In recent months I have been delving into Brown and Elliott’s comprehensive book about Attachment Disturbances in Adults. It’s a detailed exploration of the way adults relate, looking at how therapy can assist clients who find themselves anxious or avoidant in their attachments to others, and to help clients who experience a disorganisation of the way they attach that combines both anxiety and avoidance behaviours.
One of the ways of working that Brown and Elliott advocate particularly resonated with my experience of the changes in the way I experience being with clients as their attachment patterns change. Today I want to talk about the idea of collaborative verbal and non-verbal behaviour, with the aim of supporting reflections about the way you communicate and how this connects to your experience of feeling safe or unsafe with other people.
We experience other people as ‘safe’ in part through the way they communicate with us. When we are listened to, validated, mirrored, and experience our meaning being reflected back to us, we know we are being attended to. It’s a good list to reflect on in terms of how much you provide this to the people you talk to; it can highlight how far you are inviting dialogue and vulnerability, which is important for any meaningful relationship.
You might also reflect on this list of dimensions of conversational exchange I put together as I was reading:.
Are you overly succinct, disclosing fully, or being verbose?
Is your speech partitioned into meaningful chunks with the space for the other to respond? Or, do you talk and talk and talk, maybe even interrupting, or hold right back and say very little?
Do you convey emotion in what you are saying, or speak unemotionally, or share all your emotions without censor?
Are you focused, or wandering or evasive and unclear?
Are you talking about your own experience or overly interested in the state of mind and opinions of others?
Are you repeatedly dwelling on past hurts, or reflecting on the here and now?
Do you devalue and shame others for their contributions, going on the offensive rather than owning your own feelings and sharing them?
Do you comfortably maintain eye contact, and orientate yourself to the person you are talking to? Do you avoid looking at them or turn away, or want to be closer to others than they are comfortable with?
Do you notice yourself being physically in synch with others, or do you find yourself mis-matching and feeling out of tune? You might notice synchronicity with facial expressions, breathing, posture, vocal rhythm, tone and pitch, and many other aspects that are beyond the words spoken.
Reflecting on patterns in your conversations can give good clues about relationships you feel less comfortable in. You may notice your patterns are the same across types of relationships and contexts, or quite different in some contexts to others.
If you have patterns that you feel are tripping you up and you want to change your way of relating to others, finding an attachment informed psychotherapist may well be useful. You can work with your way of being in the therapy relationship, and through this learn new ways of being that can spread to the contexts in which you most want to make a difference.