I got married! I know I already said that in my last post but I like saying it. I can honestly say our wedding day was the happiest and most fun day of my life. The births of my children were tremendously happy days too but they were not all that fun. Sorry kids.
I felt pure joy at our wedding and reception. We were surrounded by our closest family and friends. There was so much love in the air. We had excellent food and music — so much dancing! We are still on a high from the celebration.
Enough about how wonderful everything was, I want to talk about the hard parts. Over the years, I’ve written about high sensitivity, anxious attachment styles and avoidant attachment styles. I hope you found a few of those posts informative and hopeful. I did not write about those subjects just to educate you. I wrote about those traits because I have personally experienced all of them and the effects they have on relationships.
In The Quiet Rise of Introverts, I wrote about studies done with infants that showed 15-20% of the population are born with highly sensitive nervous systems. They react more strongly to novel stimuli. Even the animal world has its population of more sensitive creatures. Highly sensitive infants often magnify the dissociation or distractions of their parents, reacting to the slightest eye aversion or preoccupation with strong emotions. In other words, they feel more distress with less reason for distress.
This insecure attachment style develops when a child has a caregiver who is there for them sometimes, but not there others. The care is inconsistent. The child may act clingy and not want the parent to leave their sight. As adults, the anxiously attached tend to check in a lot with their partners. They may attack or criticize when they feel abandoned. They are extra sensitive to threats that may lead to abandonment.
Avoidant attachment is also an insecure attachment style. It develops when a child feels rejected or neglected by their parent. These feelings of rejection are more consistent than those of the anxiously attached. Avoidantly attached people grow up suppressing their emotions and striving for self-reliance. Their early attempts to connect or show feelings with their caregivers were met with rejection so they rely on themselves.
What they all have in common
What all of these traits or temperament styles require to be soothed is a sense of consistent care and connection. What has happened since childhood, infancy even, is that a protective shield or pattern was subconsciously created to minimize the pain of feeling alone or of not being seen by a caregiver or partner. Circuits in our brain rewired or never developed because we perceived our caregivers as not there for us.
Highly sensitive children react more strongly to any eye aversion or preoccupation from primary caregivers. Avoidant and anxiously attached children/adults had negligent or inconsistent parenting causing them to assume any slight or preoccupation means rejection or abandonment from future relationships. Whether highly sensitive or insecurely attached (avoidant, anxious), our implicit memories (deep in our system, not conscious) cause us to react strongly and automatically.
Reactions without consciousness
These automatic reactions (both physical and psychological) make relationships more challenging. Examples of some non-helpful reactions are: Shutting down and withdrawing affection and emotions, attacking the other person with criticism, clinging to the other person — constantly asking for attention, feeling abandoned when a partner doesn’t read your mind and know he/she was supposed to help with something around the house, etc.
As I said, I have experienced and imposed those reactions on my personal relationships. I am a highly sensitive person. I have avoidantly attached characteristics and anxiously attached characteristics. I have dated and married men with the same traits. This could be a recipe for disaster and in some cases it was.
Waking up to own my part
Over the last ten to twelve years, I have learned more and more about these relationship challengers. I used to blame my partners for our struggles. Their personalities and behavior caused our trouble. Then I woke up a little and realized I pulled away or withdrew or criticized too. Then I woke up even more and realized quite often my reactions to current circumstances were mostly driven by past wounds.
My newest revelation is that my automatic pilot reactions trigger automatic pilot reactions in my husband. Here is an example. While on our honeymoon in New York City, Mark had a day when he did not feel well. He tried to press on and attend a Broadway show (Hamilton) with a pseudo smile. My highly sensitive radar felt and amplified his distraction. His face and expression were more flat. He did not talk as much. At the end of the musical, he asked to take a Lyft back to the hotel instead of walking.
My automatic reaction was to express my disappointment and criticize his behavior (which I felt led to his not feeling well). I wanted the romantic walk back to the hotel. I wanted to share a very special evening with my new husband at an outstanding show. I wanted the eye contact and genuine smiles. I felt jilted or abandoned. My confrontation, set off his defensive response. He only heard my criticism. He did not see the pain behind it. Eventually, I calmed myself down and had the wherewithal to tell him how his discomfort/illness and its ensuing expressions or lack of expression, made me feel alone.
How to use awareness and create long term connection
What has helped tremendously, and allowed me to be in a long-term loving relationship is this knowledge. I am aware of the implicit or subconscious reactions in both of us. This awareness helps me to not take things so personally. I still do. Those implicit memories or ingrained brain pathways are difficult to overcome. Our emotional reactions developed before the logical ones. They are instinctual. They helped us survive infancy and subsequent important relationships.
As I grow and mature, I realize the relationship with my intimate partner feels as important and vital as the one with my parents, therefore I subconsciously apply the same patterns and reactions to it. My husband does the same thing. We both have insecurities. We both now have each other to learn and develop new patterns of security. That’s the beauty of our human brain. It always has the capacity to change and learn. I am living and loving proof. 🙂
Is it possible you overreact based on past wounds? What from your past causes reactions in your current relationships? How aware are you of your reactions?
If you’d like help getting to the stable point in your relationship, contact me for personal coaching. If you’d rather learn on your own time, check out my online courses in connection and insecure attachment at brendaknowles.teachable.com or click on the image below.