Embark on a journey of self-exploration that will empower you to rewrite your attachment narrative!
Together Dr. Zimmerman and I have an engaging conversation that dives deep into the nuances of matrescence and patrescence, how to begin unpacking your triggers, and the transformative 5-step process she outlines in her book, providing parents with a roadmap for increased attachment security and positive change.
Dr. Annie (00:00):
I think a lot of people have that fear of, because I have an insecure attachment, I’m going to mess up my child or because I was traumatized. I’m going to pass that on. I think actually just even being aware of your past is you’re probably in the 1% of people who are actually really reflecting on who they are as a parent and where they come from. And I think people need to not use all of this theory to beat themselves up with and to shame themselves and to have so much fear because the theory is there to help us and to help us improve and grow and give ourselves a break.
Dr. Sarah (00:37):
Today we are tackling attachment patterns in relationships, and we’re going to be breaking down the similarities and the differences in how attachment patterns show up in the early stages of romantic relationships versus the early days of parenthood. How can we as parents conscientiously explore our triggers and our early childhood experiences? How does this exploration reshape the foundational blueprints that dictate our expectations of how the world’s going to respond to our needs and our emotions? And how does that translate into the way we parent? Joining me today is the author of the new book, Your Pocket Therapist. She’s an expert in the field of attachment theory psychotherapist, Dr. Annie Zimmerman. Dr. Zimmerman and I will dive into how we can interrupt our reactions that stem from insecure attachments that no longer serve us and use tools for starting a new journey of self-discovery and personal growth.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hello, welcome. So today we have a really amazing guest, Dr. Annie Zimmerman, and this is a little bit different than what we usually talk about because we’re going to be talking about of course, attachment theory, but in the context of our relationships with our adult people in our lives, and I think that that has so many implications for how we parent. So Annie, thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Annie (02:32):
Thank you for having me.
Dr. Sarah (02:36):
You have this really incredible social media platform where you talk a lot about what feels just very accessible and easy to both relate to, but also implement bits and pieces of attachment and your insights and relationships. Can you talk a little bit about how you got into this particular area of focus?
Dr. Annie (03:03):
Yeah, of course. So I come from a family of therapists. Every woman in my family is a therapist. All my aunts, my mom, my sister, my grandma was the first person to study psychology at uni in the UK or one of the first women, sorry. So I’ve been brought up on psychology and have constantly been learning through my family, but also through my years of study. And I just felt that everything that I’d been through in therapy wasn’t being adequately reflected on Instagram therapy. I’ve always been a big fan of Instagram therapy and I’ve turned to it specifically when I’m having relationship problems. You’re in the middle of the night and you’re upset and you want to understand the dynamics that are going on. But then when I started to go through therapy myself and train, I thought actually a lot of the real depth and the real nuances being lost.
I’m a bit of a place of just positivity and motivational quotes and all of that. It’s really lovely, but I felt that people are yearning as the younger generations are engaging more with their mental health and people are starting to really reflect and want to learn. People are yearning for depth, but to do that in a way that’s not academic and fusty but is actually bite size and easy to digest, but still holding the complexity, I guess is my aim. That’s why I’ve called it your pocket therapist, which is the name of my channel and the name of my book because it’s taking the insights that people learn in therapy and bringing them to people who might not be able to access therapy so that they’re learning and they’re getting the education of the deep psychological processes that are going on and getting to understand themselves on a deep level, but without it feeling like work or without it feeling like paragraphs and paragraphs of theories. So yeah, that’s kind of my mission really.
Dr. Sarah (04:59):
Yeah, and it seems like people resonate with that you are speaking to people and they’re listening.
Dr. Annie (05:11):
Honestly, I am my target audience. I’m a chronic user of Instagram therapy, so I think maybe that’s why it resonates, because I’ll only post something if it’s something that I would’ve been interested in. And I think also talking about relationships, I think, so relationships are a minefield at the best of times, but in this modern dating world and landscapes and how everything is changing, I think people are just so confused as to what’s going on and are really wanting some understanding and some tools to bring into their relationships with which that they can actually find what they’re looking for. Because I think so many people are desperate for connection and intimacy and are struggling with that whether it’s in finding a partner or struggling to find that with their existing partner.
