I remember, a while back, when my wife came home from work feeling very depressed, overwhelmed, and emotionally drained. She came to me looking for understanding and validation in the safety of my arms. Yet, instead, I must confess, I made a huge mistake and mistook that opportunity, since I suggested making love. She got very upset and angry with me, and complained that I had been insensitive towards her pain and vulnerability at the time. My careless action produced an attachment injury within her.
Later, when I realized that she was experiencing an attachment injury, I changed my approach towards her and I tried to reconnect emotionally with her by listening to her concerns and giving her affirmation and validation. I took responsibility for my insensitivity and asked her for forgiveness before the situation had an opportunity to escalate.
Does this experience with my wife sound familiar to you? Be honest with yourself. I am being vulnerable here. Perhaps, my wife will want to kill me after reading this post. So, if you see that I’ve stopped writing, pray for me because you know what may have happened to me, lol… So, going back to the subject at hand: Do you feel your partner has ever failed to support you in a crucial time in your relationship? Maybe you are still unsure. Ask yourself the following questions and if most of the answers are yes, then your relationship may have suffered an attachment injury.
Do you constantly bring up the past in a fight with your partner?
Are there any specific events for which you cannot or will not forgive your partner?
Have you felt abandoned by your partner at a crucial moment in your relationship?
Do you feel that you are constantly trying to communicate with your partner and still do not feel heard or understood?
Do you get very emotional or angry when remembering a specific event regarding your partner and your relationship?
Do you feel there was a specific point in your relationship where it took a turn for the worse?
Is there a negative moment in your relationship that you constantly relive or ruminate about?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you have suffered an attachment injury. If you know someone who may be experiencing an attachment injury, please share this post with that person.
“Attachment injury” is a term coined by psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson. In its plural sense, attachment injuries are relationship wounds that make the relationships unsafe and limit emotional engagement. An attachment injury is a specific type of betrayal that is experienced in a couple’s relationship. It is characterized as a perceived or real abandonment, or a violation of trust. It is an incident in which one partner is inaccessible and unresponsive in the face of the other partner’s urgent need or vulnerability (Johnson, 2004).
It is important to understand how this injury occurs in the marital relationship. The attachment system was created by God, and it is a marvelous combination of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs, all wired into the brain to help human beings stay in relationships with those with whom they have bonded. For example, in marriage, this system is natural and purposefully designed to keep the couple emotionally and physically connected.
However, since spouses are not perfect, make mistakes, and have vulnerabilities, sometimes cycles of conflict prevent them from being able to meet the attachment needs of the other. When the attachment is threatened, the attachment behavior system is triggered in an attempt to get the attention of the spouse in order to recover the emotional and physical connection.
This emotional reactivity is often a desperate cry from the soul of one of the partners to get the other to reach out and restore his or her heart to its rightful place of safety. If you wish to restore the attachment, then it is probably because your marital relationship has developed bad patterns of relating, which may include yelling, nagging, and fighting, amongst other behaviors.
When this attachment injury happens, you can experience feelings of abandonment and betrayal. The events that often precipitate this type of attachment injury are the following: Time of transition or changes in your life, attachment loss (death, separation, etc.), physical danger, uncertainty, birth of a child, and a time of physical illness. Also, each partner’s manageable level of stress is different. Thus, what may be a manageable hurt for your spouse may be momentary interpersonal chaos for you.
In addition, the injury is connected to how the injured partner interprets the event, and how the other partner reacts to expressions of hurt by the injured party. When the spouse who caused the injury denies or gets defensive about this damage to the attachment, it can become a topic of constant bickering, although sometimes it may lay dormant and unexpressed for a prolonged period of time.
Johnson (2004) wrote about healing attachment injuries using the following outline:
First, it is important for the injured spouse to begin to describe the incident in which he/she felt abandoned and helpless, and how it damaged the relationship as a secure bond.
Second, the “injured” spouse must stay in touch with the injury and begin to express its impact and its attachment significance. This allows the anger to evolve into expressions of hurt, helplessness, fear, and shame.
Third, the “non-injured” partner needs to begin to hear and understand the significance of the injury event, and to understand it in attachment terms to know its importance to the injured spouse.
Fourth, the injured spouse slowly moves toward a more integrated and complete discussion of the injury while expressing grief due to the loss and the fear about the attachment injury.
Fifth, the other spouse must become more emotionally engaged and admit responsibility for his or her part in the attachment injury, while expressing feelings of regret and remorse for what has happened to the spouse.
Sixth, the injured spouse must risk asking for the spouse’s comfort and care, since the spouse was unavailable because of the injury event(s).
Seventh, the other partner needs to respond in a caring manner that can act as an antidote to the trauma of the attachment injury.
Eighth, once the attachment injury is resolved, the focus needs to be on the fostering growth and trust, and the beginning of positive cycles and connections.
Today, I challenge you to begin the healing process of your attachment injury. If you do not know how to start this process, write to me personally, or ask me a question in the comments section.
In my next post, I will talk about the importance of forgiveness in the healing process of attachment injuries. May God bless you, and remember, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Reference: Johnson, S. M. (2004). The practice of emotional focused therapy. Creating connection. New York: Brunner-Routledge.