Everybody deals with insecurity & it has a huge negative impact on relationships. The focus for those who are insecure is what’s wrong with my partner? Secure attachment, is not about playing games, you’re not trying to win or have power over the other person. It’s not a perfect situation. Secure attachment means you’re able to navigate emotionally. It can’t be about relying on the other person to do this for you. 

INSECURE ATTACHMENT & WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Everybody deals with insecurity & it has a huge negative impact on relationships. The focus for those who are insecure is what’s wrong with my partner? Secure attachment, is not about playing games, you’re not trying to win or have power over the other person. It’s not a perfect situation.

Rhoda: It’s been 2 years since my last episode on attachment theory & it’s such an important topic that helps people learn about themselves in relationships. Attachment theory is based on studies in the 1970’s of the bonds between infants & caregivers & how this affects the child’s emotional development into adulthood.

Today I’ve invited Tracy Crossley a behavioral relationship expert & coach to join me on this very important subject. She is also a podcaster on the Freedom from Attachment Podcast, & she has written a brand-new book called Overcoming Insecure Attachment: 8 Proven Steps to Recognizing Anxious & Avoidant Attachment Styles & Building Healthier, Happier Relationships.

Rhoda: Welcome, Tracy. What would you like to add to my quick definition of attachment theory?

Tracy: Basically, when it comes to attachment theory, there were originators obviously, John Bowlby in the 1950s & early 60s came up with his idea around secure attachment. Mary Ainsworth had worked with somebody called William Blatz before that, & he had a whole theory on security & how security in a relationship makes a healthier relationship. So, she came, Mary Ainsworth, I feel like she was very pivotal, & she came in with attachment styles, & since then, because you’re going to hear, or you may have heard of all sorts of different attachment styles, it’s kind of taken a life of its own. People have come up with different ones, you know, you’ve got fearful disorganized, ambivalent, so there’s other ones besides the standard ones that I usually talk about, but they all basically come back to the same thing, which is either you’re anxious or avoidant or both. 

Rhoda: So anxious attachers need a lot of approval & reassurance, could you share more about this typical way of attaching? It’s been so enlightening for my clients when they recognize themselves being caught in this pattern.

Tracy: Absolutely. I think it’s a pretty tough position, because most people with any kind of attachment issue but especially with anxious, you feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience, you feel like you’re going to have a panic attack, so it’s like you’re clinging for dear life, right? Sometimes you don’t know why, because we don’t always choose the best partners. Part of the time you’re thinking, “What am I doing here? What am I doing here?” But the thing is, as a child, you were probably a people pleaser, & you learn to receive attention that way. You are probably doing that in the relationship you’re in to try & hold on & develop some kind of closeness to this person, at least physical proximity, right? Not necessarily emotional, because for people who are anxious attaches to be emotionally available, it’s just as difficult as it is for people who are avoidant, because anxiety doesn’t equal emotional availability. 

Rhoda: That’s for sure, yeah. The good news is that the anxious attacher can learn to become a secure attacher…What do you recommend that an anxious attacher work on to become less clingy?

Tracy: Well, there’s quite a few things that they can work on, but one of them is actually connecting to themselves. When you have attachment issues, you’re not connected to yourself, you are very other-oriented, you are paying attention to what the other person is doing or not doing, & you’re letting that guide your actions. Or I should say your reactions, because you’re not really taking original action, you’re having a reaction to somebody. So if you’re to actually have any awareness of what you’re doing, that’s a first step, literally. Am I people pleasing? Am I doing these things that don’t feel good to me, & what one of them can I stop? Don’t stop everything at once. Don’t try to leave the relationship. Don’t try to do any of that, until you emotionally can build up to feeling some kind of self-value. Because for people that are anxiously attached, I think it’s really difficult to feel a sense of self value because it’s so much about the other person.

Rhoda: They’re kind of chasing after somebody else to grab on to stuff in that hole that they’ve got to figure out about who they are themselves. 

Tracy: Right. Yeah, right. Exactly. 

Rhoda: What does an avoider need to do to become a more secure attacher? 

Tracy: Well, when it comes to people that are avoidant, first of all, it’s recognizing that they’re avoiding which is much more difficult than people who are anxious, because people who are anxious have the focal point of another person. People that are avoiding maybe avoiding relationships altogether, they could be single for years & not able to even get past a first date. They are people that they will get into a relationship, as long as there’s some kind of yo-yo circumstances going on, rather than it being stable, just because they need that emotional distance. You see people having a marriage where they’re in separate bedrooms, right? Those are people who also have avoidant tendencies. 