Dr. Sarah (05:57):
Yeah, I do. And it’s funny because obviously you and I probably work with slightly different populations. Generally I work with a lot of parents, people that are already, they’re done dating, they found the person that they want to spend the rest of their life with. They’re building a family and they’re finding it super hard. And there’s something about building a life with a partner and having kids that can activate a lot of attachment, old attachment stuff that I imagine dating also activates that ambiguity and uncertainty when you’re trying to find a new person, connect with someone, that’s a really challenging time just in the developmental timeline, right, because there’s so much uncertainty and when we’re uncertain, it activates our attachment systems because attachment systems are threat responses and there’s something about raising a small child and being so vulnerable and being kind of in this place of our relationships are often under a lot of stress in those early years of parenting. And so again, our attachment systems kind of get activated really easily. So are there parallels to that that you have noticed or think about at all?
Dr. Annie (07:24):
Yeah, definitely. Well, I think that the early years of, I mean I’m not a mother, but I’ve heard from lots of people and in my clinical practice that the early years of being a mother can trigger a lot of your own childhood wounds that you weren’t even aware of. One of the stories I write about in the book is about a man who is going to be a father for the first time his wife is pregnant and suddenly he gets this depression and he’s not sure why. He’s been kind of a happy person his whole life. And it turns out through therapy that he realizes that actually the pregnancy of his wife has triggered the birth of his younger sister, which was a traumatic birth and it took a lot of the attention away from his parents and it was a trauma that he just hadn’t processed or thought about.
And I think it’s really common that when people become mothers for the first time, they’re suddenly confronted with memories of what it was like for them to be a baby and how their own mothering or difficulties with their own childhood. So I think that those early years can definitely trigger a lot. And it’s the same as you say in the early stages of a relationship because the more insecure the relationship is, the more we’re triggered and therefore it’s always the most insecure at the beginning. So I think anything new and uncertain and in a way it’s a new relationship. As a mother, you are meeting this thing and it’s a new version of yourself. So I think it’s really interesting to think of that as being an attachment alarm as well as when you are entering motherhood for the first time.
Dr. Sarah (08:57):
Yeah, I mean it makes you think too of this idea of matrescence, which is another stage of development we enter into this part of our development when we have kids or patrescence for dads, but an adolescence, it’s kind of as volatile as adolescents just later in life. And we have a few more resources cognitively hopefully by then. But yeah, I’m curious too because young adulthood is a time when typically there’s some stability in all the development except when it comes to finding a partner, then I think there’s so much volatility and a lot of insecure ways of relating get activated. I dunno why that made me think of this, but I’m curious what your thoughts are too on different types of points in our development where attachment becomes of way more salient, maybe comes up to the surface more.
Dr. Annie (09:59):
Yeah, it’s interesting I guess as a teenager and when you start separating emotion from your parents and becoming independent attachments probably also really triggered then because then you are attaching to your friends and you start romantic encounters in the first time in your life and you need those new attachment relationships to kind of separate healthily from your parents. So I actually imagine it’s evolving throughout. I was also just thinking of, I guess I work maybe more with or online. Certainly my following is mostly women in their late twenties and thirties, and that’s a time where I think people are particularly urgent to find a partner because especially women, their biological clock is ticking and especially in their thirties, it’s like, oh no, I can’t believe I’m not where I thought I was. And then they often will choose a partner who will stay in a relationship that’s not healthy where they’re miserable and try to make things work so desperate to have a child and have a family. And I think the kind of the ending of that phase of life and the beginning of the life that they want as a mother can actually mean that they make decisions and that they act out of fear, which is a whole other problem for them, I guess.
Dr. Sarah (11:16):
Yeah. And when you work with those individuals, what do you do with them to help them notice their attachment patterns? What are some of the things if someone who’s listening is like whether or not they’re looking to date or they’re currently in a relationship, when you notice that your attachment systems are getting activated one, what are you as a therapist looking for to identify, okay, I think this is something worth looking at together, and then what do we do to build insight around that?
Dr. Annie (11:53):
I guess the first step for me would be to track back as, I mean in the book there’s five steps that I outline, which aren’t linear by any measure, but they’re just kind of a guideline as to different processes you would go through if you are getting triggered and you want to change your responses. So if we take anxious and anxious attachment for example, the first step really is just to be curious with yourself. I think we can be really critical where, oh, I’m being so needy and lots of shame, I’m freaking out. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be chill? And actually that doesn’t help us to grow and it doesn’t help us to have compassion for ourselves. So I think curiosity, it would be my first step and as a therapist I’m always thinking like, okay, where is this really coming from?
