Attachment Theory for Writing [Dys]Functional Relationships

I’ve been obsessed with relationships lately, specifically the romantic sort, though there’s not a huge difference between romantic and platonic relationships. Both require effort and care to thrive. My obsession led me to a book called Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin.

Wired for Love expounds on attachment theory, the idea that the early interactions with our primary caregiver (usually our mother) lays the framework for how we experience relationships as adults. This book helped me realize the patterns I perpetuate in relationships, and how to move toward security and trust.

Whether you’re navigating your own relationship or dictating those of fictional characters, it all comes down to how we relate to another, and how we relate is derived from our attachment style. In Wired for Love, Tatkin proposes three styles of relating, they are the securely attached Anchors, and the insecurely attached Islands and Waves.

Secure Attachment
Anchors: People who are anchors experienced secure attachment in their early life. They grew up with reliable caregivers in a reliable environment. As children, their needs were met so they felt secure and supported by their caregiver(s). As a result, they are able to enter into new relationships without fear of being abandoned or losing their autonomy.

Insecure Attachment
Waves and Islands: People who are waves or islands did not experience secure attachment in their early life. As children, often their needs did not come first. Instead, they learned to meet their own needs. As adults, these types struggle with trust and tend to be distant in relationships.

Waves: As children, waves were rewarded with parental love for being dependent on a parent, and they may have been responsible for the emotional wellbeing of at least one parent. As a result, they tend to be more needy or clingy and fear they will be abandoned.

Islands: As children, islands often had to perform or be on display to receive love from a parent. As adults in romantic relationships, they fear their independence will be taken (as it was in childhood) and as a result, they crave and create distance between themselves and their partner and avoid depending on others.

We all aspire to be anchors, and many people are quick to assume they’re an anchor. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a true anchor, and that’s okay. Life is about growing and changing. If you’re done growing, you’re dead.

Realistically, we all have elements of each. None of this is bad though, and knowing your type gives you the opportunity to edit your reactions. For example, a wave wants to pull away when their partner seeks closeness. The wave’s reasoning: My partner is showing me love now, but experience (in early childhood) shows love can be taken away at any moment. The wave, fearing abandonment, turns away from their partner’s affections, rejecting their partner before the inevitable rejection, thus maintaining the self-fulfilling prophecy of the wave’s core belief formed in childhood: everyone who says they love me will abandon me.

Hack your (or your character’s) style. If you’re an island or a wave (or a combination) do the opposite of your initial reaction. If your partner upsets you, and your impulse is to pull away, move toward them. Stay with the discomfort, stay engaged, and talk it out. Allow yourself (and your characters) to be vulnerable and see what you learn.

In Dead Like Stars, Sasha is mostly an Island. She fears developing a relationship with Ambrose for many reasons. She fears losing her sense of self, but she’s also afraid of depending on him. The fact that she’s forced to depend on him (and others) in this book is a huge struggle for her. Her character arc over the series has her striving for anchor status. We’ll see if she makes it!

What about your characters? Do you write Islands, Anchors, or Waves?

 

Through the end of March, Dead Like Stars (a preview only) is part of a giveaway on Instafreebie. If you love vampires (and werewolves) go get some FREE BOOKS!

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