So as an avoidant, it’s very difficult to go, “Oh, wait a minute, I want to do something about this,” because they’re numb most of the time, & they get anxious if they’re getting closer, which is the opposite of somebody who’s an anxious attacher. So, for them, it’s about, first of all, recognizing that they do this, because some of them, especially the single ones may go, “Well, I’m independent, I’m single, I have a great life. Why am I going to give that up?” The problem is that they’re not really connected to living.

People that are avoidant, even though they physically can look like they’re living, maybe they’re traveling, maybe they have a great job, they usually have things that keep them occupied, but they’re not really living, because they’re not emotionally connected to themselves. They’re like a body that is carrying a head around. That’s why I’m saying, it’s very difficult because I work with people that are anxious avoidant & avoidant, & I do have people that are also anxious, but I really skewed more towards that. It’s so difficult for them to go, “Oh, it’s me, it’s me, I have the problem, & I’ve got to do something about it.”

So, what they need is, first of all, a desire to get out of their own way. Even if they want to have, you know, because I will get people in their mid-30s going, “I want to get married & have kids,” but they can’t get past the first date, or getting into a relationship, they can’t even go to the first date. So first of all, they’ve got to open themselves up to that. Second of all, they have to stop looking for perfect, because people that are avoidance tend to look for perfect, they tend to look for perfectionism, they feel as though they may be settling if they choose something else, & this is all mental, but the truth is, they’re really afraid of if they choose the wrong person, what is that going to feel like? What is that going to do to them, they have such a sense of lack & scarcity inside. 

So again, it’s really about what awareness they have, what they’re going to be willing to do. One of the things I tell people, & this kind of sounds silly, but it’s not silly. Stay five more minutes. So you go on a date, & you want to run, okay, you’re sitting there looking at how they part their hair, “Oh, God, I can’t believe this person parts their hair this way,” or whatever. It’s going to be something silly, or a lot of things that are silly. So, you will start getting anxious, you’ll start feeling like you’ve just got to get out of there. Stay. I’m saying 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour, 30 seconds, whatever. Stay, be curious, “What is happening inside of me that’s causing this reaction? This person is just sitting there, they’re not doing anything to me. They’re not reaching out & grabbing on to me, there’s nothing happening.”

So the person that’s an avoidant would be in such a state of fear, but they don’t know it, & that’s why I’m saying you’ve got to be curious, because all that person’s doing is triggering this response in you, & you want to know why, you want to learn why. If you don’t want to learn why, then you’re not ready to do anything about it. But that’s why I say like, they’re kind of like the slippery eel, you know, until they really are ready, nothing’s going to happen. 

Rhoda: I would agree, & I think people hide behind perfectionism a lot. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but the Latin or Greek, I don’t know which, root word of perfection is ‘finished’. I always say to my clients, when are we finished? Of course, when we’re dead, which means it doesn’t apply to human beings on the earth. So yeah, right. I think people hide behind perfectionism so much, they really do, I agree. The goal is to be a more secure attacher. So tell us what that would look like. 

Tracy: Well, it would look like a healthy relationship. What is a healthy relationship? It’s first of all, you go into a relationship without the idea that the relationship is where you throw all your personal trash. So a lot of times the focus for unhealthy relationships is, why isn’t the relationship working? Or what’s wrong with my partner? There’s not a lot of self-responsibility. So you have to commit to yourself first. Okay, I’m going to go into a relationship, I’m going to take responsibility for what I do, what I say. I’m going to, for my thoughts, for my feelings, I am not going to blame my partner because I’m choosing to be here. 

So, most people don’t realize, you choose to be in a relationship. When I hear people going, “Oh, but they’re a narcissist, they’re this, that blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, hey, guess what, you have a choosing to be here. So when you decide you really want to have a healthy relationship, you’ve got to get to that place. It’s difficult when you have one of these attachment styles that has not been reined in, because to flip the switch, let’s say for somebody who’s anxious, anxious people are always blaming the other person, always, & they rarely want to take responsibility for that. 

