We were born with a drive to attach. It’s not an option. We will attach to something, either life-giving or life-destroying. Which path are you on? What are you attached to? Let’s start by explaining a bit of attachment theory, developed from research in the 1960s and 70s.
A Brief Primer on Attachment
There are four basic styles of attachment:
- Secure attachment – The child feels safe and secure, knowing his parents are dependably attuned to his needs and emotions.
- Avoidant attachment – The child senses that feelings don’t really matter because the parents are emotionally unavailable or unresponsive. The world feels like an emotionally barren place and leads to avoiding connection with others.
- Ambivalent attachment – The child cannot predict his parents behavior. Sometimes they are attuned to him; at other times, they are not. The world feels unreliable and leads to anxiety.
- Disorganized attachment – The child experiences trauma from his parents, verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually. The world feels like a frightening and chaotic place and leads to erratic, impulsive behavior.
Our Disordered Attachments
The first payoff in understanding attachment styles is that it begins to make sense of so much of a man’s struggles with idolatry. When there is no secure attachment, the need doesn’t go away. We just attach to something else, hoping that in that connection we will find the life we long for. This is the unconscious drive a man feels as he hooks himself to success or porn or alcohol or power or people-pleasing or any number of other things that are out there. These addictions become our disordered attachments, disordered because they put created things before the Creator and disordered also because of the chaos they unleash in our souls.
Remember, we were born to attach. We were made to connect. And we will attempt some way of doing that even if that way leads us into destructive patterns.
How We See God
Here’s the second payoff. Our attachment style becomes the default way in which we relate to God. For those with avoidant patterns, God feels more like a concept or intellectual idea. Correct theology and behavior become paramount, not a felt connection to God. For those with ambivalent attachment, God is simply unpredictable and unreliable, insensitive to their needs, and cannot be trusted in the end. Those having a disorganized attachment have trouble resting in any steady impression of God’s love. They feel that God is always displeased or filled with rage toward them.
However orthodox the theology, however much they may know the Bible or the message of God’s love in Christ, mere knowing of these facts doesn’t necessarily transform the stubborn realities of their primary attachment patterns. They need something more. And there is something more!
Finding Secure Attachment
God created us to feel securely attached to our parents, to others, and ultimately to Him. However much sin and sadness have corrupted this truth, there is restoration in Jesus. It’s not the facts about Jesus. It’s His living presence transforming us.
So in my work as a spiritual director, I will sometimes suggest a form of imaginative prayer to a man. For it is in the imagination that all three of these corrupted attachment patterns can be addressed. And I constantly experience wonder at how Jesus comes to a man there. The experience of His presence results in a profound shift in the way he feels about himself and his world. Of course, such transformation at a deep level is both a quick work of sudden shifts and a slow work of healing the heart.
My own avoidant attachment pattern has taken a long time to unravel and heal. And I’m still in process. But the journey has been remarkable. I am becoming someone I could have never dreamed possible a decade ago.
What are you attached to? In the end, it will give life or destroy life.
Finally, I owe most of the post to Curt Thompson’s seminal book, Anatomy of the Soul, especially Chapter 7. The whole book is worth reading for the wonderful connections between modern neuroscience and faith in Christ.