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Attachment and Trauma, Pt. I

By Imani Byrd, MS, TLLP

What we experience in our early childhood and our caregivers in learning about empathy, conflict resolution, and our self-worth cannot be understated. Think of this as a cap in the “nurture” argument in the timeless nature versus nurture argument. Our caregivers are usually our primary barometers of how we should feel and behave. For example, if one calls you a “good kid,” then that’s grand! However, if one calls you bad, well then, it must be true because why wouldn’t it be? Kids are not likely to challenge this logic. When posed with maladaptive events as children, especially repetitive ones, we tend to internalize negative opinions as facts. Trauma from childhood tends to stick around and can occur even in “good” households. There is no such thing as “perfect” parents. While we all have some degree of baggage, we try our best to distance ourselves from the past, especially if it evokes pain and anguish. This leads to the development of many maladaptive coping mechanisms. The attachment styles developed in childhood tend to stick with us like glue, lest one actively seeks to change it by themselves or in therapy. One’s primary attachment style is founded from their earliest attachment relationships.

Secure Adults: Secure Style

Folks with this attachment style were raised in a consistent, reliable, and caring manner. The world is seen as a generally safe place, and others are not tasked as “threats,” but as dependable and supportive (unless otherwise stated). People with this attachment style can adaptively express their feelings to others and to themselves and are not as concrete in their thinking. They tend to be more dependable, have stronger support systems, and ultimately more responsive to others than other styles listed below. The following is a sample of various attachment styles. The characteristics listed under the following styles are not meant to be indicative of every person who may have them.

Avoidant Adults: Dismissive Style

Folks with this attachment style often have vague and non-specific early childhood memories. They avoid intimacy and close affective involvements. These individuals experienced caregivers as not nurturing, dismissive, and critical. Avoidant adults are uncomfortable with closeness and intimacy. They can be emotionally distant, uncomfortable expressing needs, or asking for help; contrarily, people with this attachment style also present as cool, controlled, and ambitious. They often do not remember much of their childhood. They avoid conflict, tend to be passive-aggressive, and sarcastic. They don’t want to rely on anyone, fearing dependency or being perceived as weak.

Ambivalent Adults: Preoccupied Style

People with this attachment style tend to tell over-detailed stories, suggesting a lack of resolution. These adults had parents who alternated between warm availability and cold rejection – two extremes of attachment. Adults with this attachment style can be bossy and controlling, often do not like rules and authority; however, this can be juxtaposed with their creativity, adventurousness, and charisma.

Disorganized Adults: Disorganized Style

“Disorganized” is an apt name for this type of attachment style – those with it do not have an organized approach to relationships. Often these adults exhibit behaviors that suggest a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. They run very hot and cold, with unpredictable and intense changes in mood and behavior. As children, they had histories of abuse, neglect, or severe loss. Their parents can be characterized as unresponsive, inconsistent, punitive, and insensitive. Others, real or perceived, are cast as unavailable, threatening, and an inevitable source of pain. Adults with this attachment style evoke many antisocial behaviors such as lack of empathy and remorse; they also tend to be selfish, controlling, disregard authority, and refuse personal responsibility for their actions. The severity of their attachment trauma makes one with this style more susceptible to a myriad of emotional, social, and behavioral concerns, many of which will affect their day-to-day functioning. Adults with this attachment style are at much higher risk for consequences of adverse childhood events such as substance abuse, abusing their own children, and other illicit behaviors.

My name is Imani Byrd, and I primarily work at the Ann Arbor-Arlington location in Ann Arbor, MI. I am an outpatient mental health therapist trained in clinical behavioral psychology and applied behavior analysis, albeit most of my experience is with inpatient populations. I offer both in-person and telehealth appointments. I primarily work within the modalities of cognitive-behavioral therapies, particularly Dialectical Behavior Therapy, in order to sufficiently target and challenge one’s thoughts and behaviors. I have experience working with a variety of adult populations in various intense populations such as those with traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse, autism spectrum disorders, survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and people who were currently and/or formerly incarcerated. It is my goal as a therapist to offer comprehensive and culturally competent services to my clients to help them as best I can with their respective issues. I am always eager to take on new challenges and earn new information and am happy to be an employee of Heron Ridge and Associates.

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