Activated Attachment System

It’s Tuesday. The day I’ve been wishing would hurry up and get here so that I can see T and speak about everything that has been driving me insane since Friday, but guess what? I am fighting against the fact that I don’t want to go.

This is so typical for me, this is what I do when she’s been on a therapy break and I’ve spent a week or two counting down the days until I can reconnect with her, only to arrive at that day and …. Nope, I don’t wanna go. I guess this is the push and pull of my anxious attachment. Come here – go away.. Jeez it is exhausting.



I read a book a couple of years ago Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love” by Rachel Heller and Amir Levine and I am re-reading it now, now that I am further into my therapy journey and now that I have more insight on myself and why I do things. I seriously recommend that anyone who struggles with attachment related injuries gives it a read, it is wonderfully validating and very helpful.

I keep trying to visualise tonight’s session. What will I say to T when she asks me how I am? Sometimes I start to play out a possible dialogue and other times I tell myself not to plan it, to just turn up and see what happens. I am nervous. So I’ve been doing what I usually do, reading as much as I can on the internet and in books to kinda diagnose myself. It’s like I want to be able to take the information to T almost so I can say “I did and felt this… but it’s okay, because I read in this book that it’s because……” which I know is completely ridiculous because she is a highly educated, talented, skilled therapist and she doesn’t need me to take her snippets from Google! Still, perhaps I have a fear that she will punish me and I am trying to protect myself by doing this.

On that note, I think I have figured out what sent me spiralling and as usual, it is all about my attachment style. Taking some quotes from the book, and a website, here is what I’ve learnt:

“The attachment system is the mechanism in our brain responsible for tracking and monitoring the safety and availability of our attachment figures. If you have an anxious attachment style, you possess a unique ability to sense when your relationship is threatened. Even a slight hit that something may be wrong will activate your attachment system and once it is activated, you are unable to calm down until you get a clear indication from your partner that he or she truly is there for you and that the relationship is safe”. 

“Once activated, they are often consumed with thoughts that have a single purpose: re-establish closeness with their partner. “activating strategies”.”

“Activating strategies are any thoughts or feelings that compel you to get close, physically or emotionally, to your partner. Once he or she responds to you in a way that re-establishes security, you can revert back to your calm, normal self.”

[Next section taken from:]

“Protest behaviour

A protest behaviour is any action that tries to reestablish connection with the partner and get their attention. If we can reassure our partner’s needs before they engage in protest behaviour, then they can be calmed very quickly. If things continue to escalate and needs continue to go unmet, protest behaviour ensues and can harm the relationship. Protest behaviour includes:

Excessive attempts to reestablish contact: Excessive texting, calling, messaging etc.

  • Withdrawing: Ignoring, not taking calls, etc.
  • Keeping score: Waiting to see how long it takes for them to call you back and waiting the same amount of time before returning their call, waiting for them to apologize, etc.
  • Acting hostile: Eye rolling, walking away, leaving room
  • Threatening to leave: Making comments that you can’t do this anymore and that your better off without the person in hopes that they will convince you to stay
  • Manipulations: Saying you have plans when you don’t, not answering calls, playing games
  • Making him/her feel jealous: Making plans with an ex, talking about your attractive coworker, texting friends of the opposite sex, etc.
  • Protest behaviour can manifest itself in anything that jolts the other person to notice and respond to you. It can cause harm to the relationship.

Longing for someone who is no longer available – biological and emotional make up is programmed to try and win them back. The process of attachment follows its own course and schedule. This means you will continue to think about the other person and will be unable to push them out of your mind for a very long time.”


Using this to help me 

So I think that I understand what happened for me:

  1. Something activated my attachment system. I think this was my reading into the comment that T made about how she had hoped I wouldn’t need to be in therapy for long. As previously explained, I had read into this that I was much harder work than my T ever anticipated and that basically, she probably wished she had never taken me on.
  2. I emailed T to re-establish contact… but unfortunately for some reason, her response wasn’t enough to settle me and so I then….
  3. Engaged in protest behaviour – however the chosen method was internet stalking. I guess this felt like the safest option because she didn’t have to “know” about it.
  4. Unfortunately said internet stalking resulted in me feeling even worse upon finding out she is married and has two daughters close to my age which just fuelled my insecurity.
  5. I then became fixated/obsessed with T due to “longing for someone who is no longer available” – this explains why I was unable to push her out of my mind.

I guess the purchasing of the book for T was all part of this longing – it was a way of establishing connection and closeness .



I know I should probably relax a bit more and not spend so much time analysing the crap out of myself and my behaviour and thoughts, but it has actually benefited me figure this out. I feel much more able to take it to T tonight and discuss it with her now that I understand the bigger picture.







