Forgive me a brief foray into pop psychology. I read the very interesting and informative book Attached (by Dr Amir Levine and Rachel Heller MA) today and I think more people would benefit from knowing about it, hence this post!
In essence, Attached delivers a scientific explanation why some relationships thrive over a lifetime, while others crash and burn, based on the human need for attachment and the three different styles of it (secure, anxious, avoidant).
To quote from the book: “Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving. Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimise closeness. In addition, people with each of these attachments styles differ in:
- their view of intimacy and togetherness;
- the way they deal with conflict;
- their attitude toward sex;
- their ability to communicate their wishes and needs; and
- their expectations from their partner and their relationship.”
To find your attachment style, you answer a series of questions. This will tell you both how you generally are and also (very interestingly I thought) how you are in situations such as in an argument with a loved one. It also distinguishes your attachment style in relation to particular others: to your father, your mother, your friends and your partner (or if you don’t have one, your imagined partner).
You can find out your attachment style here: there is an option A (short) and option B (longer). If you select option B, you will be sent an email each month asking you to take the test again. Over time you’ll therefore build up a record of your answers, which is apparently very useful (and actually there’s evidence that people who answer the test more than three times tend to become more ‘secure’, which is the place to be.) They also have interesting blog posts, like this one and this one, with findings from their aggregated data.
A moment I found fascinating in Attached is their explanation of what happens when you meet up again with an ex (See page 210, which I’ll quote almost in full because it’s so succinct).
One of Amir’s colleagues at Columbia university, an expert in the psychobiology of mother-infant attachment, found that when rat pups are separated from their mothers a number of psychological reactions occur: “their activity level goes down, their heart rate goes down, so does their growth hormone level.”
In these studies “he gradually replaced each maternal attribute with an artificial substitute: he first warmed the pups with a heating pad, then fed them so their stomachs would be full, and later patted them with a brush, imitating their mother’s licking action. He found that each intervention helped with one aspect of their separation distress. Feeding the pups helped maintain their heart rate at a normal level, warming them helped keep their activity levels intact, and brushing them helped raise their growth hormone secretion.”
“But only one intervention alleviated all the symptoms at once, and that was the reunion with the mother.”
The authors go on to note that humans are similar in this respect, and explain that this is why it is so tempting, and reassuring, to see one’s ex soon after a breakup. I would also guess that this is why it is so painful when a loved one dies; a reunion is impossible. (I must admit I have felt this recently because my beloved family dog died a couple of weeks ago at the majestic age of 16 and a half.)
Taking the idea the other way, in a similar way to the heat pads warming the pups, we have to find our own ways of fulfilling ourselves after something like this. (With me this has taken the form of stroking any dog that comes near me!)
There’s lots more of interest in Attached, particularly around improving your relationship skills, but I’ll leave it here for the moment. Thanks for reading!