There are a lot of things that are in constant ebb and flow in one’s life. Acne-prone skin, our unique personal health and wellness journeys, habits, friendships/relationships, family dynamics, and hobbies. I’ve recently read Attached., which does a really great job of explaining the slow, yet constant flow of one’s attachment style.
But I’m going to have to debunk that slowness with my own personal narrative. If it’s one thing I am continuously learning is that my attachment style has drastically gone up and down in the past decade. Or in more formal terms, it’s been secure, then avoidant, anxious, avoidant again, and secure again (with avoidant traits peppered throughout). Hardcore avoidant here!
I’m freshly 30, and thank goodness I can look back to my twenties and understand how much I’ve lived and been tossed, stood up, fallen, and/ or was pushed back down by the experiences I welcomed into my life. Welcomed is a conservative word, more like ignorantly blinded myself to doing anything about them at the appropriate time, and then BAM, they just naturally dismantled my foundation, as shit often does.
In other words, I avoided red flags and ignored my gut, learning along the way. Who’s with me!?
In addition to learning, I also suffered a ton of headaches and heartaches so I don’t recommend this method to anyone. If you see a red flag, run! Or have a really constructive conversation that helps answers the doubts your cute little tummy is tugging at you with. Whichever floats your boat.
I can confidently say I started my journey, in my early and naive 20s, with a very clear-cut secure attachment style. I held myself in high regard, not accepting disrespectful behavior directed at me such as curse words, you know, really kid-obvious things like that. I was in my late teens/early twenties so what did I know about manipulation and the plethora of adult fuckery? Nothing. So as my super young self, this is how security looked to me. In addition to understanding what I deserved, I also was (and still am) very sensitive and cautious of other people’s feelings and my participation in that. I was raised in a respectful household that included listening to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. Not to say they all were “valid” when it came to making familial decisions, but they were definitely given the platform they deserved (queue in my 13-year-old self asking for pizza on a weekday my mom had prepped a complicated meal).
So alas, I stepped into the big wide world with a fairly healthy understanding of my place here and my place in other people’s worlds. This is how I started one of my first relationships. However, as a young and naive child, I didn’t understand the multilayer complexity of relationships. I didn’t understand that this behavior meant that in the larger sense of the world or that the repetitive red flags really meant RED FLAGS and were not just some small, isolated, one-time behaviors that were totally disconnected from the person’s personality or emotional state but rather were just who they actually are! Yeah, that one took a long while to understand. And by a long while, I mean a decade. Yup. A DECADE!
After years of constantly ignoring red flags, manipulation, and stumbling over my own pain from these emotional and hurtful outbursts directed at me, for what felt like was no valid reason, and being so confused by the rollercoaster ride I willingly and blindly stepped into, that once confident and secure girl grew weak. Weak in the sense of self-confidence in my own thoughts, my voice, and confused about what anything meant anymore. I still believed I deserved more, but I didn’t know how to articulate that into my life. My internal dialogue, therefore, looked strikingly different from my external reality.
This inconsistency and confusion drew me inward to avoidant attachment land. Inward into my own thoughts and away from trust. Not trust towards others, believe it or not, that’s the one thing that (in the past ten years of mayhem) has stayed intact. I love people, and I find that relying on that trust helps pull me out of my shell. But rather, I lost trust in myself. How could I allow something like this to happen to me? How could I just willingly allow this treatment towards me from the people who are supposed to love me the most in both romantic and platonic relationships? How could I ignore that first journal entry where I explicitly expressed my unhappiness? And more shockingly, how could I ignore the countless pages within the 3 fully filled-out journals after that!? Yes, I wrote 3 full journals expressing and contemplating my unhappiness with zero action to better my life or situation. Confusion and responsibility for others’ well-being completely paralyzed me.
For one, my love of people and my trust in them is partly to blame. I trust that people are inherently good. Most might point out that this is my ultimate weak trait, but I believe it’s also my most powerful trait. However, I’m still learning how to identify its silver lining. With this inherent belief in the good of people, I happily give second chances; and it just so happened that I ended up giving a million of them to the same people, because–and I stand by this–I believe that we all want to be better. Maybe we aren’t who we want to be and we mess up along the way, and that’s okay! I believe messing up is okay, it’s the recipe to growing into beautiful individuals. The problem is, I didn’t know I can believe this and still walk out the door to protect my own inner beauty. I bonded walking with giving up on the person rather than just the relationship. After all, individuals aren’t always meant to grow in the same direction. I now accept that this is okay. It’s normal to grow apart or enjoy the time together and be okay with the time apart, even if it’s forever.
BACK TO ATTACHMENT STYLES
It should be pretty obvious by now that secure Natalie is no longer. Now we welcome anxious-avoidant Natalie. Hello!
