If you’ve been following along for the past couple weeks, you’ll know that we’ve been discussing ATTACHMENT STYLES here on Unf*ck Your Relationships.
To continue the conversation on how to go from anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles to a secure attachment style, I brought in someone who wrote the book on it…literally.
Please welcome Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick!
Michelle: For anyone who doesn’t know you, can you please introduce yourself and tell us who you are?
Dr. Fedrick: Absolutely. I am a licensed professional counselor in Arizona, as well as a relationship and intimacy coach for clients all over the world. I own a multi-unit private practice in Arizona as well. And on top of all that, I also host a podcast and stay really busy on socials, which I absolutely love, because it’s all about hearing people’s stories and connecting with them.
Michelle: I’m always curious to see what is going to be unearthed in a conversation between two relationship and intimacy coaches, because I feel like we can go to a deeper level on those subjects, which is really cool.
Michelle: So, give us the lowdown on programming and relationships. What does that even mean? How does someone know what their programming is?
Dr. Fedrick: Well, a lot of people know about attachment styles. My dissertation for my doctorate was actually founded in attachment theory; the foundation of the relationship programming concept that I developed is founded in attachment theory.
If you’re familiar with attachment theory, then you know that our early life experiences with our caregivers really set the stage for what we come to expect out of relationships and the kind of behavior that we tolerate within them.
And this isn’t something happens later on in childhood; this gets established in infancy.
Depending on whether our caregivers show up as warm and nurturing and attentive and show that our needs matter to them, or if they show up as chaotic, abusive, neglectful, and make sure we know we’re a burden, our attachment style will turn out very differently.
Now, those aren’t the only two options. There’s a whole spectrum of different ways that a caregiver might show up in between both extremes.
No caregiver is going to be perfect. But it’s the consistent messaging that they send us starting in infancy that sets the stage for what we come to believe about relationships and what we believe about ourselves—whether we believe we’re worthy of love or if we’re an inconvenience and a burden on others.
We then take this programming that starts in those early years and, as we start dating throughout our teenage years and adulthood, we seek out relationships that are familiar to our programming.
We don’t do it consciously or intentionally, but we naturally seek out what’s familiar…even if it’s terrible. And that in turn reinforces our programming, which is what often gets us stuck in that cycle.
Michelle: What I see a lot—and you may have seen this as well—is that people will see their attachment style, whatever it may be, and they’ll get stuck in that for years. They’ll tell themselves that it’s “just how they are.” So how does someone start to move towards secure?
Dr. Fedrick: Great question. That really is where the reprogramming concept comes in, because we talk a lot about attachment styles. We talk about attachment theory. But you’re absolutely right; it often becomes this identity that we take on, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
People will say, “Well, I’m doing that because I’m anxious.” “Well, it’s not that I don’t care. I’m just avoidant. So that’s just the way it is.”
For myself, who identifies as disorganized when I’m activated (which is a whole shit storm of chaos), being stuck in that is really humiliating.
It’s hard to sit with that…if that’s where we stop.
If that’s where it ends, it’s like, “Here’s your identity. Have a great day.” But that’s where I started to dig into this reprogramming process, because I just knew there had to be a way to get out of it.
If we were programmed a certain way, then that means we can reprogram it.
Plugging wires into the back of a computer makes it work a certain way. So why can’t we figure out how to plug something else in, rewire it, and start to show up differently?
Reprogramming starts with identifying and having awareness around why we are the way we are and why we’re showing up the way we’re showing up. That’s a great first step. But then we need to identify what needs to change in order for us to show up differently.
When I do coaching and therapy, there are three stages I take people through: first, we have awareness. Then we identify what needs to change and implement that change. And then we allow space for adaptation, because the reprogramming is not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen next week. We need to allow time for us to really adapt to the reprogramming. But awareness is most certainly key.
For anyone reading this, you’ve got to dig in. You’ve got to understand what your attachment style is. But then we get to identify change from there.
Michelle: I just want to circle back to that around to one phrase you used: “disorganized when activated.” I love that, because I often speak to clients who say, “Well, I’m mostly anxious, but then I was with this person, and I went really avoidant. I’ve never experienced that before.” Or they’ll go, “I’m usually really avoidant, and then I was with this person, and I turned really anxious.”
And I’m like, right, because it depends on the person that you’re dating. Could you speak to that a little bit?
Dr. Fedrick: I actually talk about that in my book, Relationship Reprogramming. I talk about misconceptions about attachment styles, one of which is that it’s just our personality, and it can’t be changed.
That’s not true. First of all, you were programmed. Whatever attachment style was showing up, it was programmed. It’s not your personality.
Second of all, they’re not fixed. They’re not permanent. You can change them.
And thirdly, yes: who you’re with, depending on the environment and the relationship, will greatly influence how activated you become or what type of activation takes place.
Dr. Diane Poole Heller has a great attachment style quiz online where you can see a pie chart of how you tend to show up. So let’s say you have a smaller sliver of anxious, but you end up in a relationship with somebody who has a giant sliver of avoidant. Your anxious attachment style sliver is going to grow because of that, so the piece of the pie gets bigger and bigger.
