At the start of a school year, our thoughts usually center around our kids. We want to make sure they are set up for success and have what they need to flourish and grow. But sometimes we focus so much on what our kids need or how we think our kids should behave that we forget about our own reactions and responses. No matter how much we want to, we can’t pass down to our kids what we don’t have.
This is why understanding our attachment pattern is so important. Over the years, I’ve learned that healing from an insecure attachment pattern is like peeling layers from an onion. Just when you think you are restored and whole in one sphere of your life, another layer peels off. Healing takes years of intentional growth, honesty, patience, and prayer.
However, we do not dig up the past to create more hurt; we dig up the past to expose the roots of our hurt and learn how to move toward healing that includes forgiveness. Our present pain is not only a result of others’ choices but also our own choices and sin nature. As David says in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” So, what came first in our lives? Our mother’s sin or our own?
The answer, like David said, is both.
And David’s remedy is our remedy as well: “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). No matter the source of our sin, God can free us from our pain and teach us the truth about ourselves if we listen. Our healing is found in the secret place of truth-telling times with Him.
An honest assessment of our attachment style helps us tell ourselves the truth about how we were attached in the past and how that attachment plays out in our present circumstances so that we can be set free from patterns of sin and pain in our lives, forgive our parents, and move toward others in confidence and love.
But how do you know if the relational patterns you see in your life now can be traced back to insecure attachment patterns from the past? Professional psychologists have researched this for decades, so let’s borrow their wisdom as we pursue this path of healing.
ATTACHMENT IN ADULTS
How does the way we connected to our parents or primary caregivers through secure, avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized attachment affect our relationships in the here and now? Therapist Dr. Gregg Jantz came up with the following four questions to ask yourself to determine your attachment style.
- Am I worthy of being loved?
- Am I able to do what I need to do to get the love I need?
- Are other people reliable and trustworthy?
- Are other people accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them?
ADULTS WITH SECURE ATTACHMENT
Securely attached adults can answer those four questions this way:
- Yes, I am worthy of being loved.
- Yes, I am able to do what I need to do to get the love I need.
- Yes, other people are reliable and trustworthy.
- Yes, other people are accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them.
ADULTS WITH INSECURE-AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT
Adults with insecure-avoidant attachment would answer the four questions this way:
- I am worthy of being loved not for who I am but for what I can do.
- I am able to do what I need to do to get the love I need because I give it to myself.
- No, other people are not reliable and trustworthy, so I need to rely only on myself.
- No, other people are not accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them, so I need to take care of myself.
ADULTS WITH INSECURE-AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT
If insecure-avoidant attachment is based on parents being unavailable to meet their children’s needs, insecure-ambivalent attachment is based on parents who are inconsistent in meeting their children’s needs. Therefore, insecure-ambivalent adults would answer the four questions this way:
- Sometimes I am worthy of being loved and sometimes I’m not. I am constantly working to secure other people’s love and approval.
- I am always afraid others will leave or abandon me and that my needs will not be met.
- It is very hard for me to trust that other people are reliable and trustworthy; it is very hard for me to even trust myself.
- No, other people are not accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them, so I vacillate between attempting to control their responses through my own neediness or anger.
ADULTS WITH INSECURE-DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT
Since the disorganized pattern of attachment is often the product of trauma or extreme inconsistency in one’s childhood, adults with this type of attachment would answer Dr. Jantz’s four questions this way:
- No, I am not worthy of being loved.
- No, I am not able to do what I need to do to get the love I need.
- No, other people are not reliable and trustworthy.
- No, other people are not accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them.
LOOKING TO REBUILD
Remembering our past and assessing our present-day relationships honestly and accurately takes a great deal of margin, time, and courage. Remembering is not an act we do in a moment; remembering can take a lifetime. But to heal and restore in our present, we must remember our past and learn to tell our stories in honest and truthful ways.
We must also remember and work through the impact our past has on our attachment style and the way we live in the present. If we do not, we will continue to live out of the wreckage of the past instead of stepping out into a rebuilt, healed, and free future.
Part of becoming an adult in the family of God is taking responsibility for your own actions and learning how to look to God as your Father, no matter how wonderful or how hurtful your earthly parents might have been.
If the thought of doing this overwhelms you, I completely understand. It was overwhelming to me as well. But there are tangible, practical steps you can take toward healing—one day, one step, one relationship, memory, or situation at a time.
As we courageously choose to look to our heavenly Father, we can heal from the past and love the people in our present and future well. So, keep reading, keep learning, and keep walking toward restoration. Healing and rebuilding are coming.
Want to understand more about attachment styles in adults and how to pursue healing? Check out Susannah’s book, Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds.