Once we start diving into the deeper end of learning about applied attachment principles, we can start to get a bit of a sinking feeling, casting our minds back to all the times we failed to be a secure presence for our loved ones, (especially with our kids).
Maybe even reading that has caused a bit of a spike in your stress levels so let me get right to the point:
Constant attunement, 100% of the time, is not what we’re aiming for.
Let me repeat that: you don’t need to be totally attuned to your kids or partner or employees or friends to create a securely attached relationship.
You can have off days. You can have ugly moments. You can be zoned out and distracted by your own inner world. The research shows that you only need “good enough” at least 20-30% of the time as a viable base to establish secure attachment.
In fact, since life is just really fucking messy and sometimes we get all up in our shit, the key to secure attachment in the relational field is actually the ability to repair ruptures, quickly.
It’s that continuous flow between rupture and repair that promotes and creates a structure for secure attachment.
The ability to fluctuate between experiences of rupture and repair is a sign of resilience in a parent or partner.
In charged states between two people, it’s important to move into repair before the experience (and memory of the distressed state) slip into the longterm memory and becomes “set”.
And no, there is no universal prescription for the period of time that is too long before moving to correct. But the sooner the repair and back-to-calm for *both* people, the better for the health and viability of the relationship.
One of the beautiful things about getting a nice flow of rupture-and-repair going in a relationship is that it can become inter-regulating, (I become calm and it helps you become calm, or I help you become calm and I become calm).
It’s important to remember that we can’t integrate new information if we are still distressed – the repair or bid to connect will not land for someone who’s still really disregulated.
(Isn’t that funny? We think it’s the apology that leads to regulation, but it’s actually the regulation that allows us to accept the apology.)
So here are some tips for shifting into repair mode (based on John Gottman‘s work):
– This is important to me. Can we take a few breaths and then take turns listening to each other?
– That felt like an insult. Can you re-phrase like while I just let go of that? (Breathe out.)
– Hang in there. Don’t withdraw – we can take a pause.
– We are both saying…
– This is not your problem. It’s OUR problem.
– You’re starting to convince me.
– I’ve never thought of things that way.
– My reaction was too extreme. I’m sorry.
– I want to be gentler to you right now and I don’t know how.
– I can see my part in all this.
– Can we try this over again?
– Let me start again in a softer way.
– I feel defensive/criticized/blamed. Can you rephrase that?
– We’re getting louder and I’m getting scared.
– I’m noticing your jaw clench up. How about I just zip mine for a sec while you gather your thoughts?
If you ever hear your partner or child say words like these, please notice that they are making a bid to connect and repair, probably BECAUSE THEY LOVE YOU.
Whether you are the giver or receiver, remember that a bid for repair won’t land if our bodies are in survival rage mode.
Breathe. Move your joints. Press into the floor with your feet, or the countertop with your hands, to get back into your body and find some softness before you proceed.
Help your partner or child soften if you can. Some people respond to words, others to touch. *Everyone* responds better when the people around them are centered in their bodies, and breathing deeply.
If we are in a situation that needs to heal into secure attachment, what we’re aiming for as the starting place is “good enough”, 20-30% of the time.
This article is based on the teachings of Diane Poole Heller.