In our last blog, we focused on the life of “Dismissive Danny”, and the tragic struggle that comes from living a life with minimal awareness that what happens in our lives matters, leaving us to follow rules above the value of relationships. We looked at the importance of ‘coming alive’, and practical ways to move in that direction.
Let us now shift our focus to “Distracted David.”
SNAPSHOT: DISMISSIVE ATTACHMENT PATTERN
“Distracted/ Anxious David”
David has a strong desire to relate well and care about those in his life. Whichever person or event is the most demanding is the one that grabs his attention. He lives with ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil” syndrome. People do know they are important to him when a crisis occurs, but if nothing urgent is being presented to David, they may not know his true response. Due to the crises of the moment, responsibilities often are not taken care of, which results in frustration with him by others.
When David has a need in his own life, he is distracted from his life responsibilities as he seeks someone to meet his need. When he has found someone, he tends to become overly dependent for a period of time, being paralyzed and not functioning as he wishes. These adults often have a secret. Although David feels guilty and has tried repeatedly to stop, he continues to be drawn to pornography (or food, television, alcohol, compulsive reading, drugs, nicotine….) He tries to remind himself that he will hate himself later, but the urge for personal excitement, both physically and emotionally, is stronger than his self-discipline. The day’s most barren of personal affirmation and tenderness are the ones he most often gives in to his addiction. His life is governed by chaos more than by his values and goals.
Description of Upbringing:
David’s parents truly desired to give their child the attention and love needed, yet they were often distracted from doing so by other issues in life that riveted their emotional attention. Whatever situation had the most emotional intensity determined their focus. This inconsistency in availability, sensitivity, perceptivity, and effectiveness left David with a sense of uncertainty, giving him an urgent and constant need for comfort from external interactions. At times, his parents remembered their desire to love their child without tuning in to his specific needs at the time. This lack of sensitivity resulted in emotionally engulfing David. He felt overwhelmed and anxious regarding future interactions. Internally David was consumed with and driven by emotional doubts of one form or another. (Am I loved? Will the person leave me? Am I going to be rejected? Will their need to love me drown my needs for timely synchronization?) Along with this undercurrent, David was a very caring child who gravitated to the ‘underdogs’ and he received great appreciation from those he helped. He learned this was a great way to receive the attention he craved.
David recognized the importance of love and giving care and he was driven to be a ‘caregiver.’
He had been conditioned as he grew to focus on the emotionally demanding situations in life, and thus his mind tracked these types of situations. He learned to attach to emotional crises more than to people. This resulted in his being ‘off and on‘ in relationships, depending on the emotional intensity of the moment. His preoccupation and demanding situations resulted in his being unreliable relationally as well as with day-to-day responsibilities. David’s insecurity played out with him demanding the spotlight, being appreciated and respected. Even though he desired to gain security from his relationships, he gravitated toward a relationship with people who were demanding or frustrated with him.
Relational Connection with God:
David lives with an undercurrent of anxiety and driven-ness in pursuing emotional highs and circumstances being ‘fixed’ as evidence of God’s love. David is more familiar with ‘excitement’ and ‘joy’ than with internal shalom, inner calm and peace.
What are some practical ways to help bring ourselves and others into a space of calm and increased confidence?
Let’s start with reminding ourselves that when our relationships are going well, we do well. When we lose someone special or our relationships are in turmoil, we go into turmoil. How well do I feel sheltered and stable in what God feels for me and His care? And with others? When we feel secure in a relationship- with God and or people- we can easily regain stability when encountering a rough spot in life. Everything revolves around our need for secure relationships. We need to purposefully engage in activities that move us from our insecure patterns into an internal space where we can grow in Secure Attachments. With God, others and ourselves.
People caught in anxiety or distracted by crisis situations are not living in the present but in their fears. Minds swim rehearsing what went wrong in the past, the “what ifs” and what could have possibly made it different. Or the mind gets caught into future predictions of what might go wrong and possible ways to prevent imagined future events from going bad. Neither allows a person to be grounded in the here and now.
Research has shown that the main predictor of good mental health is a mind that is able to get back to calm quickly from emotional surges. Thus, it is important for us to train ourselves to get back to calm.
