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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Horan

COVID-19: Using an understanding attachment to help cope this winter (part 2)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in upheaval and a diversion from our normal routines, consequently this has interrupted our usual attachments with others and resulted in a human population which longs for connection. How can we better understand ourselves to help manage the emotional struggles we may experience as a consequence of further limitations on our closeness with others? The way we may reach out or avoid reaching out to others in a way that helps us meaningfully connect is shaped by the narratives we have about love, loss and connection. Learning the rhythm, pattern and steps in our – namely, our attachment patterns - with others can help us to better meet our need for connection. Equipped with this knowledge, we can also consider changes to the typical patterns we have with others to foster new and increasingly meaningful relationships.


Please note. This page follows a previous post found on our blog page.

How does our attachment impact on how we cope in challenging times?

We all have a predominant attachment style – what we might call our ‘default’ attachment pattern. Equally, when we are under stress or pressure (for instance when separated from others) we may move from one pattern to another; for example, from a secure pattern of relating to an avoidant or anxious way of coping. Learning and developing an awareness of our tendencies can help us to prepare ways to better respond to our needs during challenging times. As our patterns of attachment are fundamental in shaping our experiences of disconnection and loss, our attachment patterns are likely to have an impact on how we cope with the consequences of the pandemic as these experiences have become a more prominent feature of our daily life. 

When we are coping within an avoidant attachment pattern we find it hard to be close to others and lack confidence that they can cope with our struggles and meet our needs for comfort and security. We try to be independent and rely on ourselves to an unhelpful extent. We also tend to ignore and push down emotions and feelings related to loved ones. We disconnect from distress and can push those closest to us away. On the other hand, if we are coping from an anxious ambivalent position we are highly ‘tuned-in’ and sensitive to signs that others love or are rejecting of us. We may have thoughts related to how others do not care about us resulting in further upset for us. Because of the fears of others rejecting us we make special efforts to get close to them, intensifying our efforts to feel close.

How can an understanding of attachment help us to cope with COVID-19 restrictions?

We hope that by considering the different experiences and patterns associated with the different attachment styles then you may have developed a sense of your own tendencies within relationships. It is important not to use this approach in an over-simplified way in which we ‘label’ ourselves with an attachment type, rather to use it to help guide a way for alternative and more helpful patterns – one which prevents old patterns getting in the way of the connection and solidarity that we may need in the upcoming months. You may have found that you relate through secure patterns, and we hope that this blog may offer some helpful thoughts and suggestions about times when you have felt less secure or helped bring a different perspective to understanding the needs of others.


As a first step, you may wish to use the dimensional model to further understand your attachment patterns through tracing key relationships on the graph. It might help to map this with a few people, starting with (1) the person you would want to tell first if you achieved something good. (2) The person you want to be with when you are feeling upset or down and (3) The person you don't like to be away from. (questions taken from the WHOTO interview; Hazan, Hutt, Sturgeon, and Bricker, 1991; Hazan and Zeifman,1994)


Understanding what helps

You may find the following questions a helpful guide in identifying what may be beneficial to you in the upcoming months: Exploring opportunities:

  • Are there any relationships you could reinvigorate within your immediate or wider social circle?

  • What are the opportunities for connection within your local community?

  • What positive qualities do the people I’m connected to see in me? How could I share these qualities further?

Exploring barriers:

  • Are your attachment narratives getting in the way of you connecting with others? If so, how? And what are the ways in which this could change for the better?

  • What makes me interested in connecting with others, how could I maintain a curiosity about those who I care about? 

When we find ourselves in avoidant attachment patterns:

  • Focus on how and what we feel is important, connecting with ourselves through mindfulness (e.g., the Headspace app)

  • We may feel uncomfortable connecting with others, however by going against this gut instinct to avoid, and committing ourselves to connect with those who are encouraging and supportive can help re-build our trust. Would connecting via community projects, volunteering locally or through a national volunteering scheme be helpful? 

When we find ourselves in anxious-ambivalent patterns:

  • It is often helpful to connect with the facts of the situation in the moment – what information do I have on what has happened? Aim to build a timeline of facts.

  • Consider visiting our article on grounding to consider ways of connecting in the moment

Using my resources:

  • Who or what might help me identify what I need in the upcoming months?

  • Ask someone you trust to help make a connection plan with you. If nobody comes to mind, consider calling Samaritans or other helplines.

  • Would volunteering help me stay connected? 

  • If so, visit https://do-it.org/, https://volunteeringmatters.org.uk/ , and visit the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary organisations) web page.

  • Do I need help in connecting as I find it impossible at the moment (e.g., due to not having family available or being in a position where connecting practically isn’t possible)? 

  • Consider contacting a helpline (e.g., Samaritan’s helpline) or peer support (e.g., through MIND https://tinyurl.com/yykhp2cr)


 

Understanding my attachment patterns more

As a first step, you may wish to use the dimensional model to further understand your attachment patterns through tracing key relationships on the graph using the PDF printable guide below.


PDF Printable Guide

PDF Printable Guide_COVID-19 How underst
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Download • 160KB
 

Sources

Gillath, O., Karantzas, G. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2016). Adult attachment: A concise introduction to theory and research. Academic Press.


Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. London: Tavistock.


Shaver, P., & Hazan, C. (1987). Being lonely, falling in love. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 2(2), 105.

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