Anna is a mid-life woman who believes that the people in her personal and professional lives view her as competent and confident, with a go-getter, take on any challenge attitude.
She has survived the deaths of her husband and both of her parents, the loss of her home in a hurricane, as well as several major health crises.
She has compartmentalized these life events and shuttered them away in the closet in her mind, and only when needed, will she open the creaky door, lest the contents fall out, making a clamor, like those in the Fibber Magee and Molly radio show from the 1930’s and 40’s.
Lately, Anna has experienced uncharacteristic anxiety, connected with fears of abandonment and an inability to trust her own intuitive sense about situations she faces. She is second guessing herself and has the illusion of never being able to do enough, be enough or have enough of her needs met.
When people offer gifts, praise or loving gestures, her simultaneous thoughts are those of unworthiness to receive and ‘how come they didn’t…. (fill in the blank)?’ She is astute enough to know that the narrative she has written on this topic, is limiting and erects walls between herself and what she says she wants.
The longer she insists on living in this way, the more disappointed she will feel.
Her therapist suggested that she examine her relational style when it came to interactions with those in her life now, as well as the caregivers who set the stage in her early development, looking to Attachment Theory as a model.
John Bowlby, MD, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst designed a theoretical perspective and treatment modality based on his observations of the way in which infants bonded with early caregivers.
In a 2010 article out of the University of Chicago, R. Chris Fraley explains the concept,
“Research on adult attachment is guided by the assumption that the same motivational system that gives rise to the close emotional bond between parents and their children is responsible for the bond that develops between adults in emotionally intimate relationships.”
Further, attachment styles can be altered, with awareness and willingness to do the necessary work to change the story we have consciously or unconsciously written about our past and the meaning of the behaviors of our caregivers. It is estimated that adults fall into one of three attachment oriented categories, remembering that there are no absolutes.
- Secure: 50 percent of the population
- Anxious: 20 percent of the population
- Avoidant: 25 percent of the population
Those with secure attachment interactions feel at ease in their interactions with family, friends and partners. The majority of the time they trust that their needs will be met and if not, will find healthy ways to meet them themselves. They are able to reciprocate and car for the needs of others in their lives.
Those who are anxious, desire connection, but are so fearful of losing it that they spend time focused on the relationship, doing whatever they perceive is necessary to maintain the lifeline that keeps the interactions going.
Those who are avoidant exhibit signs that look like they are detached from others. They can ‘take or leave’ interactions that might otherwise indicate bonding with those in their lives. That may come from fear of being controlled or smothered in a relationship.
Anna informed her therapist that she felt loved, nurtured and provided for by her parents and extended family. She was given material comfort; growing up in a middle-working class family, as well as emotional support. She had friends and activities and was an A student. She excelled at swimming and had set her sights on the Olympics.
What she realized was that she didn’t have the discipline to back up her dreams. Swimming had initially been a means of ameliorating asthmatic symptoms when recommended by her family care doctor at age 11. She came to enjoy the activity and the exercise, friends and confidence it fostered. She also thrived on the cheers and praise by onlookers and her team mates as she often won or came in second in her races.
She noted that her parents set the stage for co-dependent caregiver behavior since that was what they modeled for her.
Seemingly, they could do it all and although they never expressed that this is what their daughter should do, she attempted to emulate them. This practice led to excessive working hours, burnout and eventually the aforementioned health crises.
It also created a relationship paradigm in which she did things for others to feel as if she was essential to them and their well being, while neglecting her own.
She bartered service for love, telling herself that she needed to earn her place in people’s lives. She faces her fears of abandonment and began to practice the kind of self -love she would have told someone else to embrace. It wasn’t consistent since would slip back into old patterns.
What helped to keep her on track was having conversations with friends who knew her well. They were adept at calling her on her thoughts, which baffled them. Hard for them imagine at times that someone who appeared to have it together, could be so self-deprecating.
They did acknowledge that when she spoke with and from her heart, rather than the mind which created all kinds of unconscious behaviors, it made them feel like a deeper bond had been created between them.
In a conversation between the woman who is feeling the frustration of thwarted desires, and her Higher Self or wise mind, she came up with this new story that she and her therapist sense will be a major breakthrough for her, as she shares:
“I have rarely allowed myself to surrender and accept love, support, gifts and nurturing from those in my life who have so generously offered it, as they are doing now. No wonder I feel like nothing will ever be enough, feeling insatiable, since I have been deflecting what is offered from the heart by those in my life, so I keep doing more, rather than just BEING with them in gratitude.”
In the past few days, she told her therapist that this Saturday Night Live monologue with the character named Stuart Smalley, played by comedian Al Franken ran through her head and was expressed by two friends in the past few days, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”