Saturday, September 15, 2012

What is your attachment style?


Relationship/attachment style can be a predictor for vulnerability to disordered eating. Recognizing your attachment style may be a vital part of understanding what’s going on with you and food.  There are four basic relationship/attachment styles:

1) Securely attached adults are comfortable with intimacy.   They tend to have positive views of themselves and others, trusting that closeness with another person can be a warm, positive, and mutually satisfying experience.  They are less likely to develop an eating disorder.

2) Anxious-Preoccupied adults find it difficult to trust that the person they love and care about will be consistently available.   They dislike separation, fearing that “out of sight” leads to “out of mind” and often seek reassurance that their partner is still there for them.

People who binge may be “hungry” for love but turn to food instead, unconsciously fearing they will never get enough love, or feel satisfied in their relationships.  

3) Dismissive-Avoidant adults are uncomfortable with closeness.  They often prize independence, telling themselves and others that they don’t need anyone else to be happy.  

Underlying this disinterest in connection is a fear that intimacy will lead to rejection, pain or loss of self.  On some level, the belief is that “if you don’t get too close, you won’t get hurt.”  This relationship style is associated with anorexia.

The solution is to turn away from both people and food, restricting the intake of both food and love.

5) Fearful-avoidant adults simultaneously wish for closeness, yet fear intimacy.  They often yearn for an unavailable person, and ardently pursue that person.  If the object of their affection returns their feelings, they lose interest, finding distance safer – until the pattern repeats.

This relationship style is associated with both bulimia and binge eating disorder.  Bingeing is a symbolic way to fill up on food, which is a substitute for love, fulfillment, and needs. Getting rid of food can be understood as a means of symbolically purging those needs. 

Sometimes people binge on relationships, allowing a lot of closeness and connection, and then create distance (in effect, a relational purge) as an expression of conflict about trust. 

Are you more comfortable with distance, or closeness?  

What are your hopes and fears about intimacy?

Where did you learn to mistrust relationships?

How did your parents and others respond to your needs?

Understanding what the conflict is, and how it came to be, is the first step to change.  When you feel safe in your relationships, you will be less likely to turn to food as a way of expressing conflicts about closeness.

Comments and questions are welcome.  Please share on Facebook and/or Twitter so more people can benefit from the information on this blog.

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Legal Disclaimer:  The content on this site is for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended as psychotherapy or as a substitute for psychotherapy advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Theresa said...

I often am very anxious and preoccupied. It comes from fear of abandonment. I then eat when I'm anxious.

Lester said...

I also am fearful and preoccupied and also very insecure at times. This leads to compulsive eating of all kinds of comfort foods.

Julie U.S. Writer said...

I would say I'm the fearful-avoidant type. I'd purposely pick men who are incapable of a meaningful, committed relationsip then later wish it was more. I'd even vent about it to family or friends, but then I have to remember I chose the men I did. So, whst did I expect? Still, it hurts when someone I love someone who can't meet my emotional needs, so then I turn to food.

- F. ♥ said...

I'm number 2, definitely. So what can I do with that information? I've had bulimia for 6 years and I'm sick and tired of it, but apparently it still controls my mind.

Dr. Nina said...

I can understand your frustration, since you've been dealing with this for 6 years. Bulimia is a way of coping with something inside - emotions and conflicts that are out of awareness, sometimes, but not out of operation. When you identify and work through those underlying things, you will likely stop using bulimia to cope. Bulimia is a "symptom" of the problem, not "the" problem, although it doesn't feel that way.

What you can do with this information is work through your conflicts about closeness. When you can feel comfortable with people and relationships, you won't need a distraction (bulimia) from fear, anxiety and mistrust.

Nora said...

You've given me some brand new insight on dealing wiht bulimia, Dr. Nina. I now have greater understanding within myself. Thank you!

Kendra said...

I learned to mistrust very early on in relationships. I was hurt very severely by my first love and never was provided with the tools to recover, until now.

Julie U.S. Writer said...

I know what that's like. However, I'm also learning we cannot lose faith in ourselves.

John said...

I understand quite a bit about what some of you are going through. I think Dr. Nina does an excellent job of reaching people-helping them identify the emotions behind eating disorders.

Kerry said...

Food is sometimes like drugs or alcohol. It fills (temporarily) a void for me.

Harold said...

You're right, Kerry. Actually, food can become a drug because it is used to vill a void or reduce stress. A good diet can do this, but when food is over-used, it can lead to serious problems.

Terry said...

My parents hardly were ever home. I felt like a burden whenever I wanted comfort or compassion, so I turned to food.