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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

I don't want your empathy

I have being doing a course on Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder with Janina Fisher Ph.D., recently. There is a large section on attachment, which is part of the reason I am doing it, as well as for personal reasons and so that I can be cognisant of it when I am working with clients and teaching. As someone who has avoidant attachment as a default attachment pattern I am always intrigued to find to something new about how this pattern shows up in relationships and this course didn't disappoint.

Someone with an attachment wound doesn't need care, they need consistency.

One of my big takeaways from this module was something Janina Fisher said about people with attachment wounds and more importantly those with avoidant attachment or unresolved trauma, formerly a disorganised attachment. People with attachment wounds don't need care, they need consistency. What this means is that for some people empathy can feel like a threat to their safety and when you show them empathy they can withdraw.

This resonated with me because it was something I understood from my own relationships. I can remember as a child wanting to see my mother when I hurt myself and crying as soon as I saw her. I can also remember that as soon as she hugged me I would immediately stop crying. As an adult, I can remember a friend saying it was like I sucked the tears back into my body. Why would I do that? I did it because being upset felt like a sign of weakness. It made me feel helpless and vulnerable and someone with avoidant attachment doesn't ever want to feel those things and will avoid it at all costs.

Empathy can feel intrusive for someone with avoidant attachment, for me it always felt like someone was looking for ammunition to hurt me. Like they were trying to find my weak spot. Empathy also made me feel helpless like it was sign that the other person felt sorry for me. If they feel sorry for me then it might mean that I can't look after myself. When you grow up thinking you have to look after yourself then not being able to is pretty scary.

What does consistency look like?

Consistency looks like being dependable, saying what you mean and doing what you say. It is about building trust for the other person to believe that you there for them and that you won't let them down. It is being factual and curious without being overly emotional. For example, I have no problem with people asking me about my chronic illnesses but I get uncomfortable when they start offering me solutions or saying how awful it must be for me. Both of those things make me feel like you think I am not in control of what is happening to me. Someone with avoidant attachment needs to feel like they are in control.

I am lucky that now most of my interactions are secure and I can spot when my avoidant attachment strategies are being triggered. I have also learned how to communicate to other people's attachment patterns and are aware of the difference in needs for someone with avoidant attachment versus someone with anxious/coercive. Their needs are very different. However, they do have one thing in common, they need consistency and predictability.

If you want to know more about attachment you can join my online course Mindfulness for Attachment Strategies. If you are interested in coaching to understand you attachment patterns and those of you loved oe better then book a 30 minute discovery session.

Do you use an avoidant attachment pattern?

  • Yes

  • No

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