What Is Attachment?
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is based on attachment theory, which has a long history that isn’t necessary to learn in order to engage in the process. However, some people hear the word attachment and wonder what it is exactly and why it is so important.
Simply put, attachment is the instinctual drive we all have to be close with others to balance out the effects of a sometimes cold, unfair, and potentially unsafe world. When that drive is met with safety, encouragement, and unconditional love, a secure attachment can form where there is trust and the freedom to relax, let our worldly cares go and our guards down, and just be ourselves with another. We feel belonging and generally good about ourselves.
If the attachment drive has been met with unabated disregard, judgment, ridicule, rejection, neglect, or abuse it confuses things. We still have the instinctual drive to be close, but we don’t necessarily trust ourselves or others when it comes to opening our hearts. The risk that we’ll be hurt again is daunting.
When the chance of love and hurt are associated, things get tough. Consciously or not, we may obsess about whether this time we’re finally connected or about to be left again. Or, we may hide our fear and pain to prove we’re good or strong enough for the other to keep us around. If we’ve been abused, we may entice and charm to keep someone close enough then push that person away to prevent further abuse.
These actions or relationship stances that lessen our worry and pain give us a sense of security but are often misunderstood and get in the way of true attachment. Until we make the yearnings clear and face the fears that drive our behaviors, we can’t learn effective ones that give others the chance to love us for who we are—no more, no less.
The Cold, Wet Blanket of False Security
Couples that seek counseling typically describe hard moments where something seems to take over and make things go haywire when they try to connect and work things out. One way to picture these difficult moments of thwarted attachment is as a cold, wet blanket of false security coming down over the couple, leaving them shivering and lost in the dark right next to each other. It’s lonely and hard to breathe, but if there were some light and fresh air, they could reach out to give and receive warmth and comfort and breathe easy again.
EFT: Tossing the (False) Security Blanket to Build a Secure Attachment
EFT aims to help couples create the safety—the “light and air”—for open and uninhibited talk about deeply-rooted attachment hurts, longings, fears, and needs in order to build the trust that allows us to connect fully and thrive.
The process can be viewed as a workspace in which we build a glass bubble of emotional safety and vulnerability that the couple can enter when needed. When the bubble is big and strong enough to hold the couple and the couple can trust being in the bubble together, they can take it home, being mindful that the bubble is made of glass and needs care.
There may be a cold, wet blanket that occasionally challenges the bubble, but from inside, the couple can see it coming and know that it’s not big or strong enough to smother or break the bubble. It will slide right off and fall away.