What’s actually happening here? Is there attachment system activated? If so, why? What happened in the early years that would’ve meant that separation and space was so unbearable, arable? Then the second step is to understand, so then to start to reflect on your memories of your early childhood and childhood in general and other times throughout your life that this pattern, this reaction is coming up. So trying to understand for yourself again, what are my triggers? What is it that specifically makes me anxious and how can I then use that awareness to prepare for, okay, I know that for example, when my partner doesn’t reply for a few hours, I freak out. And knowing that that’s a pattern and a trigger for you means that you can actually start to soothe yourself before it’s even happened. And the third is to feel, and I think this is really essential, especially for Intellectualizes like me and probably you, that we are always understanding, but actually often we just need to let ourselves move through whatever we’re feeling.
So I think anxious attachment rather than reacting and going to like, okay, I have to do something about this, I have to text them or whatever the behavior is. It’s just letting yourself feel that anxiety of I’m really scared right now. This is probably coming from the child in me that was once very afraid and needed my parent to survive. That’s terrifying for that attachment relationship to be threatened. I’m feeling all of that, but I’m safe. And so to allow yourself a feeling, but also not to exacerbate it, but to come in with that soothing voice, that internal mother I guess of I’m scared, this is very scary, but we’ve got this, we’re okay. And then the step four is action, and that’s really making a change to act differently. So that would be giving yourself five minutes before you send the message just to try and regulate your nervous system or knowing that you’re anxious and instead of calling a hundred times or doing whatever you need to comfort yourself having something in your toolbox of like, okay, I’m going to go and do five minutes of meditation, or I’m going to just take myself on a walk or I’m going to dance, stomp around to music, anything to channel the feeling into something that’s still an action and still moves something forwards, but isn’t that go-to response.
And then step five is repeat because you’re not going to do this once. This is going to be a lifetime of work.
Dr. Sarah (15:06):
I love that. I think the repeat part is critical and very permission giving to be like, this is something that you will do over and over again, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. That is the process of living is to continue to soothe ourselves and be curious, and that’s how things actually change by being consistently revisiting it.
Dr. Annie (15:29):
And you can’t change what triggers you. If something in your present triggers something from your past and you react and you are feeling all those feelings that are coming from that in a child face, you can’t change that. That’s going to happen beyond your control. All you can do is try to make different choices about how you respond to that trigger, which is so hard to do because you are responding from an adaptation and a coping mechanism. Attachment is an adaptation, so it feels like the right thing to do, but it’s challenging that and very slowly trying to figure out a different way of responding.
Dr. Sarah (16:07):
Yes. Can you talk more about this idea that attachment is actually an adaptation? I think that’s a very valuable thing for people to wrap their heads around.
Dr. Annie (16:17):
Of course, I guess babies are completely dependent upon their parents for survival, so they’re helpless, they’ll die without their parents, and that means that the relationship they have with their parents, the attachment is essential for them to live, and therefore they’re very adept at making sure that their parents stay connected to them and that they’re very cute, they’ve got big eyes. This is all to attract their parent, and they continue to evolve as they grow adaptations to making sure that their parent is interested in them. So I guess a securely attached baby wouldn’t need to really change their behavior as much. Their parents are mostly emotionally and physically present, whereas an anxiously attached baby would’ve learned at some point that the attention, the love, the emotional presence they’re getting is inconsistent. So sometimes they’re already present and sometimes they’re not, and when they’re not, the baby has learned, if I cry, if up the ante, if I clinging, if I do these certain things, then I get their attention back.
And so they’ve learned that their anxiety is actually really helpful because it secures that attachment relationship. So yeah, they’ve adapted to their environment and then the classical avoidant baby has adapted one step further by if they’re crying and crying and they’re not being met, that’s so terribly disappointing that they learn to just soothe themselves in a kind of hyper independent, I don’t need anyone, I don’t even cry kind of way. Of course they do, they’re completely dependent and they do have needs, but they just shut down because it’s too painful to be crying and to not be responded to. So again, they’re actually adapting to their circumstances.
Dr. Sarah (18:01):
And then as circumstances change, as new relationships come into that growing person’s world, maybe in adolescence it’s peers and then later adolescent’s, early adulthood, it’s romantic partners and young adulthood to late adulthood, it’s maybe a life partner and then it’s a child. So the cycle starts all over again. I think it goes on and on and on.
