by Fae Rowen
Backstory: I always wondered why my husband fell in love with me. He was a thirty-year-old “confirmed” bachelor when I met him. And I never intended to marry anyone. Six months after we met, we were engaged. How did that happen?
Mere weeks ago I attended a workshop that was totally different than what I thought it was going to be. Turns out, it was better than anything I could have imagined on many levels. I learned and experienced amazing things personally. But, more important for you, I got one of the best writing lessons ever as a secondary benefit.
It turns out that the class was about the four somatic attachment styles. Don’t be put off because you’ve never heard of it. Neither had I. The information has reached “limited audiences” in the past five years, though the research started twenty years ago.
Your attachment style can be determined by answering a series of questions. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit Diane Poole Heller’s website and take the short version of the quiz. (If you have trouble getting your responses accepted. Try another time.) I would highly recommend any one of these workshops; Patti Elledge was the leader for my four-day workshop.
In this first blog, I’ll introduce you to the secure attachment style. In future blogs I’ll share more of what I discovered about how–and why–we fall in love. And how five easy scientific facts can help you connect with your readers (and your beloved) at a deeper level. To help them fall in love with your characters as your characters fall in love with each other. Writer gold!
You began developing your attachment style when you were a baby. Consider your primary caregiver as you read the summary below. But remember, you may have a mix of styles because you bonded with many people–even pets. Your attachment style strongly influences your adult relationships.
During this workshop I realized why I ran from the first three guys who asked me to marry them. They were all great and, without a doubt, loved me. But based on my attachment style, they didn’t build the bonds with me that my husband did. I guess you could say that from the cradle, I was fated to marry my husband because of my attachment style.
SECURE Attachment Style: The Gold Standard
My parents provided a secure, safe environment. They were present, consistent, protective and predictable. They were responsive and sensitive. When I needed them, they were there. They showed interest in me as I grew. Interest in what I was learning, how I thought. When I acted out, they disciplined me with love, not frustration and anger.
Believe me, I was no angel. Back in those days, discipline took the form of a spanking. But only with an open hand on the bottom. Never more than a couple of swats. And no anger afterwards; they hugged me until my tears stopped. I think I cried more from the situation than physical hurt.
My father was playful with me, gently teasing but never bullying or emotionally attacking. The teasing was a way my father showed that gleam in his eye. My mother didn’t tease. She would touch my hand, pat my back, and give me “contact nutrition.” They never swore at me, called me names, or said anything in anger that they’d want to take back later.
These are all hallmarks of how to develop a secure attachment style. Now I know why my favorite picture is one of me as a baby. My mother is holding me in her arms, beaming and smiling down at me. I’m returning that eye gaze and smile. I used to show people that picture and say, “Can’t you feel the love?” years before The Lion King.
That soft eye gaze is the hallmark of a secure attachment between two people. Or a person and a well-loved pet. Yes, some of us grew up and received our secure attachment style from a family pet, or a teacher, or neighbor. And that’s okay. As long as you experienced a secure attachment style as a young child, it’s there in your body. It may be buried under years of living, but it’s there–and that’s what’s important.
As an adult, secure attachment is displayed by a realistic optimism. A capacity for clear communication and more resiliency in recovering from stress is a bonus. In a relationship, securely attached adults protect each other from outside harm and resist harming each other. They initiate and receive attempts to repair the relationship when necessary.
As an individual, a secure attachment style means you tend to be unflappable and level-headed. You give others the benefit of the doubt when it’s appropriate. And you have a working radar for danger.
Wouldn’t you fall in love with someone with these characteristics? Wouldn’t your character (and your readers) fall in love with someone with these traits?
You might be saying, “Wow, she had a golden childhood.” Actually, I used to think so. I didn’t, but because most of my time I was cared for by my parents, I’m lucky to have this as my primary attachment style. But, as you’ll see in the next installment, I’ve got the other three styles, too. (And you probably do as well.) And those styles have played havoc with my adult life.
The good news: You can “repair” attachment styles to move them to the secure model. I can’t give you four days worth of experiences and information in a blog series, but we’re going to use this information to help you build character relationships in your writing. You’ll see how you can build wonderful, loving relationships–and not so happy ones. And you won’t have to spend hours angsting over body language cues and how to write the emotion. You’ll use attachment styles. At the end of the series I’ll give you a bibliography if you’re interested in exploring more about this research.
Do you have tricks or problems in showing how a relationship develops believably between your characters? Have you ever wondered about your own relationships?