27 thoughts on “Activated Attachment System

  1. I read somewhere once that weaknesses are just overused strengths. Your ability to analyse is a strength which you may have overused the other day when you were anxious, I’d say in this post it has been back to a strength. Awesome work x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah thanks Lauren, I feel much better having worked this out. I am nervous to tell T though even though there is a part of me that just trusts and knows she will be nice to me about it all, the fear is still there xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get that 100% the fear is awful. But every time you push on and do it anyway, as I know you will, you defeat another part of that fear until one day its barely there anymore 😊 x

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, I needed to read that so I can replay those words again later. I often force myself to read T things that are way outside my comfort zone so I hope I keep that courage when I see her…….. we shall see..

        Would you take the gift? x

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Absolutely because even though it’s tough you know that only good comes of it for you 😊 you got this!

        Me personally, I would take the gift just because I was having a battle over whether to take it…so I could understand and so deal with the battle, and get another victory 😊 xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do think that therapy can be intellectualised too much but understanding that you’re not in love with your T is what you are doing by reading this material.
    I suppose the dream of seeing her versus the reality of the work is difficult. She won’t punish you because you haven’t done anything wrong, but I understand that fear. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmmmmm……….. I agree, I do intellectulise therapy stuff a lot and I understand that I do it through fear. It has helped to ground me though, I just couldn’t make sense of anything and I felt like I was losing my mind. This has helped me to understand why I did it. Part of me knows I haven’t done anything wrong and part of me feels I have been nosey and deserve punishing.

      I still haven’t decided what to do about the chicken book LOL. X


      1. I wasn’t criticising or anything. Just saying that generally therapy can be intellectualised too much. A lot of what you are reading is only what your T would probably explain to you anyway. It explains why you behave and feel the way you do. We’re all curious to some degree! I’m sure your T wouldn’t see it like that.
        Ooh I don’t know! You could always keep the book and give yourself more time to decide. x

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lol I will definitely find myself going back to it a lot im sure!

    With regards to the chicken book, I would try to be really brave and talk to her about it. Use it as a vehicle to explain your thoughts etc…. and could you then maybe use it in session to look through together? Could she use it as a way to give you thst connection – show you which chickens she has etc?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m laughing at the fact we are talking about chickens 🐔 in respect of my therapy, whoever thought this would happen? 😂

      I do plan to tell her what I was thinking when I was buying it, which was that I wasn’t “allowed” to and then the anger at that fact – I think that stuff is useful.

      I guess it’s material worth discussing but it feels as though it will taint the present at the same time x


      1. Lol, in my therapy it’s rabbits! 🐇

        I definitely think it’s worth talking to her about. I know how awful it will feel to expose yourself in that way though c


  4. Good luck for tonight. Sounds like it might be quite an important session. That book sounds really good, something I might look into getting it.
    I think voraciously reading all this material is really good, it almost gives you a map when everything seems so confusing and I know when I used to do it that there was an element of reading that stuff taking away some of the shame I was feeling over how I felt about my attachment. I also still tend not to take something to therapy if I feel shame and don’t understand whatever behaviour or feeling I am experiencing, I’m still not fully sure what that’s about. It’s like I go and say ” Yes I am doing/feeling/experiencing this thing BUT it’s okay there’s a reason for it and here’s what I’ve learned.” I am guessing it’s to do with fear of being shamed or fear of rejection from my therapist. And if there’s books written about it then it validates my behaviour/feeling as a normal thing.
    Something to think about though… are you intellectualising too much? Are you using it as a defence against connection, or lack of trust in your therapist? Are you using all this reading as a way of moving away from the therapy experience of being vulnerable and experiencing and tolerating the grey areas, are you scared to be truly present within the relationship between you and therapist?
    It’s okay if you are doing that but it’s good to be aware of it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha I’m reading this as I am sat outside her house waiting for 7.30pm to roll around and I feel sick to my stomach, my heart is beating really fast and I am sweating!

      Am I intellectualising too much? Quite possibly.
      As a defence against connection – I don’t know?
      Trust in my therapist – 100% not although I’m aware that’s how it looks and sounds! Ha.
      I can’t do grey areas – only black and white and my t often says that I can’t “tolerate” any “mess” so quite possibly!

      Being truly present – what does that mean? As in, being in the moment rather than having planned everything? If so… possibly yes.

      Agghhh so much. I don’t even know how to start tonight’s session off. Normally she knows what’s coming koz I have emailed her, but I haven’t this time and I wish I had! X


  5. in my experience (and I really relate to this) intellectualisation is a defence mechanism we use to get control and it is not wrong or bad as gaining insight into your own motivations and reactions is so important. Where it gets us in trouble is when it takes us into thoughts and away from present moment feelings which if we attended to them we could self soothe and comfort and understand.

    At the moment you are in a huge transference situation with your therapist so its particularly intense. You are gaining heaps of insight and in time this child part of you wont be as active, it will be more integrated.

    Thank you for sharing the info from that book. It was really enlightening. 🙂


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