Dr. Annie (18:35):
Yeah, exactly. And I think we’re always evolving and growing, which I think it is so important for people to know that attachment can change, that we can work on it. It can be different with different people in the moment that if I am in a conversation with someone very avoidant who’s blanking me and isn’t interested in me, I’m going to get really anxious. And if I’m in a conversation with someone really anxious who’s really like, Hey, how are you and what are you doing too much? I’m going to become more avoidant. So it’s not fixed. It’s just kind of dynamic and I think people hold onto their attachment styles, this is who I am as a person, but actually it can be in complete flux depending on who we’re in relationship with.
Dr. Sarah (19:20):
Yes. No, that’s a very good point. I think that comes up a lot in the work I do with people are like, and very rarely do people actually know what their attachment style is. It’s not like that is something that people really can, I don’t know. I would be curious, I don’t actually know the data on this, maybe you do, but how many people sort of self-identify as a particular style? If they were actually given the a ai, the adult attachment inventory, would it be accurately matched to the thing they think they are? I actually think Bethany Saltman talks about this in her book, The Strange Situation, which is an amazing book. It’s like a memoir, but also the history of Mary Ainsworth’s attachment research in the Strange Situation. But as a mother, she’s worried, I don’t think I have a secure attachment, and she does all this work. She goes, and Aru gives her the AI in real life is part of her research for this book, and she finds that she is in fact securely attached or has a secure attachment style based on the a i. Right? So I don’t know that we actually are very good, accurate diagnosticians of our own attachment style. Do you find that in the work that you do that you’re like…
Dr. Annie (20:43):
Yeah, I think it really on the person, I think anxiously attached. People know that they’re anxiously attached in a way because they feel constant anxiety and they can’t tolerate distance and the symptoms are already clear. I would say avoidant people are less good at knowing they’re avoidant. When you’re avoiding.
Dr. Sarah (21:03):
Dr. Annie (21:03):
Yeah, you’re not really in touch with yourself. You are like everything is someone else is just too much. And I imagine thinking about that example that a lot of early mothers will be really worried that they have an insecure attachment and they’re going to pass down to their children and diagnose themselves and do all the tests and Oh, no, I’m anxiously attached. Am I going to mess up my child? But I guess it’s a tool to use help your self-awareness not to shame yourself with. And if you have an insecure attachment, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a terrible mother.
Dr. Sarah (21:39):
And to your point earlier, it’s one, it’s it’s not this fixed thing that I am at all times depending on who I’m with and how secure that person makes me feel, the more secure I’m going to be able to show up in that relationship period. If I feel safe with someone, my attachment systems are not likely to get activated. They might, right? If we have a really deeply ingrained threat response that adaptation you talked about at the beginning early in life had to be very, very, very profound because we were so misattuned to by our parents or whoever was taking care of us, then it would be harder, I think even if you were in a relationship where someone is making you feel objectively secure to be able to not show up insecurely. But I think the vast majority of people is somewhere in the middle of that bell curve. We all have relationships where our more insecure side is going to show up or our more secure parts of us will show up. And so I think people do have, there’s a big myth about attachment that it’s a fixed thing across all relationships or that it can’t change over time.
Dr. Annie (23:06):
I always say the best way to change your attachment style to being more secure is to be with a secure partner. That’s how you are able to be vulnerable and feel safe and work through the anxieties or the avoidance if you have a partner who is doing the work, who can hold you, who’s attuned to you. I think, and I write about this in the book as well, that we heal in relationship to others that often people are like, I’m so happy when I’m single and I’m so miserable in a relationship. And I would say that’s because they’re not being triggered when they’re single, but that’s also not really healing. The healing is in being triggered and staying and repairing and working through whatever’s coming up for you. And so not that you have to be in a relationship to heal, of course, but I think that’s why therapy really works because it’s a relationship where you can kind of have ruptures, have repairs, work through things, learn to be vulnerable in a safe space where you can reflect and grow from it.
