I believe “Attached” by Amir Levine, M.D. & Rachel Heller is a “must read” book for those interested in pursuing healthy, loving relationships (see my review). I am excited to be able to present the following e-Interview with the authors.
At RatedGRomance.com and on my Twitter feed I discuss romantic gestures (specifically beyond the bedroom). Can you comment on how romantic gestures might play out for/be perceived by people of the three types of attachment styles?
Romantic gestures are super important. They solidify our secure base and form the foundation for our emotional and physiological well-being. It’s easy to take our secure base for granted with our busy schedules but by doing so we undermine our very foundations (for more about the secure base, one of the most important concepts for understanding romantic relationships, see chapter 2 in ATTACHED). Romantic gestures don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, simple gestures can often be more rewarding. Each couple has to find the gestures they’re most comfortable with. If, for example, one of the partners has an avoidant attachment style, a fun and less overtly romantic joint activity might work best.
If I am understanding the book, you posit that the origin of the three attachment styles is rooted in evolution. To me this implies a genetic component. But then you also state that the three styles are “plastic” and can change over time. Can you comment on the nature vs. nurture aspect of the theory? I tested out “anxious”. Is there hope for me to become truly secure? Or is it more like a short person training to increase their vertical leap in basketball to be “taller?” i.e. An anxious person can learn to layer the “secure” traits onto an underlying anxious style?
People are sold on a somewhat outdated idea that our early relationships with our parents determine our adult relationships. Attachment science has a much more sophisticated and promising view of the topic. We are extremely social beings with a remarkable ability to adapt. Our basic biology plays a role but is greatly influenced by our environment.
One experiment comes to mind: It is known that rat moms that were licked and groomed a lot as pups become mothers who are high in licking and grooming and are more gregarious and less anxious. Rats that are licked and groomed less as pups become low licking and grooming mothers, are less social and more prone to anxiety.
But take a low licking and grooming adult female and house her in an enriched environment, with lots of toys and other friendly females and within several weeks something remarkable happens: She changes to a high licking and grooming mother. The opposite is also true — take a high licking and grooming adult female and expose her to a lot of stress and she becomes a low licking and grooming mother. These behaviors have been shown to have direct effect on turning on and off certain genes in our brains.
As humans we have even more complex social skills. We can change a lot as adults. In ATTACHED we carved out a way to better guide our relationships to a more secure place—whether we’re dating or already in a relationship. We give strategies for creating something similar to the enriched environment in this experiment and warn you against interactions that can be deleterious to you.
I love your comments I’ve read elsewhere about the term “needy.” Can you mention that here?
You’re referring to the dependency paradox. It’s one of the most profound insights of the field of attachment. For some people it’s counterintuitive at first.
In our society, we stigmatize dependence and put emphasis on independence. But dependence is a biological fact. Once we become attached, we’re dependent whether we want to be or not. The interesting thing is that the more our needs for closeness, support and reassurance are taken care, the less needy we become. We’re then able to turn our attention outwards, be more creative and pursue our dreams.
If there is one negative to the book in my mind, it is that it could be used as justification/ammunition for dissolution of a marriage (e.g. “We are in an Anxious/Avoidant relationship and we have no hope of success. Let’s split.”) instead of working on it (vis a vis a book like “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson). Is that your intent? Can you address this?
Many books and approaches help couples who come to therapy to mend their relationships. We took a broader view and emphasized attachment styles as an important finding people can use in their daily life regardless of their relationship status.
For people who are dating, there is an opportunity to find a more suitable mate by figuring out their own attachment style and that of their date.
For those with mismatching attachment styles, we guide them, based on their specific attachment style, towards greater security. We’ve received many responses from readers who’ve used the “relationship inventory” to see destructive patterns in their relationship and change them.
Even when faced with trying times and difficult moments in our lives, we are strong believers in the power of attachment to heal. The closeness created by caring for a loved one in times of need and being by their side can be immense.
It’s also not as simple it sounds to “give permission to leave”. Attachment is stronger than that. And when given the choice, we believe people will want to make their relationship better and stay. That’s just the power of attachment. It’s very difficult and excruciatingly painful to leave.
We did, however, also have another group in mind, those who are in abusive relationships — whose physical and emotional integrity is threatened by the person who’s closest them — and they can’t muster the strength to leave. By teaching them more about attachment and why they get cold feet every time they want to leave and by giving them hope, we tried to help them.
For more information, including an online attachment style quiz, see: http://www.attachedthebook.com/
The authors tweet at: http://www.twitter.com/attachedthebook .