We’re All Rescue Animals!
“I can see a problem pattern in my relationships, and I need help to stop it. It might eventually kill me.” Clients seeking relationship therapy often lament with statements such as this. We are creatures of habit for sure, and that means patterns naturally evolve from our neurology. Harville Hendrix calls it "the imago," or an unconscious image of familiar love. Peter Levine, Ph.D., another giant in Attachment Theory, calls this “re-enactment.” The mind-body is trying to heal emotional wounds by re-enacting a similar event or situation.
One theory is that humans subconsciously attract relationships that they know how to cope with, even if the other person's traits are negative. If the negative characteristics are familiar, they are more attractive than any unfamiliar attributes, even positive ones. For example, if a critical parent raised us, we'll be attracted to a critical partner. The theory goes on to imply that once we've had enough badgering to learn how to heal the inner wound, then we can move on to someone more supportive. Getting help to evolve beyond those repeating emotional wounds is an often-needed step to take.
Attachment Theory is an over-arching scientific approach that includes both interpersonal and developmental concepts. It helps us identify patterns in child and adult attachments with significant others that can be re-programmed with specific interventions. Luckily, with the advent of Attachment Theory, psychotherapy now has powerful interventions that help individuals overcome their issues and traumas.
Communication patterns in relationships emerge from chemistry, neurology, childhood imprints, attachment styles, and trauma triggers. Triggers are a sign of attachment and trauma wounds. You know you’ve been triggered when your response to someone is over the top, abnormal for what has occurred. Afterward, you’re left thinking something like, “Why did I get so upset like that?! Over nothing!” We’re all triggered at times. We’re all rescue animals. When a pattern of emotional triggers sets up in a relationship, and your attempts for positive communication aren’t working, attachment theory will provide the insight needed to understand the issues.
Attempting to resolve the core issues that keep the negative patterns reoccurring is the focus of all attachment theory therapists. Our early caretakers (usually parents) show up in our present relationships, often in a big way. Some say, “I married my father” or “I’m acting just like my mother did in her marriage, something I worked hard to avoid.” Those early models put behavior patterns in our subconscious, and with intention, you can overcome those patterns you loathe. Sometimes, though, you need more than just self-therapy and reading to change. You may need a coach, guide, or counselor.