If you have read my website you will know that I am very interested in attachment styles. Research done by Dr. John Bowlby and his associate Mary Main in the 1940's showed us that infants have a potential of 4 different styles of relating to their primary caregivers: Secure (the ideal, healthy pattern), Anxious-Ambivalent (sometimes called Angry-Resistant), Anxious-Avoidant and Disorganized (sometimes called "Cannot Classify"). These 4 patterns have proven to be extremely useful in predicting adult behaviors in romantic relationships as well as parenting behaviors.
If you are interested to find out what your attachment style is there are several ways to go about this. The "gold standard" has always been to have the Adult Attachment Interview administered by a trained researcher. This is the instrument used in research to identify attachment patterns in adults. However finding a therapist who is trained to administer this instrument can be difficult! Another adult attachment test that has been developed is the Adult Attachment Projective. However, this also needs to be done by a trained professional and not all cities (and certainly most rural areas) have anyone who has this type of training.
In an effort to find a method for people to determine their adult attachment classification I have tried various self-administered tests. The one that I have found to be most useful is on the website of psychologist Diane Poole Heller. Her self-administered test can be done online and gives you results immediately. Rather than being fully categorical (meaning you can only have one classification), her test creates a pie chart showing you what percent of your responses line up with a particular style. This is much more in keeping with what I see as a clinician-- that in some situations a person will look anxious-ambivalent, but in other situations they may look more anxious-avoidant for example. I think her approach makes sense clinically and is also easy for a lay person to understand.
For a really great understanding of how your attachment style impacts your romantic relationships I strongly recommend listening to Dr. Stan Tatkin's MP3 download, "Your Brain On Love". It explains in plain English how your childhood attachment style influences your romantic relationships in adulthood.
Remember, even those of us who came into adulthood with insecure attachment styles can learn new ways of being. With the help of a good therapist we can learn to re-pattern our ways of relating to mimic those of secure functioning couples. This can bring increased harmony, enjoyment, intimacy and stability to our relationships. Thanks to neuroplasticity we all have a chance at the benefits of a secure attachment to that special person.
I've decided to keep a reading list in case anyone is interested in the same kind of uber-nerdy psychologically oriented stuff as me. So here goes!
I just finished a book entitled Love 2.0 by Barbara L. Frederickson, Ph.D.. Good stuff. Basically the book is about the positive impact that love has on us as human beings. As I tell all of my patients, humans are "hard-wired" for connection (just ask poor Harlow's monkeys). So it's no surprise that when researchers such as Dr. Frederickson study the impact of love on things like health they find that love matters. For example, people who reported more loving contacts with others during the day had significantly better "vagal tone". Vagal tone is the relative health of the vagus nerve, the largest nerve in the body. The vagus nerve is responsible for your ability to recover from the fight or flight response. So after being scared or threatened (when your heart rate naturally accelerates) your vagus nerve helps the heart rate to slow back down to its normal pace. The better your vagal tone, the faster your heart rate recovers. People who report a higher number of loving connections during the day (this can be a warm hug from a friend, a sweet text from your significant other, etc.) have better vagal tone. They are literally healthier than people who have less positive social connections. Vagal tone is associated with heart disease also, and since heart disease is still the #1 killer in America, vagal tone should be important to us all. Vagal tone is also related to the strength of one's immune system, especially regarding inflammatory responses. Inflammation is implicated in things such as arthritis, strokes, diabetes and some gastrointestinal disorders. So again vagal tone is something we should be thinking about.
Dr. Frederickson gives lots of encouraging information about how we can improve the amount of "love" we get in our lives. For example she has found that just thinking about a loving exchange with someone we care about can cause the same health improvements as having that exchange. So sitting at your desk and remembering the big hug you got yesterday from your close friend can actually re-create the positive effect of that hug right then and there at your desk. There are precious few things we can do sitting at our desk that are going to improve our health, so I think this finding is very encouraging!
Another recommendation that Dr. Frederickson. makes is to practice LKM. This is Loving Kindness Meditation, a buddhist tradition. She gives explicit instructions on how to do LKM (it's quite easy) and explains-- you guessed it-- the numerous mental and physical health benefits of it. I especially appreciate that she explains how to do LMK if you have problems loving yourself (as many people do). Part of LKM can be directing loving feelings towards oneself, and that is not always easy if you come from a dysfunctional family where you were lead to believe that there were major things wrong with you. She gives some "work arounds" for this problem which I found very helpful.
If you are interested in research on the impact of positive social connections (aka "love") I think you will find this book very readable and informative. It doesn't focus on romantic love (so the title may seem a bit misleading) but does a great job of expanding our ideas about what love means and how it can influence our emotional and physical health.
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
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