But if you are with somebody that is secure, those protest behaviors or those bids for attention or the cry for reassurance aren’t necessary, because guess what? They’re actually going to text and call when they say they were going to. They’re not going to leave you on read. They’re going to contact you to make plans. So all of the things that might activate an anxious attachment style won’t get activated in the same way, because there is safety.
Michelle: Which is an entire mindfuck in itself, right?
Consciously, everyone wants a partner who is consistent and makes them feel loved and cherished. But then they meet that person, and they’re like, “I’m freaking out. I don’t know how to handle this. I need to get the hell out of here immediately.”
I even felt that with my partner in the beginning, I was like, “Oh my god, he’s so consistent. I never have to guess how he feels about me. He calls when he says he’s gonna call. He makes the plans. This is weird. I don’t know how to act.”
It’s really interesting how our conscious mind wants one thing, and then our unconscious is like, “I’m freaking out about this thing.”
Dr. Fedrick: Which ties into programming and reprogramming attachment styles as well, actually.
This is something that is really important for people to be aware of: the way that you are programmed is going to be your norm…until you make it an un-norm. Until you reprogram it and make it something different.
If your programming is that people are not safe, they can’t be trusted, they’re not consistent, and that’s what you know, to be true because of your prior experiences…when you get into a relationship with somebody that shows up differently than that, everything does go haywire, because it’s unfamiliar to you. It doesn’t compute with your programming.
This is what I was talking about with the adaptation stage of reprogramming attachment styles, because when you get into that state, you have to stop and say, “I’m going to let my logical mind be the boss right now.” Because your emotional mind is saying, “Nah, they’re boring. They’re too needy. They’re too clingy,” or whatever excuses it can come up with. And we have to let our logical mind say, “Are they? Or are they just safe, and I’ve never had that before?”
Michelle: So awareness is the first step of reprogramming attachment styles. But I find people can get very stuck in the stage after. So how do we start to actually implement the changes we need to move toward security?
Dr. Fedrick: So in the awareness stage of reprogramming your attachment style, what I encourage people to do is create a timeline from birth to present where they’re identifying relational themes. That includes how their parents were interacting early on, what this created for them in terms of their beliefs about themselves, and their survival behaviors, which are the ways that we coped with not feeling accepted or safe in childhood.
Whether that was fawning, which falls into the anxious category, or it was isolating or withdrawing, which falls into the avoidant category, those behaviors kept us safe at one point, and it’s so important for people to understand that when we show up with anxious tendencies or avoidant or disorganized, we are not doing that just to be an asshole. We’re not doing it because we’re crazy. We’re doing it because at some point, it kept us safe, and we believe it will continue to keep us safe.
By understanding where those behaviors came from and how they’re showing up for you presently, that’s where we get to identify the changes that need to happen in our attachment styles.
So if we know a survival behavior is “If I don’t hear from my partner, I’m going text him over and over and over until I get his attention,” when we’re working towards secure, we need to actually change that behavior, because you’re right: that knowledge in and of itself is not power. It is the application of that knowledge that gives us the power.
I have a client that I’ve been working with for a while, and she’s doing beautiful work around her anxious attachment style. And she can identify those behaviors, so what we do is talk about what she could do instead.
Even if her whole body is screaming to do this behavior, what can she do instead?
It really is that simple. And the beauty of reprogramming your attachment style and the adaptation phase is that the more we do it, the more we get used to it. The more it becomes our norm.
A lot of people think you can just go to therapy, do your healing, and then snap, you’re out of it. You’re reprogrammed.
That’s not the case. You have to do the hard shit. That’s the only way to reprogram your attachment style: by doing the things that are wildly uncomfortable.
It was amazing to have Dr. Fedrick come on and chat with me. Make sure you head to the Unf*ck Your Relationships podcast and listen to the whole thing, because fuuuck, we covered so much. I feel like we could have talked for three more hours and not gone over it all.
I’m also going to be guesting on Dr. Fedrick’s podcast, Relatable: Relationships Unfiltered. So make sure you listen to both episodes, cause we’re going to cover a lot more ground, I’m sure.
In the meantime, check out Dr. Fedrick’s website. Listen to the podcast. Buy her book. 2024’s the year we actually stop treating our attachment styles like they’re set in stone.
Get instant access to SHADOW HUNTER, a FREE 3-day event all about WTF shadow work actually is, how to do it, and how it’s going to completely change the way you do relationships forever: https://michellepanning.thrivecart.com/shadow-hunter/
Join The Connected Woman EXPERIENCE: https://michellepanning.com/the-connected-woman-experience
Sign up for The Connected Woman course: https://michellepanning.com/the-connected-woman
I get it, girl. I’ve been there too. For years, I was going through the same experiences with men over and over again that left me feeling confused, anxious and pissed off.
I silenced myself in dating and relationships because I was terrified of being judged, rejected and abandoned. It all changed when I went through a break-up and thought “enough is enough. I cannot continue to repeat the same relationships with different men! Something HAS to change!”