Dr. Sarah (24:05):
Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with you. The way that I practice therapies from a very relational model, which is very much this idea, I think you and I have that in common, this idea that the therapeutic relationship may be the first for many people where they have this other person that allows them to both feel safe but reflect on what makes them feel unsafe. Can you talk to that piece a little bit more? If someone is doing therapy or is considering doing therapy, they’re recognizing, okay, I have challenges in relationships or I’m a mother or a father and I’m worried that I’m going to have challenges or I’m worried about helping my child develop a secure attachment. How do I be that secure person, that secure base for my child if I didn’t receive that when I was a kid and they’re thinking about going to therapy? There’s lots of different kinds of therapy and lots of different things that therapies treat, but I do think if you are looking to address attachment wounds that a relational model would be a really useful way to go. And I’m just curious, any thoughts you have for people who are considering therapy and what questions they might want to be asking themselves?
Dr. Annie (25:28):
Yeah, definitely. I guess people always talk about parents needing a space for themselves outside of just being a parent. And in a way, therapy is a really ideal place for that, not just to have me time, but also to have their own secure base because they’re going to be triggered. I’m assuming it’s going to be a time where all of your attachment wounds, everything is coming up, you’re stress your tired, and to have a place where you are with someone who is more regulated. I read a quote, I think it was Laurie Gottlieb saying that therapy is essentially just paying someone to sit in a room with a regulated nervous system.
And I think the idea of just being someone who holds a space for you that is calm with no shame, where you can bring all of your dark thoughts and difficult thoughts and with no judgment and just be able to be accepted by them and accept yourself. In the book, I talk about my own experience of being in therapy and how important it’s to have someone who can bear witness to your pain and your suffering. And just that alone, the modality of therapy is, but really what you want is someone who can bear witness to you and hold you and accept you as you are. And that just removes shame. That’s like the antidote to shame is having someone be like, okay, you’ve told me that you’ve shown me that very dark side of you, or you’ve told me that unbearable thought or you’ve cried for 50 minutes in front of me and I’m still here. That is the secure base. It’s like, I’m not going anywhere. You can show me your worst self and I’ll still be here for you. And I think that’s so heating.
Dr. Sarah (27:15):
Yeah, I mean it’s like the antithesis of what you were describing, the attachment styles and how they kind of evolve as an adaptation to one’s environment if you have a secure figure as a parent. And it doesn’t mean that no one will ever have an insecure attachment if their parent was not with a secure parent. I don’t want this to come across as parent blaming. It’s not like parents necessarily mean to misattuned their kid. You could have a parent who has the absolute best intentions and loves their child so much, but it’s this tricky intergenerational passing down. It’s so many layers and layers and layers of this, but so if you have a parent who wasn’t able to attune to that child in the way they needed it, and the child adapts and learns to either get very, very, very loud and clingy and anxious or gets very, very sort of avoidant and shuts down their need for that parent, fast forward to the future.
That person’s in therapy and they’re working with a person who’s sitting there and no matter what they bring, the therapist can hold space for it. It’s like you’re kind of undoing the learned experience of the original learned experience. And I will often describe attachment, especially with our earliest care providers as it’s a blueprint. It’s a blueprint that we then use throughout life to imagine and anticipate how we will guess other people will respond to us. And over time later experiences with people that either confirm or dis-confirm what the blueprint sort of lays out, then we want to edit that blueprint. And the problem is, if you’re not aware of this, even if you have an interaction with someone who is feel super safe to you, if you don’t log that sort of and say, oh, that’s different. I need to edit my blueprint. Maybe not everyone is dangerous.
Not everyone is going to make me feel embarrassed or ashamed or alone, then I have to go in and I have to actually edit that blueprint so that I can modify the way I engage with the world. And so I think while therapy is amazing, it offers that safe person, it also offers that opportunity to talk about that process of having a really messy feeling in the presence of a safe person. And then looking and reflecting on how did that feel? How does that change your understanding of how safe it is to have that feeling and how safe other people can be? How do you edit the blueprint now?
Dr. Annie (30:19):
Yeah, and I think it’s author experience, as you said, having an experience of being in a relationship. I mean, even a therapeutic relationship with someone who is secure and who is attuned changes your internal, your blueprint and also your beliefs about what’s possible for you. You’re like, oh, someone can bear me. Somebody can be there for me. Somebody can show up for me. And I think if you really solidify that experience, what I see often is it’s only after having that kind of deep therapeutic relationship that people then go and choose secure partners and end up in the kinds of relationships they want to be in because they’ve changed their blueprint and also what the blueprint means about them. They’re like, oh, I am lovable because I felt loved or therapeutically loved by this person. And therefore they then go out and find people who treat them in the way that they want and can attune and can show up on all of those things. So I think that’s how transformative that therapeutic relationship can really be.
