#118 - Attachment Theory

December 1, 2021

The challenges of romantic relationships are better understood through the lens of developmental psychology.

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[00:00:00] What's up, everybody? You are listening to another episode of Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. And in this episode, I'm talking about attachment theory.

[00:00:14] The Life English Podcast is designed to teach you the real American English that you won't learn in school, and it's made possible by our VIP community. By becoming a VIP member of the Life and English community, you'll get access to our private conversation group, bonus podcast episodes, interactive transcripts and vocabulary and grammar guides. If you'd like to join the community, you can visit lifeinenglish.net/vip.

[00:00:37] Many of us have a deep desire to have stable, fulfilling relationships. But the sad reality is that most relationships are full of problems and misunderstandings.

[00:00:49] Maybe you've noticed repeating patterns in your romantic relationships. Maybe you've noticed that you keep ending up in the same situations, even with different people. Or perhaps you keep attracting the same type of person. Maybe you've found yourself wondering, why is it so hard to cultivate and maintain a healthy, fulfilling relationship?

[00:01:08] Well, the bad news is that there isn't really a black and white answer to that question. However, the good news is that a psychologist named John Bowlby and his theory of attachment have helped us to understand that almost all of the challenges of relationships start when we're children, and they're directly connected to the quality of maternal care that we received growing up. But before I tell you about the attachment theory, let me tell you a little bit about John Bowlby.

[00:01:32] John Bobby was born in 1907 to an upper middle class family in London, England. His parents, like many other upper class parents at the time, believed that too much parental affection and attention would spoil a child, so they typically only spent about an hour with him each day. Bowlby and his five siblings were in fact raised by a nanny named Minnie, who acted as their mother figure and primary caregiver.

[00:01:54] Unfortunately, when John was almost four, Minnie ended up leaving the family. John would later describe the loss of his nanny as tragic as losing his actual mother. At the age of seven, Bowlby was sent off to a boarding school which was common for boys of his social status at the time. John described the experience as a terrible and traumatic time for him. He was even quoted saying that he wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven. These experiences had a major influence on the men he became and the path his life took.

[00:02:26] Bobby went on to study medicine, but after just two years decided that psychology was what truly interested him. He began to work with maladjusted and delinquent children, which piqued his interest in developmental psychology.

[00:02:38] In 1951, while working as a consultant to the World Health Organization, John Bowlby wrote a report titled Maternal Care and Mental Health. In the report, he argued that lots of affection and attention don't spoil a child. In fact, these things are as necessary for the development of a child's personality as vitamin D is for the development of bones.

[00:02:59] He wrote, "...The infant and the young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment."

[00:03:10] In his book Separation Anxiety, published in 1959, Bowlby talks about what happens when a child doesn't receive enough of this kind of parental care and his observations of the behavior of children who had been separated from their parents.

[00:03:23] If the parents aren't available and attentive enough, or if the child is separated from their parents for too long, they still want their parents' love, attention, and interest, but they feel that anything good could disappear at any moment.

[00:03:35] They need lots of reassurance from their parents, and if they don't get it, they get upset. They become emotionally unstable. They're filled with hope, and then despair, and then hope again. The child feels that they cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them most. This is the pattern of what Bowlby called anxious attachment.

[00:03:56] But separation or lack of attention from the parents may lead to another kind of problem. If a child is neglected or abused by the caregiver or even punished for relying on their caregiver, it's possible that the child could feel so alone and helpless that they become what Bowlby called 'detached'.

[00:04:12] They enter their own little world to protect themselves from everyone and everything around them, and they become cold and distant. They see things like love, affection, tenderness, and closeness as dangerous. Even if they're desperate for a hug or some reassuring words, their fear of being vulnerable outweighs their desire for affection. This is what Bowlby called avoidant attachment.

[00:04:35] Another possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is emotionally inconsistent and unpredictable, and this creates a major problem because the caregiver becomes both a source of comfort and fear. When in the presence of their caregiver, the child feels afraid and wants to flee to safety, but their protector is the very person that scares them. The child constantly feels confused by his or her instinctive desires to feel loved and to protect his or herself.

[00:05:00] This results in a display of confusing behavior. The child may seem disoriented or dazed or mentally absent at times. They may avoid or resist their parents. They may avoid all social interaction in order to protect themselves from the same fear they feel when interacting with their parents. This pattern of behavior is what eventually became known as disorganized attachment.

[00:05:23] And the final possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is both emotionally and physically available to them. By fulfilling their child's needs, being close and nurturing, and also allowing their child to explore the world, the parents instill a sense of self-confidence and trust in the child. The child knows that they're safe to do their own thing, and at the same time, they'll always have a safe place to return and seek reassurance if something goes wrong. This is what Bowlby called secure attachment.

[00:05:51] The main focus of Bowlby's research was on what happens to a child if there are too many difficulties in forming secure attachments.

