How Your Attachment System Is Driving Your Codependency

By Marshall Burtcher.

Each of us is built with an emotional bonding system that is often called ‘the Attachment System.”  This system manifests itself through 4 basic impulses:

1) The impulse of feeling safe in emotional connection and inter-dependency with another human being (aka Secure Attachment).

2) The impulse of feeling anxious in the emotional connection and inter-dependency with another human being (aka Anxious Attachment).

3) The impulse of feeling avoidant in the emotional connection and inter-dependency with another human being (aka Avoidant Attachment).

4) The impulse of feeling deeply anxious towards and avoidant of the emotional connection and inter-dependency with another human being (aka Disorganized Attachment).

Each of these impulses show up in everyone and are governed by the level of safety a person feels in their vulnerability to the other.  

In my work, I refer to these impulses as “attachment orientations” rather than the common “attachment styles” label.  When it is looked at it as an orientation, it gives you the power to understand that this is your starting point in how you relate to emotional closeness, space, and vulnerability with another person, place, or thing (yes, you can have these impulses with objects, places, pets, etc).

Your attachment orientation massively influences how your codependency will show up in your relationships.

If you have an anxious orientation to attachment, you’re more likely to be pre-occupied with thoughts about their feelings, their behaviors, what they mean by certain words and actions, and seeking reassurance through people-pleasing, controlling or fixing them or their problems, or trying to get them to give you validation.

Avoidant orientation tends to show itself in codependency as being needless, perfect, or being disengaged from the person in a regular cycle of drawing close for moments, but keeping space for longer periods of time.  In conflict, this will manifest as avoiding the conflict or not engaging with the problem directly.  People-pleasing can result as a means of alleviating the discomfort of the situation.

Disorganized attachment orientation shows up as feeling deeply conflicted, paralyzed, and stuck in the relationship.  You don’t know if you’re supposed to please, be perfect, not ask, or ask, say yes, say no.  There’s a lot of thought on what the “right decision is”.

So, what does one do with when these show up?

Firstly, these impulses are not signals of a flaw or failure in you.  What they are actually showing you is how your needs, wants, feelings, and vulnerabilities have been treated by others.  

When we understand our personal context, we can understand the why that drives our behaviors and reactions.  

Anxious attached individuals experienced unreliable results in their efforts to get connection, care, nurture and play.  Sometimes it worked, but sometimes they were met with anger, hostility, guilt, or complaints of being “too much” or “too sensitive”.  

Avoidant attached individuals are engulfed and smothered by the needs of the other person. They were punished for having individual desires, boundaries, and capacities.  Love, approval, and presence were withdrawn when they’d speak up for their own needs and were punished for having boundaries.  They were made responsible for the regulation and fulfillment of others.  

Disorganized attached individuals experienced a deep mix of confusing messages of being loved, being ignored, being expected to regulate the other person, and that they are selfish for being themselves (the other two attachment styles get this message, too).  

What has been your experience with your needs?  How did your mother dominantly respond to your needs for closeness or space?  How did your father dominantly respond?  How did your peers dominantly respond?  

These dominant responses are what shaped your attachment orientation and configure the somatic impulses you feel when in relationship another.

Understanding and accepting this empowers you to start to care for your attachment pain and needs. 

You can start this process with a simple What-Shift’s question:  “What shifts if you trust, just a bit, that your attachment reactions are valid expressions of your lived experiences?”

This helps introduce care and validation of your lived reality, and that sets you up for deep healing and growth in your attachment system.

Remember, this is a life-long work of discovery and practice.  Go gently.  

Marshall Burtcher, Codependency Healing Expert. Marshall helps codependents, people-pleasers, and perfectionists stop fixing themselves and start loving themselves. Join Marshall for his next free live workshop, “The 8 Factors That Heal Codependency Permanently” by clicking here:

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