Dr. Sarah (31:20):
And even if you are in relationship with someone who doesn’t help you to feel as secure, and you do that sort of therapeutic work of developing a different set of expectations for how you want to be treated, I think oftentimes then I see people then go into couples therapy or it’s like, we want to save this relationship. There’s something here to work with. It’s not like, it’s not like I’m thinking of a situation where maybe you’re in an abusive relationship and you need to realize that and find a way to get out of that. But I think that’s only one, that’s a very sort of extreme version of an example. I think a lot of people may have insecure qualities to their relationship with their partner, but ultimately really want to be with that person and they’ve built a life together, they’re building a family together, or maybe they’ve already built a family together, but that awareness of these patterns and your own blueprint then allows you to do that same work with your partner. Can your partner identify their blueprint? Can you figure out the ways in which maybe you guys inadvertently might be activating each other’s less adaptive attachment systems? And how do you repair that? Do you ever work with couples in that way?
Dr. Annie (32:39):
No, I don’t work with couples, but it’s something I’m definitely interested in. But it made me think of a quote by Dr. Nicole, the holistic psychologist. She says the sixth love language is knowing your partner’s trauma and taking that and being sensitive with it. And I think couples therapy or two people in individual therapy who know themselves and they can say, this is the way that I’m triggered. How can we be sensitive of that? And I’m going to mess up and I’m going to shout at you. I’m overwhelmed and how can you help me with that? And I think that’s such a beautiful kind of relationship to be in where two people are aware of their flaws and trying actively to change them, but also asking for help and being sensitive to the other person.
Dr. Sarah (33:27):
And I think I keep saying how it’s all kind of connected, how we were parented has such a huge impact on our attachment systems, which then have a huge impact on how we parent, which has a huge impact on our child’s attachment systems and so on and so on forever and for always. So this idea that we can actively address our own attachment challenges in our relationship while we’re parenting, and if our child can even, whether they’re actively aware of that or just receiving the benefits of that, it can change the entire trajectory.
Dr. Annie (34:12):
Right? And people talk a lot about being able to understand and explain even to your child where you’re coming from and how you’re trying to grow and how you’re trying to repair and modeling reparation. I think that can also happen within your relationship and always being aware of how your childhood impacted you, but also not having that as like, okay, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I think a lot of people have that fear of, I’m going to because I have an insecure attachment, I’m going to mess up my child because I was traumatized. I’m going to pass that on. And I think that’s such a classic fear of people who’ve been through trauma of I’m forever, I’m bad on the inside and I’m messed up forever. But I think actually just even being aware of your past is you are probably in the 1% of people who are actually really reflecting on who they are as a parent and where they come from. And I think people need to not use all of this theory to beat themselves up with and to shame themselves and to have so much fear because the theory is there to help us and to help us improve and grow and give ourselves a break.
Dr. Sarah (35:28):
Yeah, definitely need to give ourselves a break for sure. You talked about our internal mother being own internal mother or parent. Can you talk more about that and some of the ways that you might help people become aware of their inner dialogue and maybe shift it?
Dr. Annie (35:51):
Yeah, absolutely. I guess the first thing is that we can’t to really accept, and I think people really struggle. It’s a huge point of pain in therapy is to really accept that you can’t redo your childhood. So it has its limits. You have to grieve for what you didn’t get and for this perfect mother that you probably didn’t have. So it’s like it’s understanding that you’re not going to be able to reverse the past, but you can introduce into your internal world and your parts of yourself, a compassionate caring mother figure who’s the person who has your back and who also sets boundaries looking out for your wellbeing and speaks up. And it’s like I guess the archetype of the kind of feminine who is fierce and powerful, but also warm and compassionate and loving of which we all have inside of us. I guess for people who didn’t have that experience of their own mother, it will take a bit more work to really grow that part of yourself.
So I think if you are triggered, if you are annoyed with yourself, if you are feeling the limitations of yourself or your flaws rather than coming in with such harsh criticism, it’s like being aware of that critical voice and have a whole chapter on the critical voice in my book, just so universal. It’s being aware of the critical voice, being aware that that critical voice is probably trying to help you and protect you in some way, and then introducing this compassionate voice, this wise voice or this internal mother. And I think that can be a real help to just drown out the intense criticisms that we berate ourselves with on a daily basis of, okay, this is what my critical part is saying, but what is my loving part saying? And what is my vulnerable inner child need right now? And even asking that question that’s coming from the inner mother, it’s like, how can I look after myself? What would I need? What’s a soft and tender thing I can give myself that’s actually probably going to help a lot more than the criticisms.