[00:05:59] So in summary, attachment is defined as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings. A human being's first attachment is often established during infancy with the primary caregiver. And because caregivers vary in their levels of sensitivity and responsiveness, not all infants attach to their caregivers in the same way. Attachment styles are expectations people develop about relationships with others based on the relationship they had with their primary caregiver when they were infants.

[00:06:28] Now, there are four distinct ways we attach to other adults. So let's understand each of them better by looking at some real-world examples.

[00:06:36] Number one, the anxious attachment, also referred to as preoccupied.

[00:06:42] Let's imagine a little girl named Olivia. Olivia's parents were loving, supportive people, and they were always there for her. But when Olivia was three years old, her parents got divorced. Olivia stayed with her mother, who had to work two jobs just to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads. She had to work day and night and had little time to attend to her daughter's needs.

[00:07:03] Olivia had a really hard time coping with this new lack of love and attention. She felt that her mother started to act unpredictably and she became anxious about their relationship. This anxiety led Olivia to become very clingy.

[00:07:17] To get her mother's attention, she had to raise her emotional state and make a scene. She would scream and cry until she got a reaction out of her mother. When Olivia's mother would finally react in a more predictable way and give her the attention she wanted, Olivia would become ambivalent and she wouldn't show her true feelings.

[00:07:34] Now, as an adult, Olivia has formed the habit of romanticizing love and connection. It's easier for her to form a fantasy bond with someone instead of something based on reality. She's often attracted to people she feels she can save or people that can save her. She tends to think very highly of others, but she struggles with insecurities, a low self-esteem, and establishing a strong sense of self. Olivia is afraid of and in some cases, incapable of being alone.

[00:08:01] Her strong fear of being abandoned by her lover leads her to be very demanding, obsessive, clingy, and jealous. She's prone to overanalyzing situations, intense mood swings, and she often mistakes turbulent relationships for passionate ones.

[00:08:17] Olivia is very sensitive to her partner's needs, but she feels very anxious and insecure about her own worth and position in her relationship. When her lover rejects her or fails to attend to her needs, she blames herself, and she feels that she isn't worthy of love.

[00:08:32] Olivia is a highly emotional woman and is heavily dependent on others. She needs constant reassurance that she's loved, worthy and good enough, and the presence of a lover feels like the remedy for her strong emotional needs.

[00:08:47] Number two, avoidant attachment, also referred to as dismissive.

[00:08:54] Let's imagine a little boy named Tyler. Tyler's mother died when he was very young, so he grew up with his father. Tyler's father loved him very much, but he believed that being a good father meant being strict. So Tyler's father tended to avoid showing emotion and intimacy.

[00:09:09] Whenever Tyler would express the need for closeness and affection, his dad would tell him to man up. Tyler's dad expected him to be independent, serious and reserved. If Tyler showed too much emotion or he was too loud, his dad got angry and sometimes punitive. This scared Tyler. He learned that to avoid fear, he must avoid showing his feelings and expressing himself.

[00:09:33] Now, as an adult, Tyler is emotionally distant in his relationships. He's easygoing and fun to be around, but all of his social interactions and connections remain on a surface level. Tyler comes across as self-sufficient and independent. He doesn't rely on others for reassurance or emotional support. He feels he's in control.

[00:09:54] Although space is essential for two people to breathe and be themselves in any relationship, Tyler tends to seek space more frequently in order to avoid being vulnerable with his partner.

[00:10:05] If things in this relationship start to get serious, he closes himself off. He starts looking for a reason to end the relationship. He might start getting annoyed by his partner's behavior, habits, or even physical appearance. And this only makes it easier to distance himself from his partner and focus on other things. If at any point his partner threatens to leave him, he has the ability to shut down and pretend that he doesn't care.

[00:10:28] However, that extreme independence is an illusion. Tyler desperately wants to feel love, affection, and connection just like everyone else, but he refuses to open himself up because it's just too scary.

[00:10:43] Number three, disorganized attachment, also referred to as fearful-avoidant.

[00:10:50] Let's imagine a girl named Lisa. Both of Lisa's parents were overworked and always stressed. Her father had a narcissistic personality and her mother had bipolar depression. They were emotionally inconsistent, extremely aggressive, and sometimes even abusive. This caused Lisa to become afraid of the very people that were supposed to protect her.

[00:11:11] This problem completely disorganized her ideas about love and safety. She never knew what to expect from her parents, so she was always anxious and afraid around them. She didn't know how to behave or interact with anybody, so she learned to avoid social interactions altogether in order to avoid feeling that anxiety and fear.

[00:11:30] Now, as an adult, she experiences a problematic mixture of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles.

[00:11:36] Lisa lacks a coherent approach to forming relationships. She has a strong fear that the people closest to her are going to hurt her. She fears intimacy and avoids proximity even though she desperately wants it in her life. She fears being abandoned, but often lacks the ability to trust and rely on her partner. She deals with an internal conflict of wanting intimacy while simultaneously resisting it. And as a result, she usually experiences many emotional highs and lows in her relationships.

