When I worked in trauma therapy, I was convinced I had all the tools to make relationships work. I knew how to have Difficult Conversations, how to read people’s emotions, how to understand where they were coming from and how their minds worked. I told myself I knew how to put aside my anger and my hurt and hear what the other person really wanted to say.
But like Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
While it might be tempting to think that your attachment can be fixed with workbooks or courses, insight alone doesn’t prepare you for the complexity of relationships. You need to rewire your brain through healthy relational situations, so that your new healthier reflexes can take over when the pressure is on.
If you’re hoping to find a way to heal attachment outside of therapy, I’m… going to disappoint you. Since attachment trauma is something that happens in the space between us and another person, it requires a relationship with an other to heal.
“The effects [of attachment] on neurochemistry can be reversed through the provision of warm, responsive, boundaried and predictable relationships.”
-Dr. David Shemmings
Instead of learning how to replace a need for relationships in our lives, this page will show you how to find them.
Working By Yourself
Just like physical wounds, emotional wounds kept in the darkness fester and grow toxic. The more we hide our pain, the bigger the reaction when it gets touched. Rather than learn to suppress our reactions, the only healthy thing to do is to expose our wounds to the light and air.
If your situation doesn’t allow work with a therapist right now, there are some tools that can help your self-exploration in the Shadow section of the website (coming soon).
As for what you can start work on right now: learning how to practice authenticity in person is the fastest, most powerful way to start to change subconscious beliefs about being unacceptable. It’s absolutely terrifying at first, but incredibly freeing.
Finding a Therapist
Regardless of what style of therapy is offered, I recommend choosing a therapist based on how open they are about their journey… and how compatible their attachment style is with yours.
Therapists specialize in types of therapy that work with their own tendencies. A lot of cognitive therapists are avoidant, since reframing is a natural defense mechanism for them. And it doesn’t take a large leap to guess what attachment style therapists have, who specialize in anxiety.
While getting an avoidant therapist to help you with your anxious attachment might somehow be super rewarding in the end, you’d be picking a hard road for yourself.
What should you do if you don’t know your therapist’s attachment style? Ask!
Any therapist who’s unable (or unwilling) to answer that is someone who isn’t comfortable with their attachment.
If they haven’t gone to earned-secure themselves, they clearly haven’t found an answer. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad therapist, but it does mean your attachment issues probably won’t get better.
Types of Therapy
First, I want to make clear that I have my own biases due to personal experiences and interests. There may be multiple styles of therapy that are efficient for attachment trauma.
However, these are the methods that are the most supported in independent research and in my own clinical experience. They also offer certification and systematized training, so therapists have to put in significant effort to say they offer these.
It’s weird to make my top recommendation something that I’m not trained in, but many of my colleagues swear by this. It’s effective for all kinds of complex trauma, including borderline personality disorder. Best of all, it’s easily adaptable to an online format so you’re not limited by location, and the training is pretty consistent.
This is pretty much the modern gold standard of working with attachment trauma. Created by Dr. Sue Johnson, the author of Love Sense, it follows specific steps to overcoming unhealthy attachments by… building healthy attachments.
This is traditionally best suited to couples, but they offer therapy strategies for individuals too.
Ask your therapist if they’ve done the EFT training that’s right for your situation.
Jungian Analysis/Analytic Psychology
Psychoanalysis isn’t very popular in North America, because it’s deeply personal, subjective… and isn’t a quick fix.Focused on making your subconscious conscious, it helps you understand all your instinctive patterns that sabotage your life. More importantly, it helps you accept what you truly want.
Finding a good analyst is difficult (and potentially expensive), but in my opinion is the best route to a true transformation.
Sidenote: Bowlby himself (the creator of attachment theory) was a trained psychoanalyst.
Freudian psychoanalysis has a similar focus on the unconscious, and is much easier to find a therapist. However, Bowlby’s work contradicts some core teachings of Freud, and he was professionally ostracized by Freudians while alive. Many Freudian analysts in my experience tend to be DA as well.
As with any other of these approaches, make sure to ask your potential therapist about their views on attachment and their own style.
Imago Relationship Therapy (Couples)
Along with EFT, this probably boasts the highest success rate of helping couples get out of the anxious-avoidant loop. Designed by a married pair of Psychologists, they’ve spent their lives treating couples – as a couple.
Technically IRT isn’t an attachment-based method because they decided to invent their own names for attachment styles, but it’s the same concepts.
So, what next?
My best recommendation is to read up a little on the therapies I listed, then start looking for someone trained in what you liked the most.
As long as your therapist has relevant training, the main thing is that you feel that they’re honest and up-front about who they are. Attachment traumas come from relationships where trust wasn’t an option, so finding someone safe to trust is the first step.