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Episode 228: Insecure Attachment

Submit a question

36 questions that lead to love.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

1. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
2. Is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
3. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
4. What do you value most in a friendship?
5. What is your most treasured memory?
6. What is your most terrible memory?
7. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
8. What does friendship mean to you?
9. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
10. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
11. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
12. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

1. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "We are both in this room feeling..."
2. Complete this sentence: "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
3. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
4. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met.
5. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
6. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
7. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
8. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
9. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?
10. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
11. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
12. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be the best you can be.

I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled Insecure Attachment. And if you are ready, we'll start the show.

Hi people. Hope all's well with you today. Well, not just today, obviously. I hope all's well with you every single day, and in every single way, although that's probably unrealistic, really. I might be an optimist, but I'm an optimistic realist. Being a human in the modern world... means that we're usually a mixed bag of wellness.

We might be very happy with our social life, but we could be bored with our job. Or we can feel quite secure at work, but we're insecure in our relationship. And that's more common than you might think. I think a lot of people assume that if we're naturally insecure people, whether that's through nature or nurture, then we're insecure in all areas of our life.

But that's not strictly true. I wrote about it a little bit in my book, but I can be really quite insecure. And when I mentioned this to a client once, their eyes just widened like saucers. They went, You? Blimey! If you can be insecure, what chance is there for any of us? And we chatted about it, because sometimes we assume that happy and contented people must be secure.

And I am happy and contented. I've got to that point in life of practicing what I preach most of the time to feel pretty good. But for 20 years, I've unconsciously been expecting my wife to tell me that she's finally had enough of me and is going to leave me. I consciously know that she loves me as much as I love her, and she wants to grow old with me, and so on.

But there's still that insecure, unconscious part of me that looks for reasons to disprove it. And of course, you always find what you look for. Now, I tell you this because I'm so much better lately, so much better, honestly. But that didn't happen by itself. I had to work really hard on challenging those thoughts and feelings on an almost daily basis for 20 years.

And it does go up and down. Some weeks I felt secure and some weeks I didn't. And I am fully on board with the idea that maybe, in the future, there's going to be some insecure moments again, and I need to be okay with that. If you've listened to my attachment theory episodes that I did back in 2019, then you'll already have an understanding of what I mean by insecure when it comes to relationships.

They were on Patreon. They're about an hour long in total, all of them, and they're well worth becoming a patron just for those alone. If you're a patron of mine and you haven't listened to those ones, please do. I've added a playlist to my Patreon page called Attachment. Patreon call them Collections rather than playlists because you can add anything to them.

They're not just for podcasters, they're for artists. So you can have pictures, videos, podcasts. So they're called Collections. Go to my Patreon page and you'll see it. Have a listen. But I'll very briefly summarise attachment here. In short, when it comes to attaching ourselves to significant people in our life, especially romantic relationships, we can fall into a number of emotional and behavioural types.

If we have a secure attachment style, then we're more trusting and accepting of closeness, yet still have independence, a confidence that even if things went wrong in the relationship, we'd be okay. It'd be hard, but we'd recover. We want to aim for that, really. But if we've developed an insecure attachment style for some reason, either because certain behaviours or traits were modeled to us that way by others, or because we've been hurt by others, then we can develop a couple of different styles, but usually one will dominate.

And those are what we call Preoccupied or Avoidant, meaning that we either become highly preoccupied with the idea of keeping our attachment figures close by, monitoring their behavior to make sure they're okay, needing and seeking reassurance from them that they love you, that sort of thing.

That's a preoccupied Insecure attachment style. I was never quite that bad, but I do fall slightly into that camp, I'll be honest. And then there's the avoidant style of insecure attachment, where people will push their partners away, rather than open themselves up to the possibility of being rejected.

They'll do the rejecting first. And understanding these attachment styles is really very, very useful. It helps us to understand ourselves. And others better and helps us to challenge those thoughts and feelings that could normally drag us down. There is a third insecure style. It's rare, but we can actually jump back and forth between avoidant and preoccupied and both push people away and crave for them soon afterwards.

And that's sometimes called fearful or disorganised attachment insecurity. Usually, that comes from having had quite a neglectful childhood, where our caregivers were both the source of our security and also the source of our trauma. So, it's common in therapy, but not so common in the population. Because on the whole, most parents only screw up their kids a tiny bit, and it doesn't cause major issues.

And although it's more nurture than nature, our attachment styles are still something we inherit from our parents, because their attachment style will massively influence our own, because we'll learn from them, or be hurt by them. And we'll begin to develop an attachment style at birth, and play out the same traits, the same feelings, that influence behaviour as an adult.

And overcoming it does take some practice, but despite the fact that I've been a therapist in some capacity for well over 20 years, my initial training was in solution focused stuff, sort of CBT style rather than the deeper personality issues. So I never really looked into my attachment style until I did my psychotherapy training about 10 years ago.