Dr. Sarah (37:58):
Yeah, that’s so beautiful. And I think having worked with a lot of mothers, especially new mothers and many who don’t have a secure experience of attachment with their parent growing up, at first they can’t imagine having that voice. They don’t believe that they have it. And being a mother and having to navigate all of the anxieties that come just naturally with having a baby and having a small child and wanting to do it right, there’s so much fear. And so that critical voice gets really, really, really loud and activated all the time. And I think I’ve seen the most incredible evolution in women and dads frankly too. I think this is really true for dads too, but something about as they start to become a parent and they start to use their own natural loving voice to their child, they can start to recognize how would I speak to myself in my most secure moments with my kid who is distressed?
I just instinctively do know how to soothe them. Not always, if I’m super triggered, I don’t, right? We don’t always show up as our best parenting selves, but there are moments where you just are intuitively and instinctively able to give your child exactly what they need to hear and you know it, really know it. And then I think those experience can often be reflected on to be like, how would that part of you talk to yourself? And that is usually a big aha moment for parents. They’re like, ah, okay, I found it. I know who I have to call upon to mother myself, that internal voice, it’s there. It’s just that we don’t always trust that we have it, but then you see yourself doing it with your child and you’re like, oh, that’s the voice. Yeah, no, I can do that.
Dr. Annie (40:15):
I love that as you’re learning to mother your a child, you’re also learning to mother yourself, and that the more you nurture another life, the more you are also able to nurture yourself. So a lot of people are worried about that intuition not being there if they’ve come from not having their own parents who were good enough. But I think it’s nice to think that it exists in everyone. And actually it’s a muscle and more you tune into it and trust it, the bigger it grows, and then the more you are able to identify your own needs and your own feelings. So yeah, I think that’s really lovely.
Dr. Sarah (40:54):
Yeah, I think there’s something sort of magical about becoming a parent in that respect because I think it forces us to do things that we didn’t think we could do. And then in doing them we’re like, oh, that challenges my belief that I don’t have this intuition because it just flows out of us at times. I think sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s there at all for sure, but sometimes it’s just words come out of your mouth and you’re like, how did I do that? Where did that come from? You’re that was a good parenting moment. And then you’re like, oh, wait, so maybe I can do this. And it is in me somewhere. I think that’s a beautiful, seeing parents become confident in that is one of my favorite things about my job. For sure. I’m curious with your work, what are some of those moments for you where you’re like, you see this light bulb go off for one of your clients and you’re like, okay, we did something really important here.
Dr. Annie (42:00):
I guess people making genuine change or when somebody, it’s funny, people always ask when you’re a therapist, like, oh, isn’t it so hard? You have to sit with people and they’re going through all this. It’s such a burden. And actually I think the moment that someone accesses their pain and becomes conscious to what’s been in their unconscious, the suffering and the pain and crying and the grief and the anger when someone experiences and is brave enough to be vulnerable with me, something for the first time that they’ve not even been aware is there, I think that’s so moving and it’s actually, it makes you think, oh, this job is actually a privilege that I get to be there and I get to help someone go through that. So rather than it being so difficult, it’s actually the part of the work that I think is the most rewarding.
Dr. Sarah (43:00):
I really relate to thats it’s, it’s funny, it’s like being able to be someone’s secure base and then feeling secure. Attachment attachment relationships is like a two-way street. So as a therapist, when you’re sort of in that role of that secure base and someone is showing you how much they trust you to be able to just let it out and not be nice, can’t see my air quotes, but put together and articulate, but just raw, messy, real vulnerable. It’s kind of like that parent-child relationship. If a child really feels super safe to just let it all out and just be a hot mess, and that parent is like, gosh, you must really trust me. Thank you. And to receive that is reinforcing of that security. So to be that secure base is part of, it’s such a mutual trust, right? It’s a gift for sure. I agree.
Dr. Annie (44:16):
Absolutely. And yeah, I think I guess British people are maybe slightly different from American people are much more repressed. So I think it’s a lot harder to, I’m speaking from my own experience of therapy, it’s a lot harder to let yourself open in front of when we are told in our cultural messaging, no emotions. So it’s extra. You have to really feel safe with someone to let yourself go there. It feels like the’s scariest thing in the world. But yeah, anyone in therapy’s doing that right now? I’ve been there and I absolutely salute you because it’s so hard.
