Monday, October 20, 2008

With the financial market plummeting and other societal pressures, it’s easy to find ourselves moody and upset. The way people manage disturbing situations starts quite early in life. When children are growing up, their relationships with their caregivers determine how they handle distress as adults. The connection and availability of parent nurturing is a huge component in a child’s ability to manage and communicate emotions. As a result of this significant relationship, they carry an attachment style into marriages and work relationships. It is helpful to know how human emotion functions and what the patterns are so relationships can be healthier.

Human emotion is normal and to be expected. When unpleasant emotions arrive they can appear in healthy or unhealthy ways. Healthy emotion is transient, progresses to completion, is activating and enlivening, is appropriate, based on accurate appraisal, and is recognized and experienced. Unhealthy emotion fixates and lingers, is unconcluded, feels draining or excessively tense, is inappropriate, and is unrecognized. When inappropriate it’s focused on the wrong target, expressed at a time and place harmful to the one expressing it, and stems from inaccurate appraisal as in feeling guilty when one has done nothing wrong.

Pleasant emotion should be frequent and easily accessible, should be able to be controlled in intensity and duration, and should be appropriate. Dysfunctional pleasant emotion either rarely occurs or is inappropriate for the time or place.
Our attachment patterns demonstrate our ability to express both pleasant and unpleasant emotion. Three kinds of situations activate attachment behaviors: frightening environmental events, illness or injury or fatigue, and separation or threat of separation from important relationships. Here is a description of 11 attachment styles.

Secure attachment people experience a brief emotional response to loss, are more social, willing to comply, positively outgoing, affectively positive and less easily frustrated in problem solving.

Avoidant people are typically unaware of emotion and speak about the logic of their experiences or just don’t know their experience.

Resistant/Ambivalent people express emotion excessively in intensity and duration, over react to non-emergencies, and create drama.

Disorganized people seek closeness then avoidance, have interrupted movements, freeze, are dazed, and shift from past to present in their narratives.

People who show no signs of attachment tend to be asocial, use few words, are unaware of their inner experience, and naïve. Some are highly charming while more focused on self image than bonding. Some have little empathy, relate poorly, and tend to exploit others.

Undifferentiated people are friendly to everyone without discernment, are rarely consolable, disclose too quickly, and are vulnerable to exploitation.

Exaggerated people are extremely loyal, tend to remain in destructive relationships, and may violate boundaries due to neediness.

Inhibited people are introverted and compliant, respond to demands immediately without protest, express feelings freely to strangers, may have social phobias or anxiety, may have high sensitivity to multiple stimuli, and may be uncomfortable with disclosure and nervous or shy.

Aggressive people have chronic hostility, respond by venting and aggressive or violent actions, and usually elicit negative reactions from others. They tend to see others as the cause and rarely see their own part in problems. The may have intermittent explosive moments and may be suspicious and anxious. Anger is the main response to crises, problems, or abandonment.

Role reversal describes those who spent most of growing up being the caretaker of the parent. They are likeable, tend to be overly helpful with an external locus of control, excessive responsibility, and prone to guilt.

People with psychosomatic symptoms usually have a long history of unresolved medical problems and may or may not appear emotionally expressive.

These patterns typically don’t appear in isolation. We can demonstrate more than one pattern in our lives or different patterns at different stages of life. The important component is being able to recognize when we are out of the norm for secure attachment and healthy emotional functioning and do something about it. We can change patterns that are interfering with healthy and rewarding relationships. It starts with awareness, then desire to change, and then getting to work on it.
Given the circumstances of our economy, the political scene, and war stress, we are all vulnerable to emotional upheavals. Let’s learn to manage it all constructively.

Contact Pamela Simmons, Licensed Professional Counselor, at or

Weekly seminar starts in January 2009: Finding the Perfect Partner

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