When you have avoidance, it’s the same thing. It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t really need to deal with this, I’m just going to leave,” or I’m going to go on a walk, or I’m going to abandon the situation, right? So then the other person is probably a little anxious, & that’s going to cause them stress. But in a healthy relationship, you don’t throw things on the other person, you have what’s called progression. Securely attached people progress relationships, they don’t stand in the way of them, they’re not interested. 

By the way, I’m going to just say this: people tend to think they’re securely attached, & they have an insecure mate. It doesn’t work that way, because securely attached people have zero interest in insecurely attached people, they just don’t. It’s like, who wants that drama, not a securely attached person. So, you have consistency; I consistently show up, you consistently show up. 

These are things that happen in secure attachment, because you’re not playing games, you’re not trying to win or have power over the other person or keep them away, or pull them closer, because it’s fluid, it works, it doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect situation. What it means is that you’re able to navigate emotionally what you weren’t when you were insecurely attached, & it can’t be about relying on the other person again to do this for you. You really have to go in & be an adult emotionally. 

Rhoda: Absolutely. I think I’ve always thought that blame is such a sign of insecurity, & you know, the AA expression, “When one fingers pointing at somebody else, there’s three more pointing back at yourself.” So, I really think that’s an important point. Anxious attachers usually hook up with avoiders…Share more about that very ordinary pattern…that often leads to big problems.

Tracy: Yes, it does, because it’s like a circle that it just keeps going… like you’re on a merry- go-round, that’s the best way I can put it. A merry-go-round, that’s a roller coaster at the same time. So, it’s really one, it’s very self-defeating, but I guarantee you watch these patterns with one or both of your parents. Like, if your parents were together, I guarantee one was more anxious than the other. If your parents were not together, watch the dynamics that they had in relationships. Of course, it’s what you do. As kids, we are looking for these models. So we may not even think that this is different or odd, that, isn’t this just the way this is? 

So when you have the anxious avoidant, it’s the yo-yo relationship. It’s the, “Okay, I’m coming closer. Okay, I’m running away.” So, I mean, it’s basically cat & mouse. A lot of people will complain about people that are avoidant, “Oh, well, he or she romanced me, they showed up at first, they drew me in.” They’ll do that, but they start to get anxious as they get closer because people that are avoidant don’t want the responsibility, but yet feel responsible for the other person, meaning the anxious person, for their feelings, & the anxious is trying so hard to make the relationship work or make a relationship out of no relationship. 

So, there’s all this work going in on the anxious part, & of course, when you’re trying so hard, & you’re working at it in that way. I also guarantee you you’re going to be angry, & it may be anger that’s underneath everything, but that anger is there, & the avoidant, of course, they’ll go away, right? Maybe you see them & then they disappear, & then they happily show up again, like nothing’s wrong, & they may have a valid excuse. At least you’ll say that at first to yourself, “Oh, he or she is busy. They’re always busy.” That is just an excuse. The avoidant may believe that excuse, by the way, because you believe that excuse too, but you know it’s hollow, you know it feels horrible, you know that’s not something that you want to have. A lot of people I hear from that are in these situations, they’re always waiting for the avoidant to wake up & smell the coffee & go, “Oh my gosh, you’re the best thing ever. What have I been doing this whole time? I want to be with you.” That doesn’t happen too often unless an avoidant gets help. 

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. It’s really true. It also explains a lot of people think they’re ambivalent in their relationships, when it’s really this pattern that’s repeating over & over & over again, & they can’t seem to shake it & keep worrying about being ambivalent. I think that’s really important. So, your specialty is working with people who are both anxious & avoidant, what is this all about?

Rhoda: It’s like a living hell…For them, I’m not saying for me. 

Rhoda: No, I heard that. I did. But I’m glad you cleared it up. 

Tracy: Yeah, it is. I think it’s the definition, I was anxious avoidant for years, so I can relate to my clients that are in this position. So, it’s like this, you are happily single, going along, living your life, & then you meet somebody, & there’s this intense chemistry. So the tip off is intense chemistry, not healthy, intense chemistry takes you out of your very controlled existence. Because remember, you’re thinking you’re happy & single, but you’re really just controlling your existence & everything around you, & this person comes in & they disrupt it, at least from your perspective, & you’re like, “Oh, my God, what’s happening to me, all I can do is think about this person.” 

So what happens is, you get into a situation, usually with somebody who’s more avoidant than you, it’s always that way. If you’re an anxious avoidant, you will find somebody who’s more avoidant, & that’s where you have chemistry. It brings back those childhood relationships, the issues you had with emotional availability with your parents, the intimacy with your parents & other caregivers. So what happens is, you end up in the cycle, basically on the merry-go-round of hell. 

