Embrace These 5 Things to Know Your Attachment Style and Finally Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship

Learning about attachment styles using the metaphor of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West.

We hear from so many of our clients, that after a breakup, they struggle with recognizing red flags, trust, and intimacy in a new relationship. Shame and blame also envelop them, as they admonish themselves for not seeing the warning signs of a toxic relationship. “Why didn’t I see this?”

One rationale is that the suffering party did not know or understand their Myers Briggs personality type. For instance, a person who has a strong preference for Sensing, but underdeveloped Intuition, is at risk for misinterpretation of the relationship dynamics.

And, as a double whammy, the individual whose Myers Briggs shows a clear preference for Feeling, and a less dominant preference for Thinking, is apt to be embroiled in overwhelming emotions. It is difficult for this clear Sensing-Feeling Myers Briggs preference to even grasp the warning signs of a toxic relationship, versus someone who has more well-developed functions of Intuition and Thinking.

While on the subject of what happens in our brain, we remembered that nothing sent children all over America, diving under the covers faster than Margaret Hamilton in her role as the Wicked Witch of the West. Hearts thumped in little and big chests, during many trials and tribulations for Dorothy and her pals’ journey in the Wizard of Oz. Whether it was the slapping apple trees, the bellowing wizard, or the creepy flying monkeys, the Wicked Witch of the West was the supreme representation of that four-letter “F”-word—FEAR.

Do you ever find yourself looking for low-hanging fruit in a relationship?

We believe that it is actually your projection that you are not worthy of someone special; that you don’t deserve someone who’s good enough. That perhaps your attachment style is not as secure as you might have thought.

In our work with our client, Melissa (not her real name), we discovered early on that Melissa, an attractive and successful business woman, with several relationships behind her, (and a slew of well-meaning friends who Melissa believed would definitely pass judgment), wanted a subliminal guarantee that her next relationship would be “the one,” in which she would recognize red flags immediately. Like, on the first date, please.

A self-described perfectionist, Melissa wanted all her emotional and mental ducks in a row before she entered into a new relationship. We shared with her that’s like saying, “I want to have all the knowledge I’ll ever need so that I can foresee all the pitfalls that will occur for the rest of my life.” Like having Glinda tell Dorothy that the ruby red shoes were magical right at the beginning of the movie.

At the beginning of Melissa’s “Yellow Brick Road,” she encountered many wicked red flags, fears, and obstacles that made her want to turn back.

“He probably isn’t the one.”“He’s not your type.”“You hurried into the last relationship and you know how that turned out.”“People cautioned you about the last one and you didn’t listen. They will certainly judge you from now on.”“What’re you doing? You can’t fall for the first guy you date after a year and a half of not dating.”“What if there are other available guys out there who are more like the men in your last relationships—more your type?”“Everyone has doubts. It’s the smart way to live.”“You should shut this down before it gets too far along.”

When we translated for Melissa that these comments originated from fear in her subconscious, she was surprised. “I don’t feel afraid, so why do I think these things? I don’t like these thoughts.”

No one does.

But these are the very thoughts of the human unconscious, delivered in our minds to undermine our desires to have a healthy relationship and diminish our self-worth. “Don’t get hurt,” is the banner cry of the unconscious—always throwing challenges on our path to our Emerald City.

How self-sabotage sneaks into your thinking without being aware of it…

Melissa was confused as to why she allowed fear to hijack her thoughts when she herself claimed she was not thinking she was on her way to sabotaging the relationship. She realized that her new prospective partner was not giving her any reason to doubt that they could forge a wonderful relationship. “It’s me,” she stated. “I’m the one who’s tapping the breaks before the relationship has a chance to get rolling.”

Some of the “Surrender Dorothy” smoke in the sky metaphorically translated into Melissa’s doubts of, “What will people say?” And, “Am I rushing into this?”

The feeling of fear that we experience is located in the amygdala, the part of the human brain where emotional responses such as fight/flight are exhibited. Physiological (body) responses also occur—like increased heart rate and sweaty palms—all to gear your body to get the hell out of harm’s way.

