I had signed up to participate in a psychological study at my university today, not quite knowing what it was about but it sounded fun and it would give me a little credit towards my final grade in my psychology class. I turned up, only to find that only two others had shown up. While we were waiting for others to arrive, I began talking with the student running the study. I found out that it was about attachment styles. I was flabbergasted, as only yesterday I had started researching this concept.
The study was postponed, and though I was disappointed that I didn’t get to participate in it, I took the coincidence as a sign that I am on the right track approaching my issues from this new (for me) angle. I’m going to start examining all the different elements of my anxious-preoccupied attachment style; why I act this way, and hopefully how to change it.
The problems for me occur when I attach to a person and believe that they are the only thing that can give my life meaning. When they go away, my will to live often goes with them. This is why I become so desperate and demanding when I sense something wrong; it is as though I am literally trying to stay alive. This brings me to two of my issues: needing meaning outside of myself, and hypervigilance. The former is something I’m not sure how to tackle today, so I will examine the issue of hypervigilance.
I understand that this has come about because I needed to protect myself as a child; I needed to constantly be aware of my father’s moods. He was not a drinker or a drug user so there was no other way to know when an attack was coming. Changes in people’s moods terrify me because in my father it meant that one of us could be seriously hurt or even killed, as my mother nearly was. The memory of the week she spent in hospital when I was eight, not knowing if she would make it home, still fills me with fear and dread. My sisters and I were left alone with the man who caused it and I had never been more terrified. From my child’s perspective, I had to be hypervigilant to stay alive. And I’m still living that.
I get so scared when I sense something wrong that it feels like my world is ending. I constantly monitor my own behaviour so as not to cause anyone to feel negatively towards me. The thought of someone being upset with me is unbearable. I seek reassurance in ways that push people away and cause me to end up hurt; reinforcing the fear that I need to be hypervigilant to others moods. It’s a vicious cycle that I need to learn to break.
I’m sure it’s extremely unpleasant being on the other end of my hypervigilance too; I notice everything they do, I try to interpret what their every word and action means so that I am armed in advance for the attack. My mood swings wildly when I feel threatened. I go over and over conversations in my head, getting worked up to the point where I feel sick or am in a panic, and then I unleash all this ill-feeling upon my partner. It would have encouraged them to clam up, hide more things from me, fueling my fear that something was wrong, until something really was wrong, and I would have felt vindicated.
I don’t want my partner to feel like my prisoner. I don’t want to feel scared every moment of every day. It’s exhausting, for both of us. I won’t be happy until I can break this habit.
I have to keep reminding myself that this behaviour no longer benefits me. It is not keeping me safe. It is not keeping me alive. I don’t need it anymore. I need to stop looking out for the things that will hurt me, and learn to deal with them in a healthy way if they do. I need to continue strengthening my distress tolerance so if I do feel hurt or desperate I won’t act out in ways that will make my situation worse. I need to trust myself that I won’t hurt myself again. I have to promise myself that I won’t ever try to take my life again.
I need to think less. I need to realise that my (potential) partner is their own person and is perfectly entitled to do as they wish; that they make mistakes too, and trust that they aren’t setting out to hurt me. I need to be an adult, and accept the pain when it occurs and move on, not let it destroy my world. This brings me to the issues of boundaries, trust and security. I will deal with those in the near future.
I’m not sure entirely how to address this. There is so much more I could say, but I am feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I think I have the beginnings, and am going to continue practicing. I am meeting with a new therapist this week too, so I will seek advice with them.