Avoidant Attachment and the Defence Against Intimacy
Saturday 29 June - Dublin
A one-day seminar Led by Linda Cundy
This day is about the challenge faced by people who were ignored, criticised, rejected or utterly neglected within their families of origin and who thus find it difficult to form close and lasting intimate relationships in adulthood. People who avoid close proximity to others, despite their longing for that closeness, often feel more secure and better able to manage deep feelings when they hold others apart, whether sexual partners, therapists or family members. In this one-day seminar, attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist Linda Cundy will talk about how we can understand avoidant attachment as a self-protective system that guards the self from the risk of repeated rejection, humiliation and shame.READ MORE...
We will consider the roots of negative self-objects, which are likely to be deeply embedded aspects of the personality, and how venturing towards intimate relating can arouse deep doubts and self-hatred.
In exploring the internal object world of avoidant and dismissing adults, Linda will talk about how therapy can offer another way of relating which develops a greater sense of safety with intimacy and accommodation of the other. People who have learnt to avoid attachment can find therapy disruptive and especially challenging. We will thus consider how to notice and navigate moments when the client might retreat or shut out the therapist. Considering how to work with these defences, picking up on possible shame and self-doubt as well as anger and frustration, are key therapeutic skills. Therapists should prepare to lose their own confidence in the countertransference, to feel de-skilled and ineffective and such hazards will be considered. Ultimately, we will ask how increased self-acceptance, and openness to the risks of loving can be developed, enabling such clients to meet their hidden need for intimacy.
Registration and coffee
Attachment, adaptation and defences
Early disapproval and rejection of an infant’s needs strongly feature in the aetiology and development of later avoidant relationships. We know from attachment research and therapy experience that in order to edit the self to suit parental requirements, the insecure child will develop a range of defences to contain themselves, to dissociate from their feelings, and to regulate the distress of narcissistic wounds and the shame arising from feeling fundamentally defective. This session will explore the core anxieties of avoidant or dismissing people which we are likely to encounter with them in therapy – fears of being exposed, intruded upon, judged, humiliated, colonised, and shamed. We will discuss how ‘avoidance’ refers to the tendency to evade intimacy with other people, but also to defend against the feelings, impulses, memories, and needs that arise internally.
Further defensive strategies
For those who have adapted to their relational environment with strong defenses, they may feel it is absurd to make themselves vulnerable to further rejection or attacks. This is one of the reasons why we see fewer dismissing clients seeking therapy than clients from the other insecure groups. As Bowlby has observed, patients with an avoidant pattern of attachment “avoid therapy as long as they can and, should they undertake it, keep the therapist at arm’s length.” Disdain and contempt can be used as defenses against a certain kind of intimacy that exists in the consulting room. At the same time clients may have a hopeful fantasy of a warm, attuned, kindly psychotherapist and the acceptance for which they long, and these desires can feel shameful for an avoidant client. In this session we will consider how we pick up the early signs of an avoidant person coming into therapy, and how we can lay down foundations of trust and safety.
Assessment: creating safety in the early phase of therapy
People with an avoidant attachment style employ numerous creative strategies to keep others at a safe emotional distance. We will look at how defenses mark the spot where pain is buried, and lead us to the narcissistic wounds. But this exploration is never straightforward. Denial is commonly found in the avoidant person’s armoury; emotions are often denigrated, rational thought is reified, and self-discipline is essential if shaming exposure is to be avoided. In this session, we will reflect on therapeutic examples where an avoidant or dismissing pattern of attachment is being expressed in the relational field with the therapist, mirroring the childhood patterns of neglect. We will ask how we allow the client to hold onto their much needed protection, yet inch forward into greater ability to see and be seen by the therapist.
Specific areas of focus as tools for self supervision
One therapeutic aim when working with avoidant clients is to help them become less defended, anxious and inhibited – to be more spontaneous and alive in relationships. In order for a dismissing client to ‘earn’ security, we need to help them to dismantle defences and begin to allow closeness with others, to challenge their critical inner voices, and to provide the model for an accepting internal object, who will soothe, encourage and delight in their achievements. Participants will be invited to talk with Linda about clients with whom they feel stuck and to receive brief, live supervision.