Recently, some of you took a quiz to find out what your usual way of relating to others is: Secure, or not? And if you have a Secure attachment style, celebrate and enjoy! You’re already set up to do the things that sustain love for life.
But if you have a Non-Secure style, and you’d like to get closer to Security, how do you do that? Notice & Redirect.
Notice when you’re doing whatever it is you want to change. Then, redirect your thoughts to align with reality by comparing your thoughts and behaviors against what is really going on.
What we say to ourselves in the redirect depends on our goals. People with the Anxious style definitely want attachment; people with either of the Avoidant styles aren’t so sure. They need to use the redirect to move towards intimacy despite their hesitations. Finally, repeat this process thousands and thousands of times, as new situations and fears arise.
Let’s try an example with each of the Non-Secure styles:
Carol, newly involved with Manny, doesn’t hear from him one evening, and she feels sure he’s lost interest. Her thoughts quickly jump from, “I can’t trust him—he doesn’t really want me,” to “Nobody’s trustworthy,” or, “I always want men more than they want me. Here we go again.”
First, Carol needs to notice. Without judging herself or beating herself up over it, she simply needs to catch herself at it. She might say to herself: “I’m feeling afraid and unworthy. Let’s stop and look at the facts.” Shaming keeps us stuck; but noticing is the gateway to change.
Second, Carol needs to redirect her thinking to line up with what’s happening right now: “Well, Manny called me three times today; that’s not really a sign of disinterest, even though I feel scared.” Of course, if Manny hasn’t called in weeks, Carol has a point and her concern is based on facts aside from her Non-Secure style! Third, Carol needs to repeat this process whenever she begins feeling insecure, threatened, or scared.
Ted has been dating Jessica for several months. One day after lunch, she suggests a walk together. His emotions hear “life together.” And it doesn’t sound good—it sounds like being needed too much.
Ted starts by noticing, without judging: “I’m feeling afraid of Jessica needing me.” “I feel like I’m suffocating.” Then, he can redirect to override his fear and move towards intimacy with her: “I want intimacy—feeling afraid isn’t hurting me, it’s just that same old feeling.” “I’m usually the one who brings up spending time together. She’s not tying me down.”
Finally, he can repeat this process whenever he feels overwhelmed, hemmed in, or scared.
Lucy and Jack have been out together five times, and Lucy’s getting verrry uncomfortable with Jack’s steady interest: “Great. Now he thinks he’s my boyfriend. He’s thinking I’m his property and I can’t date anyone else. I have news for him—I don’t belong to anyone.”
Lucy needs to begin by non-judgmentally noticing her thoughts: “Hello there, Me. Still independent, I see.” Then, she can redirect: “He hasn’t said a word about trying to control me. Maybe I can see how he really behaves, instead of forecasting what he’ll do.” Or, “Other people have found ways to hang onto who they are and have a good relationship. Why not me?”
Last, she can repeat the notice-redirect every time she feels the urge to leave a relationship, or fears a loss of independence.
That’s it. It’s simple, but it sure isn’t easy. Yet over time, it’s a solution for those of us who don’t want to wait for luck to step in.
Is the continuous effort worth it, just to have greater stability and less fear and more love? Well, I did it—I am *still* doing it—and I think so. I hope you’ll try it for yourself and see. Your life is your own experiment, your own exercise in seeing what does and doesn’t work. I’ve shown you what has worked for my clients and me. If it doesn’t work for you, you can stop. But trying out these validated strategies is worth a shot, don’t you think?
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015; this entry is a partial excerpt. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!