Anxious-avoidant Natalie is a lot of fun! She was a confused girl exploring new friendships and exploring trust wearily. Her ability to trust others led her to discover and foster some of the most beautiful relationships a broken girl could ask for. I still remember the first time I opened up about some of the realities of my young relationships with one of my most wholesome friendships while laying in bed ready to call it a night in my apartment. Traveling during this time and exploring new ways to love myself in the uncertainty of situations I found myself in was the perfect recipe for finding that trust I had long lost. I wrote a little bit about it here but I can never help reiterate how this part of my life saved me in so many ways. I found the fun again. I laughed more in those few years than I had in my entire life (by now in my mid-20s). I drank until ferociously vomiting everything out. My diet was pretty bad, eating out more regularly than not. I traveled for hours hungover in order to make it back home or to work the next morning. I wandered aimlessly in new cities with little to no money or cell service. In other words, I put myself in some really undesirable situations all the time, and I was the happiest doing it because of the friends I had trekking along with me. I wasn’t alone in those crazy journeys, and if I was the only one having an awful time, the photos now remind me of how incredible the moment was and how amazing I felt, despite the headache or any other bodily inconvenience. So, with a little bit of danger and a lot of laughter, avoidant-anxious Nat slowly welcomed self-trust again. I was no longer subconsciously angry at myself for allowing others to treat me any less than I deserved.
However, she still wasn’t perfect at a lot of things. But then again, who ever is?
Who!? Tell me! I’d love to meet them and learn a thing or two about perfection!
Natalie, now more secure and willing to take risks at love, found herself in another challenging chapter. The most impactful one of her entire decade of learning from relationships. You’d think after a few years of a toxic relationship I’d learn a thing or two about identifying clear behavioral patterns, but I didn’t. There isn’t always a clear direction or path to some relationships. And sometimes we choose to hang on longer than we should for foolish reasons. Sometimes those reasons, albeit foolish, can still be valid due to the unique isolated incidents that are often bigger than the relationship itself. It’s safe to say that my secure attachment style met its competitor: a person with an anxious attachment style filled with passion. So much passion I didn’t know what to do with it when push came to shove. One of the character traits of a person with a secure attachment style is the ability to consider and even accept some responsibility for the other person’s well-being. Add love and so many other complexities that make up individuals and you’ve got a secure person (me) trying to manage it all. What then happened is that I ended up neglecting my own mental health in order to take care of it all, be the burden of it all, and control it all. Just some of the destructive realities that can burden a relationship or individual.
People are complex, and sometimes communication isn’t enough. We all need to take responsibility for our own well-being and put our best foot forward, yet this isn’t always an easy thing to do. The main thing I struggled with in this chapter was knowing my own limitations and accepting events at face value rather than chunking them into digestible nuggets that allowed me to continue trying to fix things that were out of my control. With all this destruction, it led me to make some less-than-desirable decisions as well. My emotional health was at the edge of a cliff and my unconscious desperation for an out wasn’t the best self-driver.
So, to shorten the story, secure Nat took a long step back into an avoidant attachment style with an urgent need to find ways to express self-love. Afterward, I spent the better part of a year untrusting relationships as a whole to the point that I really did not want one. I held on to dear life trying to maintain my independence. Anything and everything I perceived as a direct threat to my person (a relationship) was immediately pushed away. There was no winning for anyone, including me, when it came to finding the middle ground in relationships. I grew increasingly short-tempered and I didn’t know how to navigate these obvious outbursts of uncontrollable instability within my own self.
What this did do for me was heighten my awareness of behaviors towards me that no longer suited me. I had no more energy to give any fucks. I had been through an emotionally taxing time, anything less than straight-up respectful wasn’t tolerated. My internal dialogue finally began matching my external reality. I slowly began to voice my concerns for the first time because I could no longer brush them aside. I had accepted and dealt with so much by this point that red flags were so bright I couldn’t ignore them anymore, even if I wanted to. It became an internal irritation, like a bodily reaction I couldn’t shake. An itch, if you will. And I started to live my life with true intention in my self-love/trusting ways.
Selena Gomez once said something in a podcast that resonates with me to the T because I am now in that part of my own journey, attachment and all.
“But now, I have expectations. Where it’s like, if i were to do this or if i were to give you [an opportunity], are you strong enough? Are you capable of being someone that’s gonna be in my life? That’s how I approach things now. And I’m not being conceited. I’m saying it’s actually an honor to be with me. Cause I think I’m a great person. And I love people deeply and I wont tolerate ever being treated the way that I had been.”
During this final chapter of my twenties I lost that self-trust I had previously gained, and I also learned that no matter what happens I am going to be okay. Everything is going to work out in the end. It’s partly in my perseverance to continue on, in my ability to lean into my passions and explore new ones during times of uncertainty, and in understanding that no matter how broken I may become, the one thing that will never break is the self-love I fortunately was raised to hold at it’s highest form. I may be lost in the world, but that trust I have in others will always be reflected back to me, because how can I love others without loving myself. It’s an impossible task. Humans are amazing when we lean into being a better person today than we were yesterday and accepting our responsibilities with the privileges we hone.
Now, an avoidant attachment Nat learning to find wonder and honest loving relationships is walking the streets of this planet. And she’s cautiously navigating love again.