attachment

Understanding Attachment And Finding Genuine Connection

Therapy is like peeling away the layers of an onion

Therapy is like peeling away the layers of an onion

Therapy is often like peeling an onion. As we peel away each layer, we’re offered new insights and understanding. Often my clients seek help initially for anxiety and stress, but as therapy progresses, it becomes evident that they’re not just stressed about what’s going on in their lives today. What triggers their anxiety is a feeling that they’re not living their lives as fully or consciously as they’d like. They describe feeling as though they don’t feel connected to themselves or the people in their lives.  

Feeling as if you don’t know yourself, or not being connected to your feelings, are usually the result of very early childhood experiences. From the moment we’re born, our relationship with our parents or caregivers affects our ability to feel at ease in the world as adults.

Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted gets reinforced as our parents respond to our cries and hold us when we’re distressed, feed us when we’re hungry and keep us warm and dry. When parents consistently provide us with unconditional love and caring, we learn as infants that our parents will always be there when we need comfort. We call this “secure attachment.”

Disrupted Attachment

Sometimes parents aren’t able to attend consistently to a child’s needs. This week on the Woman Worriers podcast, Marie Celeste shared her adoption story and her experience working with adoptive families and adoptees. She said that when children are adopted, they often feel an unconscious sense of loss and disconnection because they weren’t able to build that bond and connection with their birth mother.

Some other circumstances that can cause disruption in attachment are:

  • The parents must focus much of their attention on a sibling with physical or emotional disabilities.

  • The parent has mental health issues that limit their ability to be emotionally connected to the child.

  • The parent is overwhelmed by the child’s needs and isn’t able to respond with love and affection.

  • The parent wasn’t given what they needed growing up so they don’t have the internal resources to attach to the child.

  • One or both parents struggle with addiction.

  • Physical or sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.

The list could go on, but the point is that even when a parent’s intentions are good—they want to have and build an emotionally secure environment for their child—they might be unable to provide it because they aren’t emotionally grounded themselves.

Why Secure Attachment Matters

Does attachment really matter? If the child was raised in a safe secure home and given food to eat, a home for shelter, clothes to wear and parents who loved them, isn’t that enough?

Unconditional love and acceptance is important for emotionally healthy kids

Unconditional love and acceptance is important for emotionally healthy kids

The answer is, it’s not just material needs that matter. If you didn’t feel loved, cared for, and accepted unconditionally, then that impacts how you feel about yourself. It’s more about what you didn’t receive.

When children don’t feel unconditionally loved and accepted—for whatever reason—they internalize the pain and blame themselves. When you’ve been raised in an environment where your emotional needs were neglected, ignored, criticized or shamed it can lead to feelings of disconnection, anxiety and depression in adulthood.

Here are some things I’ve heard clients say about the affect of being emotionally neglected and insecurely attached to parents or caregivers:

  • I am not enough.

  • I don’t know what I need most of the time.

  • I don’t know how to ask for what I need.

  • I want to have a close relationship but maybe I’m just not able to.

  • There’s something about me that’s different from other people.

  • I feel like no one knows the real me.

  • There is this feeling that I’ll never be able to feel at ease in deeper connection. It’s something about me.

  • When I see other people so at ease socially I wonder what is it about me that’s different.

  • I know that if they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.

Healing Attachment Wounds

So how do we move forward and find true connection, love and acceptance? To feel grounded, safe and secure in the world?

We need to build, nurture and grow feelings of connection within ourselves. We need to re-parent ourselves, to learn to love and accept ourselves with compassion and understanding. We need to heal the wounded parts of us that weren’t given what they needed when we were children.

Recognizing that our childhood emotional needs weren’t met can open the door for healing. As we learn to love ourselves unconditionally and embrace our imperfectness we can start the process of healing our disrupted attachment and begin to identify, understand and express our emotional needs.

When we can fully connect with our self with love and compassion, it makes genuine connection with others so much easier. It eases feelings of anxiety and depression to help you feel more grounded and present in the world.

If you yearn to feel more grounded, at ease and present in your life, come join our exploration of mindfulness. Mindfulness groups are forming now in Annapolis. If you’re interested you can find out more here.

Here are some additional resources on Childhood Emotional Neglect:

Dr. Jonice Webb on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)™

Agnes Wainman, PhD, on Expectations & Anxiety

How to Take Control of Your Fatal Flaw


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 

5 Paths To Discovering Your Body's Wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Our bodies hold so much wisdom, intuition and awareness of how we’re feeling—yet we’ve become unaccustomed to listening or paying attention to what it’s telling us. Round-the-clock access to social media, news and entertainment can keep our attention and energy focused outward, increasing our lack of connection with our body and our desire to tune out instead of tune in.

Building a connection with the internal world of your body can help you heal from trauma, childhood emotional neglect and difficult life experiences. It also helps you feel more at peace and builds compassionate acceptance of self. 

Practicing mindfulness can help ground you.  As you start paying attention and become more aware of your body’s sensations, you grow more used to them—and more comfortable with the feelings that bubble up.

You might begin to recognize that some of those feelings are from long ago—that you’re not actually experiencing the pain right now, you’re just remembering. The growing awareness reinforces your understanding that the sensations and feelings in your body come and go all the time. Knowing that helps us feels less stuck.