[00:12:06] She doesn't reject emotional intimacy. She's simply afraid of it. She tends to see her partner as unpredictable, and that unpredictability makes her extremely anxious and uncomfortable.

[00:12:17] She doesn't believe that her partners will love and support her the way she is. Lisa has a very poor self-image and a negative view of others. She naturally expects and waits for rejection, disappointment, and pain to come. She thinks these things are inevitable, and this mindset often leads to a form of self-sabotage. She anticipates the worst-case scenario and then behaves in a way that turns her imagination into her reality and ends relationships prematurely.

[00:12:45] She also tends to consciously choose partners that scare her, which only confirms her belief that people are unpredictable and they can't be trusted. No matter what.

[00:12:55] Much like the dismissive-avoidant type, Lisa has very few close relationships.

[00:13:02] Number four, secure attachment.

[00:13:06] Let's imagine a little boy named Thomas. Thomas grew up in a loving family with his mom and dad, his two sisters, and his little brother.

[00:13:14] Thomas's mother was a very affectionate and nurturing woman. She was very protective of Thomas, but she wasn't overwhelming or intrusive. She gave Thomas the space and freedom to explore the world but stayed close enough so that he felt a sense of safety. Thomas felt confident knowing that he could always run back to his mom for security, warmth, and affection.

[00:13:34] Thomas's mother was very attentive to his needs. She fed him when he was hungry, and rocked him to sleep when he was tired, and she was there to comfort, soothe and reassure him when he was in distress. This taught Thomas that he would never be ignored in his time of need.

[00:13:50] Thomas's mother routinely expressed her joy and satisfaction with who he was. She made a point to recognize and mention all of the positive qualities he possessed. But she never tried to make him feel as if he were perfect, and whenever she would criticize him, she would do it constructively. This made Thomas feel valued and gave him a healthy self-esteem.

[00:14:10] Above all, Thomas's mother wasn't just loving and supportive, she was also consistent. Thomas was able to develop great trust in his mother because she showed him that she would always be there for him, no matter what.

[00:14:23] Now, as an adult, Thomas is a confident and optimistic man. He's grounded and goal-oriented. He's able to regulate his emotions and feelings in a relationship, and he has no problem opening up to and trusting others.

[00:14:36] He's aware of his emotional needs and isn't afraid to experience or express them to his partner. Thomas is level-headed and doesn't feel the need to exaggerate or go to extremes when expressing himself.

[00:14:48] He's capable of and tries to build and maintain long-lasting relationships, and at the same time, he has no problem being alone.

[00:14:56] Thomas neither demands intimacy and affection nor rejects them. He's a very understanding man, and he gives his partner the benefit of the doubt when interpreting their behavior.

[00:15:05] If there's a problem, he finds a way to work it out. If his lover is feeling sad or confused or just being annoying, he doesn't overreact. And at moments when his partner is unavailable, he can take care of himself.

[00:15:19] Thomas's childhood wasn't perfect, but he looks back on it fondly. By being raised in a healthy environment with loving, supportive and consistent parents. Thomas learned to appreciate the good and to understand and move on from the bad.

[00:15:34] So tell me which one of these people sounds like you? By diving deeper into your past or that of your partner, you can begin to understand and appreciate the fact that the motives for your behavior aren't always what they seem. And that although it might be difficult, there is a way to cultivate and maintain healthier, happier, more fulfilling relationships.

[00:15:56] This is Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you later. Peace.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] What's up, everybody? You are listening to another episode of Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. And in this episode, I'm talking about attachment theory.

[00:00:14] The Life English Podcast is designed to teach you the real American English that you won't learn in school, and it's made possible by our VIP community. By becoming a VIP member of the Life and English community, you'll get access to our private conversation group, bonus podcast episodes, interactive transcripts and vocabulary and grammar guides. If you'd like to join the community, you can visit lifeinenglish.net/vip.

[00:00:37] Many of us have a deep desire to have stable, fulfilling relationships. But the sad reality is that most relationships are full of problems and misunderstandings.

[00:00:49] Maybe you've noticed repeating patterns in your romantic relationships. Maybe you've noticed that you keep ending up in the same situations, even with different people. Or perhaps you keep attracting the same type of person. Maybe you've found yourself wondering, why is it so hard to cultivate and maintain a healthy, fulfilling relationship?

[00:01:08] Well, the bad news is that there isn't really a black and white answer to that question. However, the good news is that a psychologist named John Bowlby and his theory of attachment have helped us to understand that almost all of the challenges of relationships start when we're children, and they're directly connected to the quality of maternal care that we received growing up. But before I tell you about the attachment theory, let me tell you a little bit about John Bowlby.

[00:01:32] John Bobby was born in 1907 to an upper middle class family in London, England. His parents, like many other upper class parents at the time, believed that too much parental affection and attention would spoil a child, so they typically only spent about an hour with him each day. Bowlby and his five siblings were in fact raised by a nanny named Minnie, who acted as their mother figure and primary caregiver.

