Learning to Love

Written by
Michael Wells

Learning to Love

Overcoming Avoidant Attachment Styles

Written by
Michael Wells

Learning to Love

Overcoming Avoidant Attachment Styles

Written by
Michael Wells

This article is part of the series 


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"I have never felt love from my mother, even though I know she does - and it has caused me to be numb to emotion. What should I do?"
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Learn to love, and learn to be loved.

And I mean that very literally.

The parent-child connection is founded on a chemical neurotransmitter known as Oxytocin, and if you look at these relationships objectively, you can see that an Oxytocin bond has two different ends.

  • One end is the parent, who feels the desire to protect and nurture.
  • The other end is the child who feels the desire to BE protected and nurtured.

Watch a parent drop their 6 month old off at daycare, and you’ll see both of them suffering terribly at having to disconnect from each other, but in distinctly different ways.

Welcome to oxytocin.

Where Oxytocin Sometimes Fails Us

On the simpler level, much of our brains are simple machines, full of chemical triggers and reactions. And just machines, sometimes they don't work exactly as designed.

For whatever reason, your mother could not be have that normal mothering relationship with you. Maybe she never experienced it herself, or maybe she felt smothered by her parents and felt anxiety about doing that to you.

Maybe she can’t feel oxytocin, or maybe she fears loving you too much and then something goes wrong and she feels grief, loss, rejection at levels she cannot handle.

What was her relationship with her parents like? Has she suffered any major losses in her life, of people close to her? Any major situations where she was painfully rejected, that may have left her with some traumatic memories?

Many women report problems forming attachments to their children right after childbirth due to the huge chemical and emotional swings they experience. Postpartum Depression was un-diagnosed for many women, for many years.

Who can say?

Your mom is a psych study all unto herself.

But don't blame mom, she did what she could, with what she had available to her.

And for you, your mom is not the issue now.

"Avoidant" Attachment Styles

What you’re dealing with now is most likely a form of “avoidant” attachment style, where the feeling of oxytocin makes you uncomfortable. The moment you feel love, you feel fear, because your rational mind sees that oxytocin and says...

“... Well this is some B.S., I can’t trust anyone to look after me. I'm outta here ...”

And then you bail from going deeper into that relationship.

It's like being scared of flying, so you choose the parachute instead- or you dive out the emergency exit before it leaves the runway.

This emotional reaction can happen so quickly, that it's basically subconscious and you're not even aware of it. You just feel numb, like nothing happened.

We develop these perspectives from our past experiences. However, our past experiences aren’t always the best guide to building the future we want.

Learning to Love

Your mom is no longer responsible to protect or nurture you, so now you get to learn how to do those things for yourself.

Your challenge is learning to feel OK putting yourself into a relationship situation where you TRUST someone else, completely. You want to be the “child” to someone’s “parent.”

Find and create situations where you have to trust someone else. Trust your emotions as a guide here. If you think of 0 as “I feel perfectly safe here” and 10 as “OMG no way”, you want to aim for a level 5 of discomfort.

Challenging, but not overwhelming.

A few possibilities to explore…

  1. If you are female, join a couples dance class, where you are the follower, and learn to trust the lead. Or join acroyoga, and learn to fly. It’s great fun, and great for building trust connections.
  2. Join Toastmasters and practice public speaking. Trust others in the group to treat you kindly and help you grow.
  3. Join a sport that you like, where you depend on others to do their part.
  4. Join classes, where you have to trust the teacher to treat you well, and teach you well. Martial arts might be a good example, or circus arts.
  5. Say hello and start conversations with strangers at bus-stops, cafes, museums, etc. Trust them to be as kind to you as you are to them.
  6. Get vulnerable with people that you can trust. Tell them your fears, anxieties, dreams, etc.

I can tell you, all of these are phenomenal, especially when they scare they bejeesus out of you... like they did for me.

Learn what that parent-child Oxytocin relationship looks like, and make sure you’re able to experience it from both ends.

Become your own Inner Parent, to your Inner Child

If you’re very self-aware, you can do this for yourself too.

Your mind, in effect, has both a parent and a child in it.

Your inner-parent is your rational mind, who can predict the future, see things rationally, and solve problems.

Your inner-child is your emotional mind, who can only see the now, and who is very reactive to pain and pleasure, with little ability to manage those reactions - especially fear ( cortisol ), and desire ( dopamine ).

If you practice thinking of your mind as both your parent and your child, separately - you will begin to see this internal dynamic and it's very powerful in key areas like-

  • Self-confidence
  • Overcoming fear
  • Setting boundaries
  • Self-responsibility
  • Motivation
  • Creativity
  • Happiness
  • Willpower

You can set yourself healthy boundaries - like when you can eat sugar, or how much Facebooking you allow yourself. And you can also encourage your inner child out of it’s comfort zone too, daily so that it gains confidence.

Try it, and watch yourself grow in amazing ways.

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First published on 
October 15, 2020
. Last updated on 
October 15, 2020

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