Dealing with Anxious Attachment and Attachment Loss

Okay, I’m probably giving up on the 31-day writing challenge. I love the prompts, but right now, they just don’t seem to inspire me. I’m not feeling well at all right now. Haven’t for about a week or more. Like I shared in my post on Sunday, I have been feeling triggered by my staff being on sick leave. It’s not just that, of course. The change of seasons with all its triggers to my time in crisis back in 2007, doesn’t help either. The emotional flashbacks are so bad I’m considering asking my nurse practitioner to temporarily up my topiramate. For now though, I’ll write a little about attachment loss and abandonment issues.

When I was first diagnosed with complex PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in 2010, part of the consultation that led to this diagnosis involved an attachment styles questionnaire. I scored highest on the anxious/preoccupied attachment style. This means that I tend to depend heavily on others. I struggle to admit this, but it is true.

As such, I fear attachment loss or abandonment a lot. Most anxiously attached people tend to seek another relationship right away when one ends. I don’t have any exes, since my husband was also my first boyfriend, but I do notice it in other areas. For example, now that my assigned staff is on sick leave, I’ve already been thinking about who will become my assigned staff if she ends up not returning. Which, in fact, is something I cannot get out of my head for whatever reason.

Anxiously attached people also tend to cling to dysfunctional attachment figures far too long. Again, I don’t experience this in my marriage, but I did experience it in the psych hospital. I had an assigned staff who was rather adamant that I become more independent than I could be, but I accepted her as an authority for far too long. Same with my psychologist.

I, thankfully, left that place. However, I do find that something I read while researching attachment loss for this post, makes a lot of sense: the idea that leaving a relationship on paper doesn’t mean being emotionally detached from that attachment figure. Again, not my marriage, but with respect to my care situation, yes, that’s so me! I still experience vivid dreams (not necessarily nightmares!) about the psych hospital. I also still look up things about my former care agencies, thinking maybe I should go back. I still find myself being influenced by what my past care providers said about me, no matter how harmful and wrong. This may be one reason I don’t generally meet the avoidance criterion of classic PTSD, but am rather the opposite: I find myself drawn to things that trigger me. Now if only I could find a way to truly let go of the emotional baggage I’m carrying with me.

Enneagram Type Four: The Abandoned Inner Child

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading more about the enneagram. Since I figured I’m probably a type Four, I read up on that type first in Helen Palmer’s book The Enneagram.

Let me say up front that Palmer doesn’t show pity for type Fours at all. We aren’t portrayed as the special snowflakes we often see ourselves as. That hurt, but in a good way.

First, Palmer describes the typical dilemma Fours face within themselves. Many remember abandonment or loss in childhood and are constantly focusing on regaining that which was lost. As a result, they constantly find themselves second-guessing themselves.

All Fours are prone to depression, though they may handle it in various ways. For example, some accept it fatalistically and succumb to despair. Others cope by constantly being on the move. That would be me, quite literally. Still others find a type of beauty in their sadness and convert it to melancholy.

When describing the typical Four’s family history, Palmer showed a bit more compassion towards us, but it was mostly through the quotes from type Four interviewees. One of them explained that she was an incubator baby and, while she was not literally abandoned, she did feel that way. Boom, that hit. I was an incubator baby too. Even though I was never literally abandoned – my parents aren’t divorced and I lived with them till age nineteen -, I often felt like I was only conditionally loved.

When I read up on core beliefs and schemas when I did schema-focused therapy back in 2013, I most clearly related to the abandonment/instability schema. I still do. I rarely felt safe with my parents and, after leaving the house at age nineteen, I moved from one temporary placement to another until I moved into long-term care in 2019.

Indeed, like the typical enneagram Four, I keep life at an arm’s length distance. I am always on the lookout for something that’s unavailable. Not really in relationships – I have been happily married since 2011 -, but in all other areas of life, certainly. I find myself constantly looking at another place to live, even though the staff and manager of my care facility have reassured me that I can stay here for as long as I want to. I think a core misconception I at least hold is that I can find happiness by chasing what’s unavailable. That’s not true, of course, but my abandoned inner child constantly looks to be rescued in all the wrong ways.