[00:01:54] Unfortunately, when John was almost four, Minnie ended up leaving the family. John would later describe the loss of his nanny as tragic as losing his actual mother. At the age of seven, Bowlby was sent off to a boarding school which was common for boys of his social status at the time. John described the experience as a terrible and traumatic time for him. He was even quoted saying that he wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven. These experiences had a major influence on the men he became and the path his life took.

[00:02:26] Bobby went on to study medicine, but after just two years decided that psychology was what truly interested him. He began to work with maladjusted and delinquent children, which piqued his interest in developmental psychology.

[00:02:38] In 1951, while working as a consultant to the World Health Organization, John Bowlby wrote a report titled Maternal Care and Mental Health. In the report, he argued that lots of affection and attention don't spoil a child. In fact, these things are as necessary for the development of a child's personality as vitamin D is for the development of bones.

[00:02:59] He wrote, "...The infant and the young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment."

[00:03:10] In his book Separation Anxiety, published in 1959, Bowlby talks about what happens when a child doesn't receive enough of this kind of parental care and his observations of the behavior of children who had been separated from their parents.

[00:03:23] If the parents aren't available and attentive enough, or if the child is separated from their parents for too long, they still want their parents' love, attention, and interest, but they feel that anything good could disappear at any moment.

[00:03:35] They need lots of reassurance from their parents, and if they don't get it, they get upset. They become emotionally unstable. They're filled with hope, and then despair, and then hope again. The child feels that they cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them most. This is the pattern of what Bowlby called anxious attachment.

[00:03:56] But separation or lack of attention from the parents may lead to another kind of problem. If a child is neglected or abused by the caregiver or even punished for relying on their caregiver, it's possible that the child could feel so alone and helpless that they become what Bowlby called 'detached'.

[00:04:12] They enter their own little world to protect themselves from everyone and everything around them, and they become cold and distant. They see things like love, affection, tenderness, and closeness as dangerous. Even if they're desperate for a hug or some reassuring words, their fear of being vulnerable outweighs their desire for affection. This is what Bowlby called avoidant attachment.

[00:04:35] Another possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is emotionally inconsistent and unpredictable, and this creates a major problem because the caregiver becomes both a source of comfort and fear. When in the presence of their caregiver, the child feels afraid and wants to flee to safety, but their protector is the very person that scares them. The child constantly feels confused by his or her instinctive desires to feel loved and to protect his or herself.

[00:05:00] This results in a display of confusing behavior. The child may seem disoriented or dazed or mentally absent at times. They may avoid or resist their parents. They may avoid all social interaction in order to protect themselves from the same fear they feel when interacting with their parents. This pattern of behavior is what eventually became known as disorganized attachment.

[00:05:23] And the final possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is both emotionally and physically available to them. By fulfilling their child's needs, being close and nurturing, and also allowing their child to explore the world, the parents instill a sense of self-confidence and trust in the child. The child knows that they're safe to do their own thing, and at the same time, they'll always have a safe place to return and seek reassurance if something goes wrong. This is what Bowlby called secure attachment.

[00:05:51] The main focus of Bowlby's research was on what happens to a child if there are too many difficulties in forming secure attachments.

[00:05:59] So in summary, attachment is defined as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings. A human being's first attachment is often established during infancy with the primary caregiver. And because caregivers vary in their levels of sensitivity and responsiveness, not all infants attach to their caregivers in the same way. Attachment styles are expectations people develop about relationships with others based on the relationship they had with their primary caregiver when they were infants.

[00:06:28] Now, there are four distinct ways we attach to other adults. So let's understand each of them better by looking at some real-world examples.

[00:06:36] Number one, the anxious attachment, also referred to as preoccupied.

[00:06:42] Let's imagine a little girl named Olivia. Olivia's parents were loving, supportive people, and they were always there for her. But when Olivia was three years old, her parents got divorced. Olivia stayed with her mother, who had to work two jobs just to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads. She had to work day and night and had little time to attend to her daughter's needs.

[00:07:03] Olivia had a really hard time coping with this new lack of love and attention. She felt that her mother started to act unpredictably and she became anxious about their relationship. This anxiety led Olivia to become very clingy.

[00:07:17] To get her mother's attention, she had to raise her emotional state and make a scene. She would scream and cry until she got a reaction out of her mother. When Olivia's mother would finally react in a more predictable way and give her the attention she wanted, Olivia would become ambivalent and she wouldn't show her true feelings.

[00:07:34] Now, as an adult, Olivia has formed the habit of romanticizing love and connection. It's easier for her to form a fantasy bond with someone instead of something based on reality. She's often attracted to people she feels she can save or people that can save her. She tends to think very highly of others, but she struggles with insecurities, a low self-esteem, and establishing a strong sense of self. Olivia is afraid of and in some cases, incapable of being alone.

[00:08:01] Her strong fear of being abandoned by her lover leads her to be very demanding, obsessive, clingy, and jealous. She's prone to overanalyzing situations, intense mood swings, and she often mistakes turbulent relationships for passionate ones.

