Monday, January 19, 2009

Attachment vs. Detachment: Finding the Psychological Golden Mean

Attachment theory is one of the most active fields of research in psychology, looking at how the infant bonding experience shapes personality and mental illness. There's also a lot of interest in how early bonding experiences shape relationships in adulthood.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. looks at both attachment and detachment in this two-part series at Psychology Today.

Attachment vs. Detachment: Finding the Psychological Golden Mean (Part 1)

Dysfunctionally Detached

If in the past we've felt taken advantage of, rejected or betrayed, we may erect stiff (even impenetrable) boundaries to protect ourselves. As a result of our adverse experiences--which frequently take place early in life when we're most sensitive to them--we may harbor anxiety or cynical beliefs about getting too close to others. And we may have decided that it's also not prudent to allow others to get very close to us.

lone wolfIn such cases, we'll tend to relate to others on a generally impersonal level, and share our deepest, most private feelings not at all. Such a life stratagem, though extreme, does at least minimize threats of further disillusionment or deception. By restraining ourselves from getting emotionally invested in a relationship, we render ourselves relatively invulnerable to others' disapproval--or even abandonment. Whether or not we're consciously aware of our self-protective proclivities, we yet maintain a certain distance from others, constantly safeguarding ourselves from disappointment. And cultivating emotional self-reliance to avoid such hurt, we may actually come to view our very strength in relationships as synonymous with our detachment.

Read the rest.

Attachment vs. Detachment: Finding the Psychological Golden Mean (Part 2)

Dysfunctionally Attached--and Moving Toward the Golden Mean of Attachment

over-attachedBeing too detached--or not sufficiently available or responsive to others--represents one pole of the attachment continuum. Over-responsiveness (or excessive relational dependency) defines the other. Here what's impaired isn't our ability to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, but our ability to sufficiently detach from these emotions so we're not totally preoccupied, or consumed, by them.

Extremely sensitive to how others see us--in fact, being held so tightly in the grip of external validation that we view ourselves mostly on the basis of how we imagine others view us--constantly threatens our mental and emotional equilibrium. Whereas being excessively detached from others hardly represents a viable solution to the "perils of engagement," at least some detachment is required for us to be firmly centered within ourselves, and so less vulnerable to others' possibly negative reaction to us.

But if we're substantially more attached to others than to ourselves, such disequilibrium inevitably throws us off balance.

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