In the book The Enneagram Type 4, the author asks us how we’ve tried to rescue ourselves and how successful we’ve been. The underlying message is that we can’t and don’t need to rescue ourselves, since God is in control. God, will you please rescue me?

Joining in with the Hearth and Soul link party.

If I Have a Good Day…: Ramblings on Fear of Joy

Today is a slightly better day than yesterday. I actually managed to make a soap for a staff and also go on walks. I even reached my daily step goal! In addition, I have been exploring my faith.

Still, fear of joy is haunting me. Until a few years ago, I never knew it was a thing. That is, I had read about it on a fellow trauma survivor’s website. That was many years ago already, but I never quite understood what it meant. I never realized I experience it. And yet I do.

I think this fear is intertwined with my core belief that, if people truly knew me, they’d abandon me. It is the exact opposite, in a way, and yet it’s similar too. I mean, if people abandon me regardless, why bother trying my best?

Deep down, I feel that people are going to abandon me if they find out how wicked I am. I also, conversely, feel that people are going to abandon me if they think I can cope fine on my own. And these different views are not mutually exclusive. After all, my psychologist at the mental hospital thought I was bad and manipulative, and yet she also thought I would cope fine on my own.

My belief that people don’t see the real me, the wicked, attention-seeking, manipulative me, makes me want to disappear. It makes me feel ashamed of my needs. But it also causes intense anger, because at the core maybe I want to prove myself right.

On the other hand, my belief that people don’t see my genuine need and think I can cope fine on my own, leads to actual care-seeking behavior. It’s not the same as attention-seeking, but maybe in my current context of a care facility, it’s worse.

I have a sense that both of these beliefs cause me to fear joy. On Sunday, I felt abandoned by the staff. Then on Monday, I was trying to “prove” that I’m more needy and hence more wicked than my staff believe. Today though, I’m feeling slightly better, but this scares me. It scares me because I’m convinced I’ll be expected to cope on my own if I’m managing.

Maybe that psychologist was right after all that I have dependency issues. I worry the staff will agree at some point and this in fact reinforces care-seeking behaviors. Which, of course, is counterproductive.

If The Staff Saw My True Nature…: Reflections on Not Belonging

Yesterday, I was in yet another crisis. I was majorly triggered when a staff told me at the dinner table to calm down or go to my room because she had other clients to attend to as well. This triggered both my fight and flight responses. I was completely convinced that this one remark proved that, if staff truly know me, they’ll abandon me. After all, if they truly knew my nature, they’d know I needed more support than they can offer. I was and still am intensely ashamed of this nature of mine, but for whatever reason, I cannot seem to change it.

I cannot stop this part of mine who thinks she needs almost literally one-on-one support all day. It isn’t even a sense of entitlement, since I don’t feel that I’m somehow deserving of more attention than the other clients. Or maybe at the core I do believe this. I’m not sure. My parents would say I do believe I’m somehow entitled to endless attention.

At one point, I lashed out at the staff member. This led to further intense shame. I was convinced that, in that moment, the staff had seen my true nature and that she was going to make sure I’d be kicked out.

For whatever reason, she didn’t. She did, I assume, write an incident report. Other than that, I must say she was incredibly nice all evening.

And yet all day I was convinced that, if the staff nor the manager were going to kick me out, they must not have seen how wicked I really am. I do know that, in truth, this was one of my worst outbursts of aggression ever. I’ve done more harmful things, but those were harmful only to myself.

The manager came to talk to me late in the afternoon. She reassured me that I won’t be kicked out. I tried to tell her that, despite my desire to be good, I feel I might need more support than my current home can provide. I wasn’t trying to elicit her pity or convince her to apply for more funding for me, but I was trying to make it clear that I may be more of a burden than she can handle. I don’t want to feel attached to the staff and the home and even some of the other clients only to be told in a month or two that after all I’m too much of a handful. The manager sort of reassured me.