When you have both the mind and the body working in tandem to avoid all risk, your chances of having a meaningful relationship are slim to none. Your subconscious, in an effort to protect you, stops you from having the one thing you need in a heart-healthy relationship—vulnerability.

Fear has its basis in our evolutionary species.

Embedded in our human brains is the strong will to survive and to reproduce. So when the caveman went out to hunt, for survival and to feed his family, his amygdala—the fear center of the brain—was highly activated. The saber-toothed tiger was a very real threat; the caveman’s Spidey senses were definitely tingling.

Fast forward thousands of years to today where we still have a very active amygdala. We all are born with this survival instinct, and infants obviously do not have well-developed survival skills and are completely dependent on their caregivers. According to mid-1900’s psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, and Psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, we all developed attachment styles as infants—which Bowlby and other’s believed—make their way into romantic adult relationships.

Understanding your attachment style

Developmental psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, said infants had four attachment styles—Secure, Anxious-preoccupied, Dismissive-avoidant, and Fearful-avoidant.

Ainsworth and other researchers believed that adults in a healthy romantic relationship were once children with a secure attachment with their parents; the children were comfortable and felt safe at home, while also comfortable as independent explorers of the world.

Anxious-preoccupied children might have been seen hiding behind parents, sucking a thumb, and looking fearful. Today in a romantic adult relationship, they might be considered a stage-5 clinger.

Dismissive-avoidant children tend to isolate and play by themselves, sometimes oblivious to others who come and go in the room. An adult partner who is Dismissive-avoidant is often perceived as aloof, uncaring, and strongly independent, in need of no one, really.

A child with a Fearful-avoidant attachment style struggles with a push-pull phenomenon—they cannot manage their anxiety nor deny their feelings. In adults, this attachment style manifests itself with emotions all over the board—fear of being abandoned, contrasted with a fear of being intimate. The resounding voice in their head reminds them, “Don’t get burned,” and reverberates throughout the rocky relationship, as their lack of trust prevents them from being all in.

University of Illinois, R. Chris Fraley, Ph.D., shares the 1987 attachment style questionnaire that researchers, Hazan and Shaver developed after taking Bowlby’s research a step further. Hazan and Shaver’s showed a correlation between infant attachment styles and romantic adult attachments styles. In Hazan and Shaver’s study, they discovered 60% of adults with a secure attachment style (healthy); 20% who described themselves as avoidant, and 20% who believed they were anxious-resistant.

According to this research, 40% of the population struggle in their adult romantic relationship because they do not have a secure attachment style.

So what does this mean for those who want to find intimacy and love, but only seem to sabotage their relationship?

Here are 5 tips for you or someone you know who are either in the 40% of insecure attachment styles or fear that they are unworthy or not good enough:

1) Awareness: If you have any of these thoughts and doubts, your first step is the willingness to self-examine. Locating articles, knowing your Myers Briggs Personality Type, or talking with a relationship counselor can help you quickly down the yellow brick road to self-discovery of your attachment style.

2) Embrace the Fear. If your attachment style is anything other than secure, your next step on journey seems counterintuitive—embrace your fear. Several of our clients present insecure attachments styles, and we break it down to just raw fear, many of them seem confused. They claim they aren’t thinking fearful or anxious thoughts. They don’t think of themselves as not good enough.

But undesired subconscious doubts slip into our heads, represented figuratively by trees throwing apples, Wicked Witch fiery threats, or flying monkeys. In order to override these scary thoughts, we, like Dorothy, need to embrace the intellect of the Scarecrow, the heart of the Tin Man and the Courage of the Lion.

So many ask, “How do I embrace fear on my Yellow Brick Road?” It’s looking behind the curtain and getting support as you take one step at a time to follow the golden bricks.

3) Vulnerability + Cognitive Bypass™. “With complete vulnerability comes absolute empowerment,” was an ongoing mantra we coined during the writing of our book, One Billion Seconds.