What happens is, you can’t let go, right? You can’t let go for, I don’t know, it could be year. I have people that have been broken up & looking back & still pining away for somebody that hasn’t been in their life for 10 years. So that happens, & then the cycle for the anxious avoidant is they want to become avoidant again, they want to be avoidant, they don’t like being anxiously attached, they’re happy space—or they think happy, but it’s really numb & disconnected—is to basically be either single or in control. 

So somebody who’s anxious avoidant will work to either try to control the relationship, or try to get out of the relationship. So, they’ll always want to break up with the person that’s more avoidant than them, but they’re still as I said, they’re still hooked, & then the avoidant will probably come back. So they stay in this cycle, until they get out. Then somebody who’s anxious avoidant will stay single, usually for long periods of time, & that’s why they’re anxious avoidant. Because if you’re just anxious, usually you’re going to go find someone else to go attach to, you don’t really stay single very long. But people that do, you are anxious, avoidant; you’re not really dealing with your feelings, you’re not really connected to yourself, you don’t have a lot of self-value, a lot of self-worth, because you weren’t taught this, how could you know? So you’re just going with how you feel. 

So it’s just a cycle, you know, relationship, that’s crazy, no relationship, you know, you could just see it at different times in their lives that they’re either in a relationship or not, & neither is happy, but at least when they’re avoidant, they feel calmer, or they think they’re calmer. 

Rhoda: Any tips for improving self-worth? 

Tracy: There’s a lot of tips that I can give for improving self-worth. For people to understand what self-worth is; it’s not about going & getting a massage, it’s not about that. It is about taking care of your emotional self. Starting with, what our boundaries? Boundaries are not what I tell other people to do. If I tell other people to do something, I’m going to go to the horse races & bet because I’m probably going to win a bet before me to get somebody to do what I want them to do. So I have no control over others. 

Boundaries are how am I going to treat myself? If I treat myself with love & respect, & then I go into situations with other people, I need to still love & respect myself. If my actions do not reflect that, then other people—& they’re not doing this on purpose. They’re just picking up on the vibe we are putting out there by how we treat ourselves. So, if I say I love & respect myself, & then I put myself in a situation that’s very disrespectful to me, then what I’m doing is I’m showing that I don’t really uphold that boundary that I said I have, & I’m also inviting you to not honor the boundary as well. 

So you first have to get clear on, what boundary can I even hold up? Can I respect myself? If I can, all right, I’ll be in a situation, let’s say with someone who’s not respectful to me, doesn’t mean I have to say, I’m never going to talk to you again or be around you, it’s to say, I realize that this is not feeling good to me, & I’m going to go ahead & I’m going to get out of this conversation, whatever on the phone or in person, I’m going to go, I’m going to take care of myself, we can talk at another time. You know, & you’re not being a jerk about it, because then that means you’re angry, & that’s a whole other level of not having boundaries, because that means that you haven’t had boundaries. So when you do that, you state these things, & then you follow it with action, your words & action have to line up.

To me, I think that’s super difficult for people to have an awareness that their words & actions a lot of times do not line up, & that is so important, not just boundaries, but also for personal trust. How can you trust yourself if you do not follow your own words & actions? When you have a partner whose words & actions don’t match, you’re not happy, you don’t trust them, so you have that relationship with yourself when you’re doing that.

Rhoda: Yeah, I completely agree. Some of the struggles for those who are both anxious & avoidant would be having difficulty in regulating their emotions & having very negative views, would you share more about this? 

Tracy: People that are in that category, live a very black & white life, not a grey life. So what that means is they intellectually try to manage their lives. It’s like emotions are sort of in the back seat. Because as a young kid, experiencing certain emotions was very difficult, & it was easier to shut them down, & ignore them. You know, it’s like, “Oh, my God, I don’t want to feel that in a little body, it’s too painful, it’s too much.” 

So, intellectually managing everything means people that are anxious avoidant are super fixed on everything around them, on how they appear, you know, that’s why they suffer from imposter syndrome, because they have a facade that they have built & they want to interact in the environment with this facade, & they don’t want people to really dig deeper, or get to know them too much, because they’re afraid they’ll be rejected. 

