Today Fae Rowen wraps up her series on attachment models and the science of falling in love. If you missed Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4 where she describes the early childhood adaptations and the “repairs” for each of the four attachments styles, you can link to any one by clicking on the part you missed.
by Fae Rowen
I just returned from repeating the workshop that inspired this series. By the end of the first day of classes four months ago, I knew I’d found a treasure trove of help to make my characters–and their backstories–real and believable.
I’m embarrassed to admit that this time, at the end of the first day, I leaned over to a friend who also repeated the class and whispered, “That’s a new Powerpoint isn’t it?” To my dismay, my friend shook her head. “They’re all the same slides as before.” No wonder I needed to take the class twice!
Just a brief re-cap, in case you’re like me and need some reminders:
- As infants, our attachment styles developed based on the actions of our caregivers.
- We adapted our natural tendency for a secure attachment style to survive our situations.
- All attachment style adaptations can be repaired to the secure style.
- When you find someone who helps you with the “repairs” it’s quite natural to fall in love with that person because you finally feel safe.
- Our attachment style influences how we interact with people as adults.
Scientific brain research has shown that we are biologically hard-wired to bond and belong, even though we have a separate biologically-driven instinct to survive. The brain is a social organ. Mirror neuron provide a system for humans to connect, allowing us to be in another’s shoes.
Take, for instance, the “couple bubble.” The hormones stimulated–opiate-like endorphins or cortisol for stress–are released whenever two people interact.
When you are in a secure relationship, you “co-regulate” with your partner. When my husband has told me, “Relax. It’s not that bad,” he’s co-regulated with me by diffusing the ramping-up of my anger or anxiety. Your partner–or friends–co-regulate by helping you work through difficult situations either just by listening or by offering advice. You can even co-regulate with your pets. (You’ve heard how holding a pet can lower blood pressure, right?) When you are “regulated,” feelings come and go like the weather. They don’t get stuck.
We can learn to self-regulate, a by-product of the secure attachment style, but co-regulation with a partner creates more resiliency–physically, medically, and emotionally. Resiliency creates a buffer to stress and trauma later in life. No wonder studies show that married couples tend to live longer!
Try this little experiment. Look at something around you right now that you need “to do.” Now close your eyes and feel that in your body. Open your eyes and look at a beloved pet or just gaze at an image–real or imagined–of someone you love. Did you feel your gaze soften? That’s a physical manifestation of secure attachment.
Did you know that Darwin mentioned love ninety-five times in The Descent of Man? He said that what is important in humans is adaptability, the ability to cope with change
How does this research help you develop characters?
- The capacity to shift back and forth between emotional states and not get stuck is the key to resiliency, health and well-being. As your characters fall in love, you can show this in their behavior as they are quicker to come to a solution or action and not spiral into the depths of their painful pasts.
- Unresolved traumatic stress characteristics stuck in “off”: flaccid tone, depression, mask-like face, cognitive dulling, lethargy, weakness, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, disorientation, disconnection, dissociation, collapse, low blood pressure, constipation
- Unresolved traumatic stress characteristics stuck in “on:: constriction, bracing, anxiety, panic, rage, hypersensitivity, body pain, hyperactivity, easily startled, hyper-vigilance, digestive problems, emotional flooding, tightness, sleeplessness
- When you really connect with another person, you feel their pain. We are attuned to the micro-movements in the face and eyes of our beloved. Your characters can recognize that “something in the way she held her jaw differently” and bond when one attempts to lessen the pain of the other.
- When showing co-regulation, your reader will identify with the relationship through their own co-regulation memories
- Rapid movements are more alarming that slow movements
- Use the fovea, the part of the eye that reflects light we when feel secure, as in “When she saw me approach, all the candles in the ballroom reflected at me.”
- Tone of voice, tempo/rhythm of speech, inflection, facial expressions, movement and gesture, intensity, vitality all brighten when we are engaged in secure attachment. Your reader will “get” this when you specifically show this in your body language.
- Secure attachment encourages playing. Remember when you’ve seen a somber character loosen up and become playful?
- “Can’t think” is part of the stress response. This is how we end up in flight-fight-freeze mode.
- Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye and turned but it was gone? Peripheral vision creates threat responses. Body language to show threat response: dry mouth, brace, arrested movement (freeze), along with bold feelings. Caution-Survival/threat responses take precedence over love responses.
- Emotional “arc” for a threat response: irritation, worry, anger/fear, rage/terror, overwhelm, fight/flight/freeze, defenses restored, completion & discharge (crying, shaking, sweating)
- The Avoidant style is more apt for dissociative behavior and stuffs their feelings because they don’t want to feel
- The Anxious/Ambivalent style is most likely to have panic attacks
- The Disorganized/Disoriented style deeply wants to feel protected by another and is hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive in relationships
And your readers will fall in love with your characters while your hero and heroine fall in love–because they’re hard-wired to recognize the develop of a secure attachment, even without knowing the science behind it. Here’s a review of the character traits that show a secure attachment is developing:
- Unflappable trust
- Presence in the relationship
- Safe and protective
- Affirming, positive
- Consistency, reliability
- Attuned and resonant with the feelings of the other
- Reciprocity in communication
- Welcoming, affectionate
- Ease in coming and going
Try a couple of “love bombs” in your dialogue: “I’m thinking about you” and, of course, “I love you.”
I must thank Patti Elledge, the facilitator of the DARe 1 training, for presenting the material in an easy-to-understand format with “a drop of compassion.” This mathematician had no glitches with psychological terms or language. You can visit Diane Poole Heller’s website if you are interested in the training or if you’d just like to take the Attachment Styles Quiz.
I thought I could share this information in one post. But even five didn’t allow me to work in everything I’ve learned, like the language of the “felt sense” and the five languages of love. Please bear with me if I am compelled to share more body language and character writing tips based on Attachment Theory in the future.
In November I’ll be attending the next workshop–Adult Attachment Styles. I’m sure I’ll learn even more about how to show the love bonds forming between my characters. Who knew that a workshop for professional therapists would provide such richness for a writer!
References you might be interested in:
Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin