but when the parent returns, the child will come to the parent for soothing, easily calms down when contact is re-established and continues to play on his or her own.
A child with a disorganized attachment expresses odd or ambivalent behavior toward the parent, (i.e. first running up to them, then immediately pulling away, perhaps even running away from the parent, curling up in a ball or hitting the parent.) The child’s first impulse may be to seek comfort from the parent, but as they get near the parent, they feel fear to be in their proximity, demonstrating their disorganized adaption.
I found the “Strange Situation” test particularly interesting because it measures reunion behaviour and backs what I have observed with clients trying to get back together with an ex with a disorganized attachment style.
First they seem really happy when you reach out, respond to texts immediately, and even initiate contact. They are engaged: asking questions about your life and sharing information about their lives. You are like, “Hmm this is great. This is easy”. You are getting closer and closer, then fear takes over and they pull away (or do everything to push you away, even act mean, and abusive).
You are left wondering what happened? What did I do wrong?