[00:08:17] Olivia is very sensitive to her partner's needs, but she feels very anxious and insecure about her own worth and position in her relationship. When her lover rejects her or fails to attend to her needs, she blames herself, and she feels that she isn't worthy of love.

[00:08:32] Olivia is a highly emotional woman and is heavily dependent on others. She needs constant reassurance that she's loved, worthy and good enough, and the presence of a lover feels like the remedy for her strong emotional needs.

[00:08:47] Number two, avoidant attachment, also referred to as dismissive.

[00:08:54] Let's imagine a little boy named Tyler. Tyler's mother died when he was very young, so he grew up with his father. Tyler's father loved him very much, but he believed that being a good father meant being strict. So Tyler's father tended to avoid showing emotion and intimacy.

[00:09:09] Whenever Tyler would express the need for closeness and affection, his dad would tell him to man up. Tyler's dad expected him to be independent, serious and reserved. If Tyler showed too much emotion or he was too loud, his dad got angry and sometimes punitive. This scared Tyler. He learned that to avoid fear, he must avoid showing his feelings and expressing himself.

[00:09:33] Now, as an adult, Tyler is emotionally distant in his relationships. He's easygoing and fun to be around, but all of his social interactions and connections remain on a surface level. Tyler comes across as self-sufficient and independent. He doesn't rely on others for reassurance or emotional support. He feels he's in control.

[00:09:54] Although space is essential for two people to breathe and be themselves in any relationship, Tyler tends to seek space more frequently in order to avoid being vulnerable with his partner.

[00:10:05] If things in this relationship start to get serious, he closes himself off. He starts looking for a reason to end the relationship. He might start getting annoyed by his partner's behavior, habits, or even physical appearance. And this only makes it easier to distance himself from his partner and focus on other things. If at any point his partner threatens to leave him, he has the ability to shut down and pretend that he doesn't care.

[00:10:28] However, that extreme independence is an illusion. Tyler desperately wants to feel love, affection, and connection just like everyone else, but he refuses to open himself up because it's just too scary.

[00:10:43] Number three, disorganized attachment, also referred to as fearful-avoidant.

[00:10:50] Let's imagine a girl named Lisa. Both of Lisa's parents were overworked and always stressed. Her father had a narcissistic personality and her mother had bipolar depression. They were emotionally inconsistent, extremely aggressive, and sometimes even abusive. This caused Lisa to become afraid of the very people that were supposed to protect her.

[00:11:11] This problem completely disorganized her ideas about love and safety. She never knew what to expect from her parents, so she was always anxious and afraid around them. She didn't know how to behave or interact with anybody, so she learned to avoid social interactions altogether in order to avoid feeling that anxiety and fear.

[00:11:30] Now, as an adult, she experiences a problematic mixture of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles.

[00:11:36] Lisa lacks a coherent approach to forming relationships. She has a strong fear that the people closest to her are going to hurt her. She fears intimacy and avoids proximity even though she desperately wants it in her life. She fears being abandoned, but often lacks the ability to trust and rely on her partner. She deals with an internal conflict of wanting intimacy while simultaneously resisting it. And as a result, she usually experiences many emotional highs and lows in her relationships.

[00:12:06] She doesn't reject emotional intimacy. She's simply afraid of it. She tends to see her partner as unpredictable, and that unpredictability makes her extremely anxious and uncomfortable.

[00:12:17] She doesn't believe that her partners will love and support her the way she is. Lisa has a very poor self-image and a negative view of others. She naturally expects and waits for rejection, disappointment, and pain to come. She thinks these things are inevitable, and this mindset often leads to a form of self-sabotage. She anticipates the worst-case scenario and then behaves in a way that turns her imagination into her reality and ends relationships prematurely.

[00:12:45] She also tends to consciously choose partners that scare her, which only confirms her belief that people are unpredictable and they can't be trusted. No matter what.

[00:12:55] Much like the dismissive-avoidant type, Lisa has very few close relationships.

[00:13:02] Number four, secure attachment.

[00:13:06] Let's imagine a little boy named Thomas. Thomas grew up in a loving family with his mom and dad, his two sisters, and his little brother.

[00:13:14] Thomas's mother was a very affectionate and nurturing woman. She was very protective of Thomas, but she wasn't overwhelming or intrusive. She gave Thomas the space and freedom to explore the world but stayed close enough so that he felt a sense of safety. Thomas felt confident knowing that he could always run back to his mom for security, warmth, and affection.

[00:13:34] Thomas's mother was very attentive to his needs. She fed him when he was hungry, and rocked him to sleep when he was tired, and she was there to comfort, soothe and reassure him when he was in distress. This taught Thomas that he would never be ignored in his time of need.

[00:13:50] Thomas's mother routinely expressed her joy and satisfaction with who he was. She made a point to recognize and mention all of the positive qualities he possessed. But she never tried to make him feel as if he were perfect, and whenever she would criticize him, she would do it constructively. This made Thomas feel valued and gave him a healthy self-esteem.

