On being ignored, forgotten or abandoned
1 December 2015
From my window seat, I was enjoying watching the early Saturday coffee addicts flock into the café for their various flat whites, cappuccinos and espressos – or at least I was for the first ten minutes. But, during the next five, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that my friend had forgotten we were supposed to be meeting for a long overdue catch-up. At times like this, there is often a choice of internal conversations to follow, and by the time I’d sat for twenty minutes on my own I began to indulge a few childhood voices. Some remembered being ignored, others the embarrassment of being forgotten; and then came the memory most often worked on in my own twice-weekly analysis: the sorrow of abandonment. So, what are these often strong feelings based on?
In the very early months and years of our lives we build up particular ways of relating to people. This is referred to in the therapeutic world as our attachment pattern. The research into attachment patterns was originally conducted in relation to children and their parents.* These early attachment patterns are referred to as Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent/Anxious and Disorganised. Later research has suggested equivalent patterns of attachment in adults to their significant intimate partners.** In other words, once attachment patterns are established it then becomes the way we relate in our intimate relationships.
People who had the opportunity to form Secure attachments as children also tend to form Secure attachments as adults. The Secure person has a desire for close connections with others and has a sense of a positive view of her or himself. Not surprisingly the Secure personality holds positive views about partners and their relationships.
The adult Dismissive personality is associated with those who had avoidant attachments as children. People with Dismissive personalities are largely characterised by being more separate, inward and isolated. Relationships and emotional life tend to be viewed as relatively unimportant. The cerebral takes precedence and feelings are suppressed – including distancing themselves from others.
Ambivalent/Anxious children often become Preoccupied personalities in adulthood. Self-critical and insecure, the Preoccupied adult seeks approval and reassurance from those around him/her even though this never provides the sought relief from self-doubt. In relationships, this type of personality imagines they will be further rejected which, in turn, creates more anxiety, over-dependence, lack of trust and emotional desperation.
The Fearful-Avoidant personality has its connections with the childhood Disorganised pattern of attachment: i.e. in childhood there was a detaching of feelings at times of trauma, and this persists into adulthood. There is a desire to be involved in relationships until the point at which the relationship develops emotional closeness. This becomes the trigger for the repressed feelings from early life to become live triggers in the here-and-now, which are then experienced as if they are happening in the present moment. This makes it very difficult to have a coherent sense of (your)self with the corollary that it makes intimate connections with others equally challenging.
By the time I left the café, it transpired I’d had quite a mental workout. Assured that I can still rely on my own Secure attachment, I wandered through the already stressed shoppers pondering whether my friend’s lie-in had been as interesting as my own solo coffee encounter. Perhaps, I thought, I should enjoy my own company more – but that might just have been the edge of some Dismissive personality traits talking.
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