You can heal attachment issues and therapy helps with this process.
In this article, you will learn about therapy options to heal attachment issues.
Treating Attachment Issues with Therapy
Attachment theory explains how all human beings need safe connections with other human beings. A person who has enough safe, reliable experiences with caregivers growing up develops a secure attachment style.
However, when a person didn’t get enough of this safety they develop a non-secure attachment style. This includes anxious, avoidant, or anxious-avoidant attachment. To heal attachment issues, therapy has a few primary goals:
- Resolve trauma from past unsafe or unreliable attachment experiences such as being criticized, abused, or neglected,
- Learn how to communicate more effectively with others about your needs and wants,
- Develop a greater inherent sense of self-worth, and
- Learn how to set, and maintain, healthy boundaries for healthier relationships
Attachment therapy involves therapeutic models which are informed by attachment theory. Fundamentally, a therapist using these approaches is mindful that the desire to connect with others is a basic human need.
Furthermore, an attachment-based therapist respects every attachment style is designed to help a person feel safe. Even when anxious or avoidant attachment now causes more problems than it helps, a therapist here validates that given a person’s past experiences their attachment style makes sense.
In other words, an attachment based therapist knows there is nothing wrong with you for having non-secure attachment.
Feeling Safe with Your Therapist
There are numerous attachment based therapy models. Based on your needs and personality, you may prefer one model over another. However, no matter which model you choose, research shows it’s imperative for attachment therapy to feel safe with your therapist.
In attachment therapy, a therapist is providing you a “secure base” to help resolve attachment issues. The therapist helps you learn that there are safe people you can trust in the world. To ensure this sense of safety, it’s important the therapist has clear boundaries with you i.e., around their emotions. Boundaries help build safety in relationships – including the therapy one. For example, it’s not appropriate – and may trigger many attachment concerns for a client – if a therapist tries to be their “friend.”
Now lets explore some attachment based therapy models you may want try out with a therapist.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an attached based therapy used with couples. It’s also evidence based which means this model is proven to provide meaningful relief for couples from their relationship problems.
The primary goal of EFT for couples is to focus on deepening the emotional bond between partners. Here a therapist supports the couple in being emotionally engaged with one another. An avoidant partner, for instance, is guided to learn how to identify their own attachment needs. Then the therapist helps this partner speak more clearly about this need rather than withdrawing or putting up walls.
The next primary goal of EFT is to have corrective experiences. A corrective experience could look like an avoidant wife apologizing to her husband and validating him. She may say, “I’m sorry I called you needy in the past. That was really unfair. I love that you want to be close to me. I’m just scared as well.” The couple can look for ways to create a new cycle together. For instance, the wife may commit to ending work in time for dinner and relaxing together every night.
Internal Family Systems
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is founded on the theory that each person has different parts which when unconscious may create emotional distress or relationship problems for a person. The main subpersonalities or parts a person has in IFS are managers, firefighters, and exiles. The exile is the most wounded and youngest part of self. These parts feel extremely vulnerable which different attachment styles try to protect.
They are called “exiles” because a person has tried to banish these parts because of other people’s reactions to these feelings or behaviors while they were growing up. A caring person may have been called “too sensitive” growing up. Now they may feel extra needy for validation which can manifest as anxious attachment. Or alternately, they may have built walls around their caring nature and now have avoidant attachment.
The goal of IFS is to guide the client towards a cohesive sense of Self. You support all the parts of self to become less extreme and brought into harmony with each other. Using the lens of attachment, a therapist is helping a client build a secure base within themselves. This helps a person develop more inherent self-worth and safety in the world.
Attachment Narrative Therapy
Attachment Narrative Therapy (ANT) integrates systems family therapy, attachment theory and narrative theory. A systems approach to relationships highlights that neither person is “bad” in a relationship but rather it’s the cycle of how they interact which may be dysfunctional or toxic.
The primary focus of narrative therapy is to explore the stories people tell about their lives and problems as well as has other people and the larger culture impact this story. People heal through narrative therapy by changing their relationship to a problem. They do this by seeing the problem as outside of themselves. Instead of saying you’re anxiously attached, for instance, you would say that you have a pattern of acting from an anxiously attached place at times. This helps you see that the essence of your identity is not anxious attachment. It’s a pattern of behavior which you may change.
Also, in narrative therapy, you consider times you acted differently than the story you tell about the problem. For instance, maybe there was a time that you saw a red flag in a new relationship, trusted yourself, and set boundaries in this relationship. From this place of seeing your capabilities, you begin to create new stories about yourself and life which are more helpful and hopeful. You see, for instance, that you are capable of setting boundaries and more assertive than you told yourself you are historically.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a trauma therapy which can be used to treat attachment injuries. These are the wounds or trauma which negatively impacted your attachment style. There are many ways you can have been wounded that led to anxious, or avoidant, attachment. And you don’t need to think of your parents – or anyone else – as “bad” to care for your wounds.
For example, you may have had trustworthy caring parents yet if you had a sibling who was sick really growing up you may have felt ignored. This may have been a barrier to having a “secure base” necessary for secure attachment. EMDR resolves feelings related to being ignored as well as from trauma related to abuse or neglect.
EMDR has the power to not only make these wounds hurt less but it can change beliefs. Your beliefs may at times reinforce your anxious or avoidant attachment. If you believe, for instance, “I can’t trust men” then of course you will not feely securely attached in a relationship. EMDR can change this belief to something more supportive such as, “There are trustworthy men in the world and I can trust myself to figure out who to trust.”
Finding an Attachment Based Therapist
If you are seeking therapy to heal attachment issues, you can best be supported by identifying which model resonates most with you right now.
Related: How Do I Heal My Attachment Style?
This helps narrow your search for a therapist to find the one who will help you heal your attachment style as smoothly as possible. If you’d like you can use the Psychology Today Find a Therapist directory to find a therapist in your area using this model. You can narrow your search for models with the “types of therapy” filter. There are options for attachment based, EMDR, and IFS therapists as examples.
Please know that choosing to do therapy is a brave step towards healing your attachment issues. And healing is completely possible!
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.