[00:14:10] Above all, Thomas's mother wasn't just loving and supportive, she was also consistent. Thomas was able to develop great trust in his mother because she showed him that she would always be there for him, no matter what.

[00:14:23] Now, as an adult, Thomas is a confident and optimistic man. He's grounded and goal-oriented. He's able to regulate his emotions and feelings in a relationship, and he has no problem opening up to and trusting others.

[00:14:36] He's aware of his emotional needs and isn't afraid to experience or express them to his partner. Thomas is level-headed and doesn't feel the need to exaggerate or go to extremes when expressing himself.

[00:14:48] He's capable of and tries to build and maintain long-lasting relationships, and at the same time, he has no problem being alone.

[00:14:56] Thomas neither demands intimacy and affection nor rejects them. He's a very understanding man, and he gives his partner the benefit of the doubt when interpreting their behavior.

[00:15:05] If there's a problem, he finds a way to work it out. If his lover is feeling sad or confused or just being annoying, he doesn't overreact. And at moments when his partner is unavailable, he can take care of himself.

[00:15:19] Thomas's childhood wasn't perfect, but he looks back on it fondly. By being raised in a healthy environment with loving, supportive and consistent parents. Thomas learned to appreciate the good and to understand and move on from the bad.

[00:15:34] So tell me which one of these people sounds like you? By diving deeper into your past or that of your partner, you can begin to understand and appreciate the fact that the motives for your behavior aren't always what they seem. And that although it might be difficult, there is a way to cultivate and maintain healthier, happier, more fulfilling relationships.

[00:15:56] This is Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you later. Peace.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] What's up, everybody? You are listening to another episode of Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. And in this episode, I'm talking about attachment theory.

[00:00:14] The Life English Podcast is designed to teach you the real American English that you won't learn in school, and it's made possible by our VIP community. By becoming a VIP member of the Life and English community, you'll get access to our private conversation group, bonus podcast episodes, interactive transcripts and vocabulary and grammar guides. If you'd like to join the community, you can visit lifeinenglish.net/vip.

[00:00:37] Many of us have a deep desire to have stable, fulfilling relationships. But the sad reality is that most relationships are full of problems and misunderstandings.

[00:00:49] Maybe you've noticed repeating patterns in your romantic relationships. Maybe you've noticed that you keep ending up in the same situations, even with different people. Or perhaps you keep attracting the same type of person. Maybe you've found yourself wondering, why is it so hard to cultivate and maintain a healthy, fulfilling relationship?

[00:01:08] Well, the bad news is that there isn't really a black and white answer to that question. However, the good news is that a psychologist named John Bowlby and his theory of attachment have helped us to understand that almost all of the challenges of relationships start when we're children, and they're directly connected to the quality of maternal care that we received growing up. But before I tell you about the attachment theory, let me tell you a little bit about John Bowlby.

[00:01:32] John Bobby was born in 1907 to an upper middle class family in London, England. His parents, like many other upper class parents at the time, believed that too much parental affection and attention would spoil a child, so they typically only spent about an hour with him each day. Bowlby and his five siblings were in fact raised by a nanny named Minnie, who acted as their mother figure and primary caregiver.

[00:01:54] Unfortunately, when John was almost four, Minnie ended up leaving the family. John would later describe the loss of his nanny as tragic as losing his actual mother. At the age of seven, Bowlby was sent off to a boarding school which was common for boys of his social status at the time. John described the experience as a terrible and traumatic time for him. He was even quoted saying that he wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven. These experiences had a major influence on the men he became and the path his life took.

[00:02:26] Bobby went on to study medicine, but after just two years decided that psychology was what truly interested him. He began to work with maladjusted and delinquent children, which piqued his interest in developmental psychology.

[00:02:38] In 1951, while working as a consultant to the World Health Organization, John Bowlby wrote a report titled Maternal Care and Mental Health. In the report, he argued that lots of affection and attention don't spoil a child. In fact, these things are as necessary for the development of a child's personality as vitamin D is for the development of bones.

[00:02:59] He wrote, "...The infant and the young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment."

[00:03:10] In his book Separation Anxiety, published in 1959, Bowlby talks about what happens when a child doesn't receive enough of this kind of parental care and his observations of the behavior of children who had been separated from their parents.

[00:03:23] If the parents aren't available and attentive enough, or if the child is separated from their parents for too long, they still want their parents' love, attention, and interest, but they feel that anything good could disappear at any moment.

[00:03:35] They need lots of reassurance from their parents, and if they don't get it, they get upset. They become emotionally unstable. They're filled with hope, and then despair, and then hope again. The child feels that they cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them most. This is the pattern of what Bowlby called anxious attachment.

[00:03:56] But separation or lack of attention from the parents may lead to another kind of problem. If a child is neglected or abused by the caregiver or even punished for relying on their caregiver, it's possible that the child could feel so alone and helpless that they become what Bowlby called 'detached'.