“David” and those of us who at times are caught up in heightened levels of anxiety are in need of getting back to a place of inner calm. To live in an internal ‘soup’ of adrenalin and cortisol results in damage to our physical well-being along with our emotional well-being. Adrenalin is a hormone produced to help give people the energy to address a problem. Cortisol is a hormone that would be similar to gushing water from a water hydrant onto a burning fire. Both are important resources to help us in time of need, but if they continue flowing within us for long periods of time, the side effects are detrimental.
Unlike those who are living from a pattern of dismissiveness that can use the practice of mindfulness as a means of waking up, the practice of mindfulness can also be used in a way of settling the nervous system. Taking time out to ‘scan’ our bodies and recognize what we are feeling, both emotionally and where it is settling in our bodies is the first step in being able to ‘shake the tension’ away.
We can Incorporate into our mindfulness different grounding techniques for the purpose of getting to the present rather than spinning in rehearsals of the past or fearful predictions of the future.
Different grounding techniques for the purpose of getting to the present rather than spinning in rehearsals of the past or fearful predictions of the future. Activities, like tightening the area of my body (shoulders/ jaw / legs…) that is holding the angst and then releasing the tension, can increase relief. When we release the tightness and restrictions in our bodies, we better regulate our heart rate and the flow of blood to our brains, increasing our ability to regulate our emotions, inhibit reactivity and have access to rational rather than reactive thinking. We can also develop the habit of deep breathing, letting the exhale be longer than the intake. Adding in the awareness of our attachment with God, I might mentally say something like the following as I breathe:
Intake: When I am afraid,
Exhale: I will put my trust in Thee.
Practicing Appreciation is a good grounding tool, taking our focus to something or someone whom we appreciate starts to bring us out of anxiety. Working towards keeping ourselves in an active focus for several minutes of what we appreciate is good for our nervous systems. What do we recall regarding the smell, color, texture, and taste? What do we value about it?
Using the 5 senses God wove into us in the formative year of life can be powerfully helpful. (Ideally, the senses were originally used throughout the developmental stages in strengthening bonds with those who loved and cared for us. They can be either stimulating or calming. In this case, we are wanting to ‘play detective’ to discover ways to increase calm.) I will give a few ideas so as to get your creative thinking going as you tailor ideas to yourselves and others. Remember, everyone is unique and what benefits one does not necessarily benefit another.
One possibility to introduce fragrances is through essential oil. There are some called Peace and Calm, Stress Relief, Lavender…
Safe touch is calming. At times, the touch may need to be through a fuzzy blanket or stuffed animal, stroking a pet, or noticing the smoothness of a rock or one’s feet on the floor can bring a person away from the heightened anxiety.
Using taste might be a challenge for some people who have eating disorders, but a mug of warm tea or broth can be soothing. Or a glass of cool water.
The lighting and ambiance in a room can make a significant difference. Some people prefer a dim light, while others feel more secure with bright lighting.
Music flows through our brains using different pathways than words and can be powerful in regulating our moods. Sometimes one can be more effectively calmed with instrumental music. At other times, ones’ nervous system can be grounded into a relational awareness using songs with words.
These grounding practices not only benefit us, but we can bring all these ideas above as we relate with others who are caught up in a whirlwind of angst.
It is most helpful if we can join them in ways that do not add to their anxiety, but bring our ‘calmness’ into their lives?” To recognize that God and/ or another person is understanding and ‘with me’ is powerful. Then it is easier to incorporate the other tools in our toolbox to take ourselves and others towards peace.
I want to acknowledge the importance of life’s impact on the anxious person, including the impact on their bodies. I want to help slow down the fast pace within them. Hopefully, my response will saturate within in a way that seeps validation and comfort that they are not alone. From there I can more easily guide them further into a space of inner calm.
Helpful responses could sound something like the following. “Wow! That would jar my world! Can you tell me more about how it is impacting you?”
“I can feel myself spinning inside as I consider what you are going through. I’m taking some deep breaths on your account.”
“ I’m sure I do not grasp fully what you are going through, but I care. How is it impacting your appetite? Your sleep? Your ability to think?”
If you know the person is comfortable with touch, placing your hand on their arm can be reassuring.
These are just a few ideas to get the creativity going. We can increase our own resources and the ability to get back to calm. And then we can become a resource to help others get to calm. And in doing so, we are moving from the anxious attachment pattern to an earned secure one.
Maribeth Poole is a ministry partner of Deeper Walk International and we are grateful for her sweet spirit and teaching on attachment styles. Check out her website.