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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

What do you need? How to use Attachment Theory at work.

I often get asked by clients what were the biggest changes I experienced when I started to look at my relationships through the lens of Attachment Theory. I have often spoken of the changes to my personal relationships, and specifically my marriage, therefore, I thought, today, I would share some of my insights from my work.

Teaching Mindfulness for LMETB Community Education Service (Photo credit Shay Casserly).

For those of you that don't know, my work primarily falls into two categories, teaching/training and coaching. I teach one day a week in Coláiste Dhulaigh in Coolock in Dublin and usually two mornings and often one evening for the LMETB Community Education Service, which takes me to centres in Trim, Navan and Kells in Co. Meath. I teach everything from Criminology and Research & Study Skills in Coláiste Dhulaigh, to Mindfulness, Stress Management, Positive Psychology, Effective Communication, Positive Leadership, and more, everywhere else. The rest of my week is working from home with coaching clients or delivering online training for my own business or for other organisations, charities, government funded organisations, and private companies. Everything I do, aside from creating content for my business, involves people. Unlike some people who work with the same few people every day. I can work with well over 100 people on any given week and each one of them will have their own unique way of communicating, their own unique needs and their own unique emotional triggers. It can be quite the juggling act.

How does understanding Attachment Theory improve relationships?

The first thing to understand is that people's attachment patterns adapt to the relationships they are in. Even though you might be secure/balanced that doesn't mean you won't react insecurely in a stressful situation or with someone who makes you feel unsafe in some way. With this in mind it is important to accept that a majority of people will use an insecure attachment strategy at some point. If you want to know more about the specific strategies described in the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation then you can join my online course Mindfulness for Attachment Strategies, where I explain them in detail.

When I am teaching, it is easy to spot the different patterns of Avoidant and Coercive(Anxious). A person who is avoidant will rarely ask for help. They will try to figure things out themselves but they are also at risk of leaving a course if they think they can't do it and are at risk of feeling ashamed. This means you have to make lots resources available or think about what someone who is going it alone in course might need. It also means you have to think about how you give feedback. Pointing out errors with out guidance as to how to fix something can trigger a feeling of helplessness in an avoidant student. Helplessness is a massive trigger for someone who doesn't trust other people to do the right thing. The typical guidance of how to be secure comes into play here, be specific, be transparent and be explicit. Tell them what you mean, why you mean it, and what you want from them.

The person with a Coercive (Anxious) Attachment pattern is already freaking out before they have even started the course. Their biggest concern is that they won't know what to do. They will get easily overwhelmed by too much information therefore, keep the instructiosn clear and be careful of the need to rescue them. The feigned helplessness strategy in a person with a Coercive pattern can make you feel like you need to help them more than they need. You have to focus on helping them to learn to trust their ability, which means focusing on what they have done well, when giving feedback, and pointing out what they are already capable of doing.

When it comes to coaching, I could spend all day teaching about the different strategies and what to watch for but the simplest idea to keep in mind is boundaries. A person with an Avoidant pattern is very likely to bolt of they feel any sense of shame or helplessness. This means you have to focus on psychological safety, transparency and having flexible boundaries where they can feel in control of session times, dates and content. The person with a Coercive pattern is not good with boundaries which means you need to be incorruptible. No late starts or early finishes, no last minute bookings or late cancellations. They need to take ownership of what is happening to them and they will try to reach out to you at every opportunity to get extra help or advice if your don't have strong boundaries in place.

Learning to stay in Balance (Secure) is an ongoing process. You need self-awareness to recognise you own attachment strategies and your own attachment needs. Transparency, consistency, predictability, honesty and openness with yourself, and others, shifts relationships into security. It's an ongoing practice but one that reaps massive rewards. If your interested in Attachment Coaching then you can book one to one sessions or join my group coaching that starts in January.

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