[00:04:12] They enter their own little world to protect themselves from everyone and everything around them, and they become cold and distant. They see things like love, affection, tenderness, and closeness as dangerous. Even if they're desperate for a hug or some reassuring words, their fear of being vulnerable outweighs their desire for affection. This is what Bowlby called avoidant attachment.

[00:04:35] Another possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is emotionally inconsistent and unpredictable, and this creates a major problem because the caregiver becomes both a source of comfort and fear. When in the presence of their caregiver, the child feels afraid and wants to flee to safety, but their protector is the very person that scares them. The child constantly feels confused by his or her instinctive desires to feel loved and to protect his or herself.

[00:05:00] This results in a display of confusing behavior. The child may seem disoriented or dazed or mentally absent at times. They may avoid or resist their parents. They may avoid all social interaction in order to protect themselves from the same fear they feel when interacting with their parents. This pattern of behavior is what eventually became known as disorganized attachment.

[00:05:23] And the final possibility is that the child's primary caregiver is both emotionally and physically available to them. By fulfilling their child's needs, being close and nurturing, and also allowing their child to explore the world, the parents instill a sense of self-confidence and trust in the child. The child knows that they're safe to do their own thing, and at the same time, they'll always have a safe place to return and seek reassurance if something goes wrong. This is what Bowlby called secure attachment.

[00:05:51] The main focus of Bowlby's research was on what happens to a child if there are too many difficulties in forming secure attachments.

[00:05:59] So in summary, attachment is defined as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings. A human being's first attachment is often established during infancy with the primary caregiver. And because caregivers vary in their levels of sensitivity and responsiveness, not all infants attach to their caregivers in the same way. Attachment styles are expectations people develop about relationships with others based on the relationship they had with their primary caregiver when they were infants.

[00:06:28] Now, there are four distinct ways we attach to other adults. So let's understand each of them better by looking at some real-world examples.

[00:06:36] Number one, the anxious attachment, also referred to as preoccupied.

[00:06:42] Let's imagine a little girl named Olivia. Olivia's parents were loving, supportive people, and they were always there for her. But when Olivia was three years old, her parents got divorced. Olivia stayed with her mother, who had to work two jobs just to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads. She had to work day and night and had little time to attend to her daughter's needs.

[00:07:03] Olivia had a really hard time coping with this new lack of love and attention. She felt that her mother started to act unpredictably and she became anxious about their relationship. This anxiety led Olivia to become very clingy.

[00:07:17] To get her mother's attention, she had to raise her emotional state and make a scene. She would scream and cry until she got a reaction out of her mother. When Olivia's mother would finally react in a more predictable way and give her the attention she wanted, Olivia would become ambivalent and she wouldn't show her true feelings.

[00:07:34] Now, as an adult, Olivia has formed the habit of romanticizing love and connection. It's easier for her to form a fantasy bond with someone instead of something based on reality. She's often attracted to people she feels she can save or people that can save her. She tends to think very highly of others, but she struggles with insecurities, a low self-esteem, and establishing a strong sense of self. Olivia is afraid of and in some cases, incapable of being alone.

[00:08:01] Her strong fear of being abandoned by her lover leads her to be very demanding, obsessive, clingy, and jealous. She's prone to overanalyzing situations, intense mood swings, and she often mistakes turbulent relationships for passionate ones.

[00:08:17] Olivia is very sensitive to her partner's needs, but she feels very anxious and insecure about her own worth and position in her relationship. When her lover rejects her or fails to attend to her needs, she blames herself, and she feels that she isn't worthy of love.

[00:08:32] Olivia is a highly emotional woman and is heavily dependent on others. She needs constant reassurance that she's loved, worthy and good enough, and the presence of a lover feels like the remedy for her strong emotional needs.

[00:08:47] Number two, avoidant attachment, also referred to as dismissive.

[00:08:54] Let's imagine a little boy named Tyler. Tyler's mother died when he was very young, so he grew up with his father. Tyler's father loved him very much, but he believed that being a good father meant being strict. So Tyler's father tended to avoid showing emotion and intimacy.

[00:09:09] Whenever Tyler would express the need for closeness and affection, his dad would tell him to man up. Tyler's dad expected him to be independent, serious and reserved. If Tyler showed too much emotion or he was too loud, his dad got angry and sometimes punitive. This scared Tyler. He learned that to avoid fear, he must avoid showing his feelings and expressing himself.

[00:09:33] Now, as an adult, Tyler is emotionally distant in his relationships. He's easygoing and fun to be around, but all of his social interactions and connections remain on a surface level. Tyler comes across as self-sufficient and independent. He doesn't rely on others for reassurance or emotional support. He feels he's in control.

[00:09:54] Although space is essential for two people to breathe and be themselves in any relationship, Tyler tends to seek space more frequently in order to avoid being vulnerable with his partner.