And yet, when she was gone, I went online and looked at other places I might be able to move to. Not because I really want to move, but because that’s what I’m used to. I’m used to not being wanted anywhere. And it’s tempting to believe that, with how often I end up in crisis here, I don’t really want to live here myself. Ugh, I don’t know how to answer that question.

We’re In Pain

So we’ve had a mouth ulcer for some days now and as of today, it really hurts. Our staff called the GP, since we can’t go to the dentist now due to our facility’s COVID-19 restrictions and also since they already knew it was a mouth ulcer. The medical assistant couldn’t decide what to do right away so she talked to the doctor herself. Our staff called back some time later. At first, the doctor said to just take paracetamol, but our staff nagged a bit, so now we’ll get some lidocaine gel. This will probably arrive tomorrow.

We somehow misunderstood the doctor’s telling our staff to just give us paracetamol as her thinking we weren’t in significant pain or that we were overreacting. This caused some of us a lot of upset. Over dinner, we were feeling really overwhelmed by the pain and also other clients’ noise. We somehow couldn’t speak until after we’d had a full-on meltdown. Then we got to express our pain and our staff fetched us some paracetamol. That did help some. We’re still in pain, but it’s manageable.

We generally feel very triggered of late. We’re currently reading a foster care memoir by Maggie Hartley called Who Will Love Me Now?. It’s about Kirsty, a ten-year-old being rejected by her first foster carers after they took her in from a neglectful biological mother as a baby. Understandably, Kirsty feels that no-one loves her now and is acting out a lot to prove this point.

I feel a lot of the more disturbed younger parts can relate to this. Thankfully, our parents never abandoned us, but they did threaten to institutionalize us a lot. Age ten was around the time this started.

I also showed a lot of the behaviors Kirsty shows. I mean, I would also often tell my parents that they didn’t love me. Though I didn’t experience the early abandonment Kirsty did, I do most likely suffer with some attachment issues. I can only speculate as to why this might be.

As we’re now in a place where at least so far the staff are saying we can stay, I notice we act out a bit out of a need to “prove” our point. Which is what, really? That no-one wants us, I guess. I’m not 100% sure how to let go of this feeling.

I did journal a lot in my Day One journals over the past few days. It feels good to let out my thoughts. I’m trying to make this a daily habit and hope my blog won’t suffer because of it.

I Was Taught to Believe…

That, if I didn’t have my parents’ support, I had no-one’s and I would never get anyone’s support. “You are socially inept,” my mother said, “and you got it from us.”

This exchange happened in late April of 2006, when I had just been kicked out of my parents’ house. Not that I still lived with them, and not that I was ever planning on doing so again, but my parents made it very clear that they would no longer support me. I don’t even mean financially, but practically and emotionally.

What had I done to deserve this? I had told them I was delaying going to university one more year. I wasn’t giving up on it. I was still going to meet their expectations of me that I become a university student, grad student, Ph.D., professor, you name it.

And then I didn’t. In the fall of 2007, while attending the university I had originally been meant to go to in 2006, I gradually fell apart and was ultimately admitted to the psychiatric hospital. Though I was discharged in 2017, I never went back to university.

Though my parents and I are still in limited contact, I know I don’t genuinely have their support. Not emotionally. I mean, I see them twice a year, talk to them on the phone about once a month and get €1000 at the end of the year to spend on new technology mostly. I don’t know whether this will remain the same when I go into long-term care (or when they find out about it). And I’m not sure whether I care. They aren’t the type to stop talking to me at funerals or the like and I don’t really need their money or birthday presents or phone chatter, though they’re nice. I won’t go no contact, but if they decide to abandon me, that’s their choice.

Because, though I was taught that without my parents, I had no-one, this isn’t true. I met my husband in the fall of 2007. You know, the fall that was supposed to be the start of my academic career and ended up being the catalyst to my getting a life of my own. My husband supported me through the psychiatric hospital years. He supports me through the years we live together. I trust that he’ll support me through the coming years when I’m in long-term care. I may be socially inept, but that doesn’t mean no-one will support me. Love me even.

This post was written for V’J.’s Weekly Challenge. V.J. challenges us to think about the untrue things we were led to believe as children or in other dysfunctional relationships.