If you can open your heart, allowing all of your thoughts and feelings to be exposed, you’ll have reached a stage we developed, called, “Cognitive Bypass™.” When you speak without censoring your thoughts—without filters—you speak from your heart, you’ve broken through the barriers of fear and landed into a world of a secure attachment style.

Toward the end of the Wizard of Oz movie, Dorothy tossed a pail of water on the Wicked Witch—and Dorothy, by her heart’s instincts, and without thinking—accessed her own Cognitive Bypass™. Vulnerability is approaching your partner with your story reel of deep-seeded insecurities and sharing the raw footage with them. The uncut version of vulnerability will bring you a rich and meaningful relationship.

4) Repetition. Science tells us that it takes four positive thoughts to override one negative or fearful thought! Whoa. That’s why frequent iterations of mantras and affirmations are so essential to tone down the overactive fear center in the brain. And replace the scary thought with several of positivity and courage.

Did you ever count how many times Dorothy repeated her mantra that “There’s no place like home?” At least five. We suggest the same thing to our clients. We propose affirmations said to yourself aloud—preferably in the mirror.

It takes 17 seconds to change a thought or feeling. When we repeat a positive affirmation in the mirror, we can see the actual physiological transformation in our face. Our cheeks may flush, heart rate may increase from serotonin levels rising, and a warm smile may spread across our face.

At the very least, you may smile because the wonderful things you are saying to yourself feel a bit uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Which is another indication that you definitely need to keep repeating these positive affirmations!

Examples include, “I am a good friend. I am loveable. I am trustworthy. I am attractive. I am encouraging. I am a good partner. I am bright. I am strong. I have courage. I take action. I am kind. I am thoughtful. I am empathetic. I am resourceful. I am talented. I am a good listener. I am creative…”

5) A “Good Witch Journal” and a “Bad Witch Journal.” In the Good Witch Journal, record at least four things for which you are grateful every day; five if you might be an over-achiever.

In the Bad Witch Journal—and without analysis right away—document your fears. Expose them. Diminish their power over you by getting them out onto the page. Psychology shows us that hand-written expression decreases our cortisol levels (stress hormone) and reduces anxiety.

You too may find, like Dorothy, who repeatedly faced and conquered obstacle after obstacle, fear after fear, backed into eliminating her greatest fear—throwing water onto the Wicked Witch of the West. When you have many pages of hand-written fears, they cease to have power over you, and the next challenge that comes your way will seem like no big deal.

Whether you have an insecure attachment style (as Dorothy had), it is the actual journey of self-examination that will throw water on your fears and prevent you from sabotaging your relationship. When Glinda shows up and tells Dorothy she’s actually been able to return to Kansas all along, the Scarecrow, for one, is upset. Glinda’ssqueaky-sweet voice tinkles, “She wouldn’t have believed me…she had to learn it for herself.”

In our relationship practice, we are mentors, like Glinda, (except without the squeaky-sweet voice). We give pointers to our clients as they journey on their Yellow Brick Road. And when they come to the figurative signpost that says, “If I were you, I’d turn back now,” we are similar to Dorothy’s pals who bolster her to keep going.

Ideally, all of us grow and develop every day. There are no Cliff Notes or Spark Notes on the Yellow Brick Road to writing our own life story. We must take in every word, as our life is not a summary of a story. Rather, our life is a journey of fairy dust sprinkles and wicked interruptions to be embraced and cherished as learning tools to make us the best version of ourselves.

If in your desired healthy secure-attachment relationship, you choose to embrace fear, and have the courage to be vulnerable, you can achieve that closeness and connection you desire. Instead of allowing an insecure attachment style to undermine your healthy relationship, sabotage your own fear instead.

“You’ve had the power all along.”

If you would like to learn more about your attachment style or your Myers Briggs personality preference, please reach out to us for your free 30-minute consultation.

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Poppy and Geoff Spencer