I recently read the book Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel SF Heller, and when I say “read,” I mean burned through the book in one several hour stint and then walked around in a daze struggling to integrate the major download.
I knew I was undergoing some kind of profound, conscious up-levelling. The kind where nothing will ever quite look the same. Where you can’t “unsee.”
Attachment theory is hardly new. I’ve heard the terms “anxious” and “avoidant” banded around for years, but until now I only had a rudimentary understanding of the principles. One consequence of which led me to misdiagnose myself—the perils of a little knowledge! Still, it was positively mind-boggling to me how blatantly obvious the whole theory is. Yet if it is all so obvious, why was it hitting so hard?
I have a hunch.
You see, the book was written for anxious-leaning types like me. In a nutshell, it describes the intimacy need spectrum as running from a high need for closeness (anxious) to a high need for independence (avoidant). It describes what it means to be anxious, avoidant the (somewhat rare) mix of both, or the more balanced “secure” type. It outlines why the anxious-avoidant is such a common pairing, why we are so addicted to one another, and how it can often lead to dysfunction. Lastly, it describes why both these types need to seek a more secure partner for balance and harmony, assuming that what we want is a peaceful relationship.
Although I was pleased to learn I’m not quite as dysfunctional as I thought I was (hurrah!), I do have anxious-leaning tendencies. My born and bred nature is anxious, and whilst I have learnt the art of effective communication through years of training, I will probably never be able to fully move away from my anxious nature.
My biggest takeaway was that as an anxious person I need to lean in to accepting, acknowledging, and owning my relationship anxiety, which at its essence is my need to be cherished. I need to know my partner is all in and wants to be with me, needs me, spends time with me, and appreciates me. This is a core need, and first and foremost there is absolutely nothing wrong with this need. Denying those needs and pretending they don’t exist is the single most harmful thing we can do to ourselves.
Yet I cast my mind back to all the “dating advice” that as single people we are given: “Let them chase you,” “Play hard to get,” “Don’t be too keen, you’ll scare them away.” For us poor anxious types, this type of behaviour directly fuels the fire. We are quite literally feeding the monster, playing the very game that keeps us trapped in an anxious-avoidant relationship loop. Instead of being afraid to “scare them away,” we can actively communicate what we want and let people, in response, show us who they truly are. Secure people are not afraid of intimacy so will not run away in response to someone expressing a need for closeness. In essence, we need to focus on being who we really are and not who we think others want us to be.
It really is that simple. And there is something that has settled in my system that has relaxed my body and soul after learning this. Armed with this new knowledge, I have every tool available to me to recognise a “smoking gun” (a person displaying avoidant tendencies) and disarm it before it fires (ditch them).
But perhaps the biggest gift of this book is the permission it provides. Permission to be our full, beautiful, needy selves. Because us anxious types have such huge hearts and such enormous capacities to love, we need only the very best of humans to nurture and take care of us and our needs.
Because really, is there ever any downside to expressing a need? The response will tell us everything. If it’s positive, we have the opportunity to become closer. If it’s negative we can take the intel to make an informed decision about our next steps. It might not be what we want to hear but it is important intel.
So as we are going into 2024, I’ll be bringing all of my vulnera-girl energy with me. Letting her live in her light, letting her shine. This year I will be fully embracing my needs. Denying them is the biggest disservice I’ve ever done for myself, and I won’t be making that mistake again. Yes, I am needy as f*ck. But I know it. And I don’t rely on one, two, or even three people to meet those needs. I rely on a village. If you are in my village care support network, I am forever in your debt.
I endeavour to worry less about the future and be more comfortable with living in the magic of the grey, the unknown. And I think of the quote by Natasha Lunn in Conversations on Love and let it be my mantra:
“Maybe, then, this is how you try to bear the burden of the mystery with grace: by finding humility where you once saw self-pity, and opportunity where you once saw absence. By saying, ‘Even if I don’t get what I want, I have a good life,’ then paying closer attention to the small details that make that life beautiful. And by never forgetting that not knowing what will happen next also means that anything could.”
This year I want to tell more people I love them. Daily. To the point it’s uncomfortable. We all need more love. Period.
This year I will invite in love. In all its different forms. These past few years have taught me how to clearly identify and get rid of my “Hell nos,” but 2024 is now about saying a big fat “Yes” to the things I do want.
And I know as I write this I’ll have to shift and reform and break down and show up and everything in between because as much as you can plan for and intend, most things don’t go to plan.
But I can also swim and climb and move my body and breathe and meditate and go outside and hug friends and sometimes stay out all night dancing because it’s fun. And notice all the little details that make this current life a beautiful one.
2024 is the year I dare to voice my needs openly, unashamed, unabashed.
Vulnera-girl energy is what I’m channeling in 2024.