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Here are a couple more examples of how these attachment styles might play out in the humanitarian context. Click here for a brief overview on attachment styles.
Dismissive attachment. Sue is an aid worker who has been stationed in Cypress for five years. She describes herself in this way: "I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me." Sue desires a high level of independence. In fact, she avoids attachment altogether. She doesn’t feel she needs close relationships. They are unimportant to her. In the past, Sue has had partners but has not been particularly close to them. Though her self-esteem is positive, she did not view her partners very positively. Sue hides her feelings and often distances herself from others including her work colleagues. She enjoys her alone time. She infrequently contacts her family and friends from home.
Humanitarian work can be very comfortable for people like Sue with a dismissive attachment style. If they are in a relationship, they usually look forward to the times of separation and independence. Unless their partner is similar in style, however, their “out of sight, out of mind” attitude may make it difficult for the relationship to survive. Humanitarians with this style may also find it difficult to benefit from social support in times of stress and crisis. They may prefer to “go it alone.” Sue’s strength is her sense of security but she needs to work on connectedness. Though she may be comfortable with her style, her support network and work relationships may benefit from working on her skills of connection. Her family and friends may feel like she doesn’t care about them because of her style. In particular, she may benefit from increasing her skills at knowing and being known. Practicing self-disclosure and becoming more curious about others is a good way to start. Working to address problems directly rather than ignore or avoid them may also improve her relationships.
Fearful attachment. David is a disaster relief specialist who has a home base in Australia but often is deployed overseas. He agrees with the following self-description: "I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others." David has mixed feelings about close relationships. On the one hand, he wants to have a wife and children. On the other hand, he is uncomfortable with commitment and emotional closeness. David has often come close to getting engaged but at the last minute gets cold feet, worrying that he is not ready or the woman is not the right one for him. David’s girlfriend complains that he is not affectionate enough and often she feels neglected. David is unhappy by the absence of an intimate partner, yet afraid to commit to a relationship. He often finds it a relief to go on deployment. While he is away he tends to get caught up in his work and doesn’t communicate as much as he needs to keep his relationships whole and healthy. When he returns his girlfriend is often frustrated by his distance and lack of emotional connection.
David needs to work on increasing both security and connection. He could benefit from working on his positive communication and affection, especially self-disclosure. Being intentional about increasing the time he spends working on his relationships will be crucial. David also needs to explore the roots of his difficulty trusting others to care for him.
Do you recognize yourself or your partner in any of these scenarios? If so, perhaps it can help you to understand your relationship history. While it is difficult to change your attachment style or the style of your partner, it is very important to understand how your styles affect each other. You can compensate for attachment problems by increasing your relationship competencies such as communication, conflict resolution and emotional expressiveness. I’ll say more about these in the next blog.
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