[00:10:05] If things in this relationship start to get serious, he closes himself off. He starts looking for a reason to end the relationship. He might start getting annoyed by his partner's behavior, habits, or even physical appearance. And this only makes it easier to distance himself from his partner and focus on other things. If at any point his partner threatens to leave him, he has the ability to shut down and pretend that he doesn't care.

[00:10:28] However, that extreme independence is an illusion. Tyler desperately wants to feel love, affection, and connection just like everyone else, but he refuses to open himself up because it's just too scary.

[00:10:43] Number three, disorganized attachment, also referred to as fearful-avoidant.

[00:10:50] Let's imagine a girl named Lisa. Both of Lisa's parents were overworked and always stressed. Her father had a narcissistic personality and her mother had bipolar depression. They were emotionally inconsistent, extremely aggressive, and sometimes even abusive. This caused Lisa to become afraid of the very people that were supposed to protect her.

[00:11:11] This problem completely disorganized her ideas about love and safety. She never knew what to expect from her parents, so she was always anxious and afraid around them. She didn't know how to behave or interact with anybody, so she learned to avoid social interactions altogether in order to avoid feeling that anxiety and fear.

[00:11:30] Now, as an adult, she experiences a problematic mixture of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles.

[00:11:36] Lisa lacks a coherent approach to forming relationships. She has a strong fear that the people closest to her are going to hurt her. She fears intimacy and avoids proximity even though she desperately wants it in her life. She fears being abandoned, but often lacks the ability to trust and rely on her partner. She deals with an internal conflict of wanting intimacy while simultaneously resisting it. And as a result, she usually experiences many emotional highs and lows in her relationships.

[00:12:06] She doesn't reject emotional intimacy. She's simply afraid of it. She tends to see her partner as unpredictable, and that unpredictability makes her extremely anxious and uncomfortable.

[00:12:17] She doesn't believe that her partners will love and support her the way she is. Lisa has a very poor self-image and a negative view of others. She naturally expects and waits for rejection, disappointment, and pain to come. She thinks these things are inevitable, and this mindset often leads to a form of self-sabotage. She anticipates the worst-case scenario and then behaves in a way that turns her imagination into her reality and ends relationships prematurely.

[00:12:45] She also tends to consciously choose partners that scare her, which only confirms her belief that people are unpredictable and they can't be trusted. No matter what.

[00:12:55] Much like the dismissive-avoidant type, Lisa has very few close relationships.

[00:13:02] Number four, secure attachment.

[00:13:06] Let's imagine a little boy named Thomas. Thomas grew up in a loving family with his mom and dad, his two sisters, and his little brother.

[00:13:14] Thomas's mother was a very affectionate and nurturing woman. She was very protective of Thomas, but she wasn't overwhelming or intrusive. She gave Thomas the space and freedom to explore the world but stayed close enough so that he felt a sense of safety. Thomas felt confident knowing that he could always run back to his mom for security, warmth, and affection.

[00:13:34] Thomas's mother was very attentive to his needs. She fed him when he was hungry, and rocked him to sleep when he was tired, and she was there to comfort, soothe and reassure him when he was in distress. This taught Thomas that he would never be ignored in his time of need.

[00:13:50] Thomas's mother routinely expressed her joy and satisfaction with who he was. She made a point to recognize and mention all of the positive qualities he possessed. But she never tried to make him feel as if he were perfect, and whenever she would criticize him, she would do it constructively. This made Thomas feel valued and gave him a healthy self-esteem.

[00:14:10] Above all, Thomas's mother wasn't just loving and supportive, she was also consistent. Thomas was able to develop great trust in his mother because she showed him that she would always be there for him, no matter what.

[00:14:23] Now, as an adult, Thomas is a confident and optimistic man. He's grounded and goal-oriented. He's able to regulate his emotions and feelings in a relationship, and he has no problem opening up to and trusting others.

[00:14:36] He's aware of his emotional needs and isn't afraid to experience or express them to his partner. Thomas is level-headed and doesn't feel the need to exaggerate or go to extremes when expressing himself.

[00:14:48] He's capable of and tries to build and maintain long-lasting relationships, and at the same time, he has no problem being alone.

[00:14:56] Thomas neither demands intimacy and affection nor rejects them. He's a very understanding man, and he gives his partner the benefit of the doubt when interpreting their behavior.

[00:15:05] If there's a problem, he finds a way to work it out. If his lover is feeling sad or confused or just being annoying, he doesn't overreact. And at moments when his partner is unavailable, he can take care of himself.

[00:15:19] Thomas's childhood wasn't perfect, but he looks back on it fondly. By being raised in a healthy environment with loving, supportive and consistent parents. Thomas learned to appreciate the good and to understand and move on from the bad.

[00:15:34] So tell me which one of these people sounds like you? By diving deeper into your past or that of your partner, you can begin to understand and appreciate the fact that the motives for your behavior aren't always what they seem. And that although it might be difficult, there is a way to cultivate and maintain healthier, happier, more fulfilling relationships.

[00:15:56] This is Life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you later. Peace.

[END OF EPISODE]

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