Here are five ways to help you tune in to your body:

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

1. Yoga: Yoga is a mindful body-based exercise. Throughout the practice you’re checking in with your body, feeling the movement, paying attention to your breath and tuning into where your body is at that moment. Yoga helps you bring attention to the different parts of your body with compassion as you move. There are lots of different types of yoga—Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, Ashtanga, just to name a few—so if you try one style and don’t like it, try a different one!

2. Body scan: The body scan is a meditation that gradually brings your attention from your head to your toes. This particular mediation has been shown to help people who struggle with chronic pain, but you don’t have to be suffering to enjoy the benefits of allowing your body to be where it is at any given moment, whether it’s relaxed, numb, tense or in pain. You can find a guided body scan here.

3. Meditation: Mindful meditations bring your awareness to your breath or another anchor. Each time your mind wanders, you bring it back to the anchor. As you meditate regularly, you begin to notice that your body reacts when you get caught up in thoughts, worries or plans. Practicing meditation helps you bring your awareness back again and again to a place of non-judgment, of non-reactivity and a place of calm.

4. Mindful walking: When you walk mindfully, you tune in to your body’s movements as you travel. You can do it indoors or out. Your body becomes your focus. You might sense how the earth feels under your feet, how the breeze feels on your skin or the sun on your face. You might notice the temperature of the air, or how your arms move and your hips sway as you walk. Maybe you can even feel some gratitude for the body that carries you throughout your day without you paying much attention to it. Here’s a guided mindful walking exercise to try.

5. Somatic interventions in therapy: If you’ve experienced trauma, you might not feel safe bringing more awareness to your body. Certain forms of therapy can help you get in touch with your body in the safe space of the therapist’s office. The therapist works with you to help you feel more grounded and present in your body. You work at your own pace and explore strategies to help you soothe yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

As with all new things, take your time, explore the different options and be compassionate for where you are on this journey. You’ll begin to open a path to a better understanding of what you’re feeling at any given moment.

In this week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I talk about why body awareness is so vital to creating a better connection with yourself, and I share a guided exercise to help you tune in to your body.

Next week, we dive deeper into finding connection with the body on the podcast with my guest Lynn Fraser.

For readers who live in the Baltimore/Annapolis area, mindfulness groups are now forming for March. If you’re interested, you can find out more about the groups here.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979

 

Listening To All The Anxious Parts of You

Your Anxious Parts

We all have parts of us that can get triggered when we’re in distress, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. Lots of my clients tell me that the voices in their head make them anxious, stressed, depressed and feeling as if their brain never quiets. They report that the constant barrage of input leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.

connect to yourself

connect to yourself

These clients come to therapy to help them quiet the noise, to reduce their stress and to feel more connected with themselves. They also say that sometimes the things they tell themselves contradict each other. The confusing, conflicting self-talk leaves them feeling unsure about what they want or need and makes it really hard to connect with and show up as their true selves.

Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety

Most of my clients can easily identify the part that I call “the inner critic.” It’s the little (but sometimes quite loud) voice that points out when you make mistakes. Maybe it even calls you names when things don’t go well. For instance, my inner critic is quick to pile on the guilt when I’m worrying about not being a good enough mother, partner, friend, business owner… you name it. It tells me all the things I should have done differently.

My clients will often defend that voice, saying that it keeps them in line and makes them more conscientious about not making mistakes in the future. But they also say that the inner critic can make them feel “less than.” It leaves them constantly worrying and rethinking how things might have gone better, “if only they were… (you fill in the blank).”

The inner-critic part might sound a lot like a caregiver, parent or someone in your life who was critical of you when you were growing up. It’s often the loudest and easiest part to identify. However, it’s only one of many parts of you that can fuel your anxiety.

I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old

teenage girl.jpg

Some clients are so aware of these other parts that they can tell me how old they felt at a particular moment when they were triggered. I know that’s happened to me. My go-to response when I sense a potential conflict is to withdraw, and I feel like the hopeless, angry teenager part of me licking her wounds. The problem with responding from your wounded parts is that you repeat patterns of behavior that probably aren’t very useful, and which might even be harmful in your present life.

Family or friends who’ve known you for a long time can often trigger some of your parts, but they can also just pop up when situations make you feel like that younger self. You might find that your voice changes, or you respond with the old coping skills you used way back then, but which aren’t very productive today.

Some of my clients say that younger parts are often angry, easily offended and very defensive. Some say they’re withdrawn, anxious or depressed. So when stuff happens that makes them feel vulnerable, the parts that feel threatened want to jump in and react the way they did in the past. If this happens to you, it can lead to arguments, wanting to avoid situations, or feeling very anxious and depressed, because you’re caught up in one of your parts that wants to protect you or hide from the perceived threat.

What Is This Noise In My Head?

The different parts can make you feel overwhelmed and maybe a little worried that  something might be wrong with you. “Do I have multiple personalities? Why are all these voices in my head?”

There’s nothing wrong with you. We all have different parts. Some people have an easy time recognizing them; for others, the parts are less defined. Our parts developed over our lifetime to help us cope with stressful life events. So, if you had a difficult childhood — if you were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; if your parents emotionally neglected you; or if your life experiences were difficult or traumatic, it’s likely that your various parts are pretty active.

In my next post, I’ll share how you can learn from your parts and build up your true, everyday showing-up part to help you quiet the noise in your head. When you learn to work with your parts and identify their worries, you can truly connect with yourself and live your life with more ease and purpose.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos by Cynthia Magana  andElena Ferrer on Unsplash