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?
Chances are you did nothing wrong.
Someone who learned about love from a parent(s) or caregiver whose love was unpredictable and chaotic, was inconsistent in responding to their feelings and needs, and provided care, attention and affection with threats, manipulation, neglect or abuse, learns that:
- Relationships is a source of both comfort and fear.
- You can never know what to expect from someone you love.
- It’s okay to want love but you should be wary and very careful because you will get hurt.
- People who say they love you will take advantage of you, manipulate you, use you and/or abuse you if you are not careful.
- If you show someone that you love them and need them, they’ll use that against you.
They learned to seek closeness but they also learned to fear it.
Unlike someone with bipolar disorder who says they don’t love you anymore, don’t feel anything for you anymore, are not attracted to you anymore and truly feel that way when they are saying it, fearful or conflicted avoidants say these things out of fear.
Fear is why your conflicted avoidant says:
- They miss you and in the same breath say they want you to leave them alone
- They don’t feel in love with you anymore but want to know if you still love them.
- They want you to move on and date someone else and in the same sentence say they’ll be devastated if you do.
- You are never getting back together but then tells you “you never know what the future holds”.
- You might get back together but they don’t want to get your hopes up.