NOTE: Thank you to everyone who commented on the two-part blog by Jane Porter. Congratulations to lrtrovi who’s the winner of Jane’s “goodie bag.”
This is Part Four is a five-part series on the science of why (and how) we fall in love based on a four-day workshop Fae Rowen attended on Attachment Styles. In case you missed any of the information, you can access Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 by clicking on the links. Part Five (on Monday, June 24) will tie all the styles together and throw in current brain research tips that will help you create characters with believable emotions and actions–characters that your readers are hard-wired to fall in love with.
by Fae Rowen
Today we’ll look at the fourth and final attachment style, the Disoriented/Disorganized Style. Don’t be fooled by the name. Remember that your character’s attachment style results from the parent’s behavior. As an infant and toddler, this child survived interactions with the caregiver that were chaotic, frightening, and disorienting.
This child will run toward, then abruptly run away, from the caregiver. The child needs the parent but, at the same time, feels unsafe with him. S/he may run in circle, fall down for no apparent reason, rock back and forth, hit her head against a wall, exhibit trance-like states, or avert his gaze when the parent returns.
The parent’s communication to the child contains “double binds” like “come here, go away” messages that present the child with an unsolvable problem. They give conflicting signals that make no sense to the child. Communication with a disturbing lack of clarity sets the child up for predictable failure. When the parent is internally triggered into sudden shifts of extreme states without reference to the child’s signals, the child’s world becomes dangerous and confusing.
As a result, the child cannot use the caregiver to soothe, because the caregiver is the source of the fear. Secure Attachment is designed around safety for the child. But when the child experiences physical, emotional or sexual abuse, a dis-attached/disorganized attachment style is developed.
Your Disoriented/Disorganized Attachment character is particularly well-suited as a protagonist in a suspense or mystery. Because of their childhood issues, they are particularly sympathetic to readers even before their entire backstory is revealed. Unfortunately, many readers will personally identify with the adult characteristics of this attachment style.
Unlike the other attachment styles, this character has minimal possibility of the flight or fight response. S/he tends to freeze into trance-like stillness and dissociate as a survival mechanism.
Possible Ramifications in Adult Relationships
- Social difficulties
- Attention deficits
- Lack of coherence
- May become aggressive with others or exhibit a controlling style due to danger experienced with out-of-control caregiver
- Unsolvable paradoxes lead to overwhelming feelings most of the time
- Cannot solve problems
- May use the present tense to describe the past
- May have prolonged pauses in speech
- Has the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders
- May experience panic or rage when getting close to another in relationship
- Can experience extreme shifts of mood
- Easily triggered into frustration, fear, or despair when circumstances are unclear
- Inner chaos and turmoil brings a higher level of self-absorption
- Wants relationship deeply, but fears relationship will be dangerous
- May not experience the feeling of true protection even when it is available
- May stay in an abusive or non-supportive relationship because they have not developed “good radar” for danger
- Due to the amount of fear from relational trauma, they are easily triggered by partner to set off intense survival urges
- Flight/fight urges make it difficult to stay and calmly resolve conflicts using effective skills
- May ignore early signals of inappropriate language, touch or behavior and discount any “bad vibes” they have
How can this character heal? It seems not only unlikely, but impossible. Not true. Those with a Disoriented/Disorganized Attachment Style can develop a Secure Attachment Style. The following “repair” messages can be verbally or non-verbally conveyed to build the security necessary for a secure attachment to form.
- I am sorry I scared you.
- Let’s all calm down and talk.
- I will protect you and stand up for you.
- I will be your safe haven.
- You can trust me to be here for you and to keep you safe from the world.
- You can trust me to keep you safe within our relationship.
- I will repair the relationship when disruptions happen.
- I am paying attention to you and what you need.
- Let me give you clear directions.
A competent protector is particularly important to this character, hence the woman-in-danger protected by a Navy Seal or a detective. The black moment will be when your character disbelieves one of the repair messages she’s been given.
Of course, male characters can have this style. They may have developed their “competent protectors” as a child from movies or books or pets. They use clarity to decrease states of confusion. They may be what we’d call “adrenaline junkies” and need danger–or drama– consistently in their lives. Of course, female characters with Disoriented styles can do all of these things, too.
The key is that this character must separate their attachment style from their heightened survival instinct. As their partner assists in this endeavor to return to a Secure Attachment Style, the process of the two of them falling in love will connect with your reader at a much deeper level, because we all know people with this style.
Do you have a character that can be enhanced with this information? How can you use these traits to ramp up your black moment?
Join Fae on Monday, June 24, when she concludes this series. Oh, early next month she’s taking the workshop again to pick up more tips. She’ll be passing those on in Part Five.