Kate* is a professional woman in her 30s. She’s got it all going for her. She’s got a good job, has good friends and has great holidays. Kate’s always been an independent woman. She’s done her own thing and relied on her resources to cope and get by in life. Kate’s felt a sense of loneliness and struggled to find a partner but she has put that down to her being too busy with work and not having time for dating. As she’s approaching her late 30s Kate’s starting to wonder if there is more to life.
Similarly, Jake* is a professional who has friends, but many of those are now starting to have a family and there are less and less of drinking buddies. He has some dating history but nothing much has come out of those. He would start dating and after a while when things started to get more serious in the relationship, he would feel like there were so many demands on him, he would freak out and break up the relationship.
Did you relate to Kate and Jake’s experiences? Do you find yourself being fiercely independent? You are probably very good at all things technical. Is it quite difficult for you to connect with people and it feels scary even thinking about having a relationship with another? Perhaps you have found a relationship, but as things develop and there is more intimacy you feel trapped or start fault finding.
I wanted to write this post, as I see many people suffering because of their sense of being alone in the world and being fiercely independent. My aim here is a talk about how this avoidant way of relating with others may leave you feeling alone, isolated and deeply distrustful of relationships, and help you to understand how you might start moving towards more fulfilling relationships.
What lies beneath being fiercely independent?
You may be aware of how you have developed to be so independent or perhaps not. John Bowlby introduced the idea of different attachment styles referring to the way initially children form a bond with their primary caregiver, typically the mother, and then a different attachment style can be developed with the second parent or another caregiver.
Our brains are hardwired for connection. Having an understanding that we have people who we can turn to when needed makes us feel safe and secure. Materials things are secondary, even if important. Secure attachment style is developed when a parent is consistently in tune with the child’s emotional needs and you grow up thinking that if and when you need someone, they will be there for you. This type of attachment later on in adult relationships means that one is trusting, able to have own space in a relationship without being fearful of the other person letting you down, and is able to repair any disruptures in the relationship.
Often very independent individuals who, for example, base their self-worth on work, have developed an avoidant attachment style or attachment adaptation, as Diane Poole-Heller calls it. This is when you grow up thinking that when you need someone, there isn’t anyone available.
Early messages on relationships and feelings
It may be that emotions were not talked about in your family, your emotions were not recognised by your early care-givers or there could have been a lot of medical procedures interrupting relationship with your mother or another primary care-giver. Alternatively, there might have been a lot of focus on academic achievement and being independent early on, with the message: “don’t be clingy or needy”. Clients often talk about this in their families as having either silent or verbalised culture of just getting on with things, being distant with parents and having a sense of lack or absence of parental input. Parents might have been looking after physical needs but not emotionally present.
If you grew up with the message, that you need to just get on with things on your own and it is very difficult to ask for help and trust that other people might want to help you. Perhaps you tell yourself that “I don’t need anyone”. If you have developed an avoidant attachment style, relationships can be very hard for you and make you feel really uncomfortable, as you growing up you did not receive the other as reliable, warm and caring. You may also be interested in reading another post I wrote recently about “6 signs that fear of rejection is killing your relationship”, which you can find here.
Poole-Heller says that it takes a while for someone with an avoidant attachment adaption to readjust their attachment system to having connections with others as you are not expecting another person to connect with you. Therefore, this is important for a partner of a person with an avoidant attachment to know. The person needs time and it can be frustrating for others who have a different way of relating.
“No man is an island” – How can we start moving towards better connections?
Would you like to break the cycle of isolation and loneliness?
Do you often long for connection but fear that no one would reciprocate it? Perhaps you avoid or find social situations very awkward. You are not alone. We are here to connect with others and support each other.
The first step in starting to form more fulfilling connections with people is recognising that your style of relating may be hurting you. Sometimes, it is difficult to see how your relationship patterns are affecting you, because you don’t have any other experience. Take some time to think about what it feels like when someone is making contact with you. Notice what happens in your body. Attachment experiences are stored in the body (Poole-Heller).
Then it is about paying more attention to those moments of connection you have in your life. Start to notice any, even small opportunities for connecting with others even if it is with a supermarket check-out person. If you have always in the past ignored them, perhaps look them in the eye and connect with them in small talk. Allow the other person to connect with you. I understand that this can be very anxiety provoking for you and you may need to take small steps to practice. Embrace the good relationships in your life! Who are the most supportive of you and pay less attention to those that are not there for you. You may also be interested in another article I wrote: 5 Ways to Increase Wholeness.
Embrace your inner child, the one that did not receive love and care when growing up. Give your internal child what you did not receive. Approach your inner child with self-compassion and self-love. This may initially feel very difficult.
Make a conscious effort in allowing people to help you when they offer it. You don’t have to always be able to cope on your own.
If you are struggling and would like to start moving towards a more secure way of relating with others, professional help may be needed to help you to connect better with others.
You may also be interested in reading more and this post on Ending the emptiness and loneliness of Childhood Emotional Neglect may be of use to you.
Does it feel like you have been feeling alone and disconnected for long enough? If you would like to form more fulfilling relationships, psychological therapy supporting and nurturing your inner child and working on better ways of relating with others could help you to move towards an acquired secure attachment. Now it is your time to have the relationships you long to have. In a confidential and healing environment of therapy, you could learn to tolerate the anxiety relationships cause and how you can be more open to love and being cared for.
If you are looking for a therapist, take a look at my services page here. I understand that this step may feel very anxiety provoking.
Alternatively, you can contact now to arrange your FREE 15 min consultation to discuss how therapy could support you.
*The names and case examples do not refer to any actual present or past clients, but are combinations of many life stories I have heard over the years.
Bolby, J. (1968)
Levine, A. & Heller, R. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love
Poole-Heller, D. Therapy Master Mind & Attachment training
©2017 Dr Mari Kovanen, CPsychol. All rights reserved.