How Can Yoga Help Heal Insecure Attachment?
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | January 27, 2024
The other night my husband and I were watching Oppenheimer. We got to a scene where his wife, Kitty, is sitting alone, drinking in the dark, ignoring their infant son’s screams when Robert walks in and asks her why she’s not doing anything (it doesn’t occur to him to help her or the child out, but that was the 1940s I guess). In another scene, she calls the baby a brat. And then later, the couple decide to give the baby to another couple to take care of “for a while.”
At which point we both winced and mumbled things about “insecure attachment.”
I wanted to find out how life turned out for that baby, Peter Oppenheimer, so I googled him and weirdly enough, he attended the Quaker school near where I grew up in Pennsylvania (my next door neighbors all went there). But he didn’t do well and dropped out. It seems like he may have had a lot of personal struggles. Eventually he became a carpenter and moved to rural New Mexico to live a largely secluded life – unsurprising given his early childhood experiences of rejection, and the bullying he was subjected to because of his father’s political activies.
I’ve written about attachment theory and yoga before. In the 1960s, an American-Canadian researcher named Mary Ainsworth designed experiments to see how young children respond to stress and how it plays out in their relationship with their caregiver. Through these experiments, she theorized there are 4 different kinds of attachment styles which form patterns that follows us into our adult lives:
- Secure – People who have a secure attachment style tend to have warm, positive, responsive relationships. The next three are all forms of insecure attachment.
- Avoidant – People with an avoidant attachment style tend to be dismissive of others, emotionally cold, and prefer to avoid close relationships, or intimacy in their relationships.
- Anxious – People with an anxious attachment style tend to feel unvalued in relationship and can be clingy and emotionally needy.
- Disorganized – People with disorganized attachment style have inconsistent and contradictory responses to relationships. They may dissociate, or act-out violently and/or sexually.
Importantly, attachment styles are not fixed. While early childhood experiences can have a significant impact on our later relationships, attachment styles can improve and evolve throughout your life. Fortunately, we are not the lifelong prisoners of our early attachment issues – healing and change are possible. In other words, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
However, if you ignore insecure attachment issues, they certainly can chase you into adulthood, and wreak havoc on your adult relationships. And if you were raised in the 1940s – 1970s, when there was not a lot of awareness of attachment parenting, at least in the U.S., you may wish to explore strategies for healing attachment. There are whole generations walking around with insecure attachment issues – you could say that these issues lie at the root of many of the social and political problems in the world.
I would be remiss not to mention that insecure attachment is largely a product of western, industrialized society. Traditional cultures tend not to need attachment theory – because they get how to raise children.
My husband and I often joke that I’m anxiously attached and he’s avoidantly attached. When I’m stressed I want shoulder rubs, attention, and kind words. When he’s stressed, he wants to be alone in his mancave watching Bourne Identity movies 🤣. BTW this is a very typical kind of pairing. And when you understand your attachment style, and work to develop secure attachment patterning, it can help you navigate bumps in your relationships.
If you don’t know what your attachment style is, you can take a quiz here. https://www.attachmentproject.com/
Healing insecure attachment is something that can improve your life – but it’s often not easy or quick – it certainly warrants working with a therapist.
But yoga philosophy and practice can add greatly to the process.
According to yoga philosophy, the essence of every person we encounter and have a relationship with is a manifestation of the One cosmic reality. When we develop close relationships with others, they become our special people – and they can reflect that reality in a special way.
Additionally, when we develop a close relationship with our higher self, through meditation practices, we can start to rely on an internal sense of secure attachment.
This is one of the most famous verses of the Bhagavad Gita:
tvameva mātā ca pitā tvameva
tvameva bandhuśca sakhā tvameva
tvameva vidyā draviṇam tvameva
tvameva sarvam mama deva deva
it means something like: You are my mother, You are my father, You are my sister, You are my friend, You are my knowledge, You are my wealth, You are my everything, the essence of all love.
Yoga practice can help you both develop a deeper relationship internally with your higher self and to experience and value the essence of those we have external relationships with as a reflection of that infinite love. I believe this is its most powerful healing potential. It can provide the inner child with what they didn’t get – the solace and comfort that every human being craves because we are hardwired to attach.
It’s not too late to thrive in 2024 – please check out my mini-course:VISIONING a Bright New Year: A Guided Journey (subtleyoga.com)