Reading the book I recommended yesterday Anxious in Love is putting into perspective for me why things can hurt and go so wrong for us who suffer PTSD, Complex PTSD or anxious and insecure attachment in relationships. As the authors point out in Part 2 : Connecting With the One You Love different parts of the brain are operating for us and our partners who don’t see what all the fuss is about when we respond with anxiety to certain events or triggers. I am being taken back with every word to my last relationship where I would get an hour long lecture on how wrong I had things to be responding in the way I did with little empathy shown.
In anxiety our forebrain (or rational brain) is emotionally hijacked by the lower brains (hind brain and mid brain) where centres such as the amygdala lie. Being responded to with logic as most of us know is tantamount to having a red flag waved in front of the face of a raging bull!!!! But we also need to understand our partner may be coping with the situation in the best way they know how while lacking a more complete understanding of how rationality has flown out the proverbial window.
In this situation what is called for is developing the ability to intentionally respond rather then becoming reactive. The solution is for each partner to understand and have an attitude of curiosity about what is happening for the other. It’s something an old therapist of mine would bring up a lot about by ex saying “its just sad he cannot have an attitude of curiosity about what is occurring for you”. To be told you are bad or wrong for responding as you do is just terrible and I think its a key to so called Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer’s struggle. Perceived abandonment when triggered can send us into a cascade or spiral that takes is into the darkest place for days and if we are left alone in it too long for some the feelings (what therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange) can lead to suicide, addiction and other self destructive mechanisms of coping.
What Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum, authors of Anxious in Love offer instead is a way of each partner entering the other’s reality for a time to validate it, both the non anxious partner and the one who suffers anxiety. As sufferers of insecure attachment we can learn to understand our partner’s reactions and can learn to voice our needs in relationship in a less angry, attacking or accusative way. Often non sufferers who operate from the higher brain just do not understand the severity or intensity of our responses to triggers.
Lack of emotional flexibility is one of the hardest legacies of anxiety reactions in relationship, it shuts down emotional attunement between partners and makes an open dialogue impossible. Being able to set a time out when we know we are being triggered and our brain is going into hijack mode is useful, and hopefully our partner will accept it if we let them know what is going on with us. The alternative is they respond with emotional distance/withdrawal themselves, judgement and anger (being triggered themselves), misunderstanding or protest which can be very difficult. The more we can talk through these reactions and responses in our relationships the better change we have of resolving conflict and growing empathy and attunement. The more we can step into their shoes and understand what is happening the more we can make an “appeal to reason” while explaining what underlies our reaction.
Some partners may be even triggered by us saying what has triggered us, though. They may respond by telling us “that’s all in the past” but in that case they need to work to understand how emotional hijacking works and show empathy in any case. A person who is not willing to do this for those of us with insecure or anxious attachment may not, in the long run, be the best partner for us.
More detailed techniques for reconnecting are given in the book in later chapters of Part Two but today I thought I would just share what I have learned from the book so far for those not in the position to purchase a copy at this point in time. The book is building on my knowledge of many years of trying to deal with anxious attachment and its destructive effect on some of my relationships.
Because the experience of attunement with a significant other is powerful, ruptures in attuned connection bring about a sense of absence, loss, and even distress. Yet those ruptures in attunement are inevitable in all relationships, no matter how solid. There are times when you just fall out of sync with one another. It’s important, therefore, that you both have the ability to repair ruptures when they occur. Just as quickly as you fall out of sync, with some flexibility you can repair the disconnect and engage one another in attunement again.
Anxious In Love, p. 98