Dr. Sarah (44:52):
Yeah, I’ve never thought about that. I mean, I know the sort of trope of the stiff upper lip of the British, but what messages do you feel are, do you feel like that’s getting shifted at all? What do you noticing culturally for repressed emotions?
Dr. Annie (45:11):
There’s definitely the stigma against therapy and mental health is definitely shifting, but we’re probably a good few years behind you guys in terms of your openness and ability to express feelings, especially for men, I guess it’s even harder. British men are very, they’re getting a lot of messages to be strong and masculine and not to open up.
Dr. Sarah (45:37):
Yeah, it’s interesting. I wonder too because because of the way the medium of a lot of your psychoeducational material, obviously you do therapy and it’s therapy and TikTok isn’t therapy. And also I think you are, like you said at the beginning, you are really trying to, there are people here in this space, in these social media spaces that are looking to consume information that helps them to grow and helps them to gain insight and learn these, some of this stuff is learn the theory, but also kind of see examples of how it applies to them to open their minds and ways of talking about it with others and capturing the nuance. I think there’s an art there. I agree with you. I also was very disillusioned by the stuff I would see on social media in terms of content around psychology and parenting and development. And I was like, oh, some of it’s fantastic and some of it is not good disturbingly. So do you feel like this is changing some of that too though, in a good way? The good stuff stuff that’s really helping people to be like, okay, I grew up in a family that would never in a million years go to therapy. And everyone really looks is like, that is not, we don’t do that here.
They’ve got the stigma against it. It feels inaccessible to them for whatever reason. And then to be exposed to this because finding it somewhere where they not necessarily know they’re looking for it. Right. And do you think that might be impacting the openness to it?
Dr. Annie (47:33):
Yeah, I think so. I think especially in the younger generation, people are, I think previously you had to spend just the first two years of therapy just convincing someone that their childhood affected them. Whereas now people are coming in and they’re like, right, this is my attachment style, this happened. They’re really prepared and open to talk about it because I think probably from consuming a lot of the information online that it’s just much more in the rhetoric that your child had an impact on you. We have an unconscious that is kind of often in conflict with our conscious. We have feelings that we’re not feeling. Even just knowing those things means that you are well equipped when you come to therapy to kind of know what it’s about. And there’s maybe less resistant to talking about the past or to opening up compared to people who don’t know any of that and they’re just like, why are you even asking me how I feel?
Dr. Sarah (48:26):
Right. Yeah. No, it’s true. Which probably saves them tons of money in therapy bills because you can jump right to the middle instead of having to do a lot of orienting. But I also imagine there’s, it’s challenging to capture the nuance. I think it’s a double-edged sword. It gets people to know about it and gets their foot in the door perhaps. But it’s also, I think it’s hard to capture that nuance.
Dr. Annie (48:59):
And I would say that people often come in with lots of labels and they’ve already diagnosed and they already know exactly what their symptoms are and dah, dah, and that can actually foreclose some exploration and some curiosity and some of the things that they don’t know and that they learn about themselves rather than coming over really fixed ideas. So there’s pros and cons, I think, to the Instagram therapy world, but really I think it’s amazing that this many that’s in the norm that we’re all talking about mental health and childhood and attachment, and that can only be a good thing, I think.
Dr. Sarah (49:35):
I agree. And people want to get a copy of your book. It’s out today, so that’s super exciting. Where can they find your book? Where can they connect with you?
Dr. Annie (49:45):
Dr. Sarah (49:55):
Amazing. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Annie (49:58):
Thank you. It’s been so nice talking to you.
Dr. Sarah (50:07):Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in learning more about attachment science, check out my free guide, The Four Pillars of Fostering Secure Attachment. In this guide, I teach you how to use the principles of attachment science to help you parent with attunement and trust by focusing on four simple things. You can work towards helping your child form a secure attachment bond, which is a predictor of so many positive aspects of mental health, including self-esteem, independence, healthier relationships with others throughout their lifespan, better academic and workplace achievement, and lower reported instances of anxiety and depression, not a small list. So to download this free guide and learn the four pillars of fostering secure attachment, go to drsarahbren.com/secure. That’s drsarahbren.com/secure. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.