And with that understanding, I was able to steer myself into a more... secure direction by practicing what it's like to be secure. To learn to be okay with the vulnerability of saying to my wife, I think about you falling out of love with me every day. Sometimes dozens of times per day. And bless her, she just didn't have a clue.

It was like telling her I was a secret drug user or something. But it started there. So whenever she had a... grumpy look on her face, rather than thinking, oh, what have I done now? I forced myself to take myself out of the picture so that her mood isn't about me and challenge the thought. Is there another reason for that grumpy expression?

Yes, it's 7am, and she hasn't had any coffee yet, and in all honesty, you can't talk to my wife before half past nine. Not that anybody else but me would notice, because she'd put on a smile and a happy professional demeanour until half nine, maybe ten o'clock when her brain had woken up properly. And the happy professional demeanour is genuine, but because she's more secure than me, she can show her true self to me.

So if she's tired... hungry, bored, frustrated, worried, whatever. She's gonna show it when she's with me. Because she's learned that it's safe to be herself, and can be vulnerable if needs be. I had to practice that. And if you need to practice that, then do! If you feel insecure, and a part of you is wondering whether your friend, your partner, secretly hates you...

Then ask them how they are. If there's something in their behaviour that automatically steers you towards If I ask them what's wrong I might not like the answer because they'll tell me that they don't really like me. They don't want me to be their friend after all or whatever. Then say, You seem distant, is everything alright?

Don't be afraid of the answer. Or rather, learn to not be afraid of the answer by asking the question. There have been loads of studies over the years that show that even in people with an insecure attachment style, by practising being anxious and regulating their emotions with some... deep breathing and some cognitive work, it improves relationships.

People have better relationships despite their insecurity when they learn how to calm themselves down and look at alternative ways of thinking. Doing this helps to lengthen the space between feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. What we find with insecure people is that they'll feel that their partner hates them.

So they'll look for reasons why they do, and then they'll either push them away because they have an avoidant style, or they'll smother them in clingy neediness that might end up pushing them away too. With some emotional regulation. You can catch yourself BEFORE the feelings become anxious thoughts, or rather be able to interrupt the anxious thoughts with some alternatives, which leads to better behaviour.

Living in facts rather than assumptions, I guess, which allows us to be vulnerable, allows us to be open and genuine with each other, which ultimately leads to feeling more secure. It takes practice and it takes time. But repetition, repetition, repetition, you get there. You absolutely do. One way of doing that, whether that's with friends or romantic partners, is simply to talk about more than just the weather or Love Island.

In couples counselling, they often talk about Elaine and Arthur Aron's Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. You might have heard me talk about Elaine Aron before. Because it was her that studied SPS, Sensory Processing Sensitivity. I did an episode about it recently. And about a year after this study was done, actually, where, um, this one was where she, her husband, Arthur, and a few other people from various U. S. universities found that you only need to spend one hour... having even slightly personal conversations with someone for it to create a significant feeling of emotional closeness, which led the questions to be labelled as the 36 questions that lead to love. They were three sets of 12, and each set gets increasingly more personal.

There were questions like, If you were able to live to the age of 90, and retain either the mind or body of a 30 year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose? Things like that. Or, if you woke up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? But they get increasingly more personal.

The next set of things, that's things like, if you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, Would you change anything about the way you are now living? And is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it? And the third set is full of questions like, Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

And if you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? And why haven't you told them yet? So we're looking at deep stuff here. And they compared how close the participants felt with each other when compared to simple small talk questions.

I'll add all these 36 questions into the show notes, actually, and you can read them all for yourself. It genuinely does create a closeness, even with total strangers, let alone someone who's already a very close friend already. It teaches us to be okay being emotional and open. And they've been called the 36 questions that lead to love, because some of the strangers who took part in the study did go on to fall in love and have a serious relationship, even though that wasn't the point of the study.

Even the participants in the control group, which were just 36 questions about where you went on holiday last, or what did you do last year for Halloween, Even the people in that group asking those sorts of questions. Even they reported feeling emotionally connected and close after an hour, but nowhere near as close as those deeper ones.

So because it's those sorts of conversations that lead us to feeling close to another person, if we have some attachment insecurity, and closeness is something that we need to get desensitised to in order to no longer fear, and then... become more securely attached, then please do take some steps to make it happen if you need to.

So, I'll be off for today. Go and have a vulnerable and emotional week. I'll be back on Monday on Patreon, as always, where I'll be talking about habits, I think, and the rest of the month I've got things like... Positivity, loneliness, willpower, I think they were on my list. And of course there'll be the usual hypnotherapy tracks on Mondays for you as well.

So hop on board on Patreon, especially if you want to learn a little bit more about attachment in relationships. I'm sure you'll find it useful. Anyway, time to go then. Enjoy yourself. I'll speak to you again soon. Take care.