Anger and Attachment in Relationships
Anger often masks fear. It is a natural survival response and an attempt to re-establish power. Anger can play a roll in relationships when a person is attempting to manage discomfort that arises during times of conflict. When anger is expressed through verbal, physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or causes severe depression or suicidal thoughts, you should seek professional help immediately.
“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.” ~ Harville Hendrix, Ph.D
Attachment theory and research in neurobiology tells us that an individual’s internal working models of the self, the world and others is formed through the early attachment bonds with parents or caregivers.1 Through the parent or caregiver’s attunement to the infant, and the infants dependence on them, this relationship begins the basis for which all other relational experiences follow.
Attachment researchers and relationship experts suggest that individuals that present securely attached generally feel safe in their relationships. They are able to work through conflict effectively. They can tolerate separateness and togetherness.
By contrast, individuals that present insecurely attached generally don’t feel safe in relationship. They may feel the world is not safe and people can’t be trusted. They have greater difficulties working through conflict effectively. They can be fearful of togetherness, separateness, or both.
When an individual is not aware of how attachment shapes their experiences in their relationships they may not have the foresight or resources available to respond relationally when they are faced with real or perceived threats to their world, and the opportunity for real connection is missed over and over again.
Lashing out, criticizing, passive-aggression, withdrawing, ruminating, becoming defensive or blaming are a handful of common anger-related behaviors that may occur in relationships when conflict arises. With enough instances, these behaviors will eventually erode a relationship over time.
Individuals can work with their anger in their relationships by building awareness around their own relationships with their primary attachment figures. Exploration of one’s own anger in the context of primary attachment figures can help one find the real fear behind the anger and begin to rewire the internal working model and begin to create new interactions with the ones they love.
Sometimes experiences with primary attachment figures were not safe. In this case, it may be important to receive the proper level of care and support from a professional when, or if attempting to work through traumatic experiences that may be interfering with the ability to have healthy, secure relationships.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh,” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”
1 Bowlby, J. (1969, 1982). Attachment and loss (2nd ed.). Basic Books: New York, NY