So everything is from this place of fear, rather than love, & when you come from that place, you tend to, again, manage your life intellectually, you are strategizing, you’ll strategize the words before they come out of your mouth, you will make sure that when you’re doing whatever it is, like, let’s say you’re talking on the phone with someone you just started dating, you’re going to make sure you hang up first. You know, it’s when you’re in that control before you get attached. 

So then you get attach & it doesn’t matter, & then you’re just like any other anxious person. But it’s really about they don’t regulate their emotions by emotionally doing that, they intellectualize everything. So people that are anxious avoidant, they basically always have anxiety, even when they’re numb. Even when they’re single, they’re still a low level, it’s just not as prominent as it is when they’re anxiously attached to somebody. 

Rhoda: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. In episode 600 of your podcast, you talk about what loyalty is. I’m often challenging my clients on suffering with misplaced loyalty. That’s an expression that when my husband & I walked out of a German movie, I asked him, “What do you think that movie was about?” It’s called Goodbye Berlin. & he said, “Misplace loyalty of a son for his mother, & he learned she betrayed him.” So I often assign that movie for homework. This is so important, please enlighten all of us on how to tackle misplaced loyalty, & what healthy loyalty would look like. 

Tracy: So healthy loyalty & misplaced loyalty all have to do with commitment, & commitment to yourself first & to other people secondly, & what I mean by that goes back to the words & actions matching, but it goes back to knowing actually what you want, & staying with it. When you have anxious avoidant tendencies, avoidant tendencies, you have a lot of trouble committing. You can physically look like you commit, but emotionally you’re not committed. Then it makes it hard to be loyal to what you say you’re going to do or who you say you’re going to be with, depending on how loyalty is used. 

I talk about loyalty, not just from the aspect of you’re in a committed relationship & you’re going to be loyal. I look at loyalty as how loyal are you to what you promise, how loyal are you? To be loyal, is to be fully in, both feet in to what it is you’re choosing to commit to. If you can’t put both feet in, then you need to be honest with yourself, & that right there is very difficult for people because we tell ourselves a lot of stories, we tell ourselves a lot of excuses. 

Again, stories about other people, “Oh, well, he or she is doing this or they’re doing that, so this gives me a right to not be loyal.” But if you notice, it doesn’t ever feel good to not be loyal, it feels bad, & so you’re following a pattern that is probably on autopilot, again, that’s going to tear down your self-value, whatever self-value you have, that speaks to, I am not being loyal, & so I am endangering my sense of self, I’m basically not going to feel confident, I’m not going to feel good, & I’m going to look for somebody else for validation. Because what I’m usually doing, if I’m not being loyal is I think that the grass is greener on the other side. This could be where you work, it could be a relationship, it could be anything in the world that is associated with once you commit to something, you have to commit to the loyalty of doing & being exactly what you say, & the disappointment, I think, that comes when you don’t do that really does disempower you. 

Rhoda: There’s something just so important about that level of honesty & self-awareness with yourself & that commitment to being authentic, & those hard looks that I remember as a client about, “Oh, my gosh, this is true. I don’t feel good about it, but I’ve got to pay attention to it.” That’s such an important moment. I like that.

Tracy: Yes, I think it is, yeah, definitely. 

Rhoda: Any last points you’d like to add before we close?

Tracy: Basically, if you find yourself with attachment issues, just know you can change it. A lot of times, we’re told unless we find somebody who can be securely attached, which again, I don’t believe securely attach people can make people not insecure, you can temporarily give that idea, but a securely attached person is just not going to go there. So, you really can change your life, & you can change how you feel, & you can get rid of the anxiety that you carry from having insecure attachment, & it’s always out there. Whether you do a program with your therapist, you do a program with Rhoda, you do one with me, wherever you do it, it’s just, if you’re going to make sure that you’re ready to commit to it. Why I say that is if you have avoidant tendencies, you will find problems with everything you endeavor to do, including whatever program or therapist you go to, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t working,” That’s really the insecure attachment speaking. 

Rhoda: I completely agree. Thanks so much for joining me today. Please tell us about your website, the name of your brand-new book once again & your podcast. 

Tracy: So the name of my website is Tracycrossley.com, & it’s Tracy without an E—because otherwise you won’t get that.

Rhoda: That’s right.  

Tracy: Yes, & then my new book, Overcoming Insecure Attachment, it’s available at bookstores everywhere & it came out two weeks ago, & it’s really a how-to on breaking down the styles & changing your attachment style. 

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