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How My 'Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style' Shows Up in the Workplace

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Attachment to people can be really strange with people who have mental illness. This shows up at work especially to me because I have been with the company for nine years. I have built up a lot of relationships and have had a lot of feelings leaving the company. It seems impossible for me not to keep in touch with people. I am in a constant struggle not to press too hard for a response, and the anxiety that if they do not respond, our relationship is cut off.

• What is PTSD?

This is particularly weird for me because in my personal life, it is astoundingly easy to cut people out of my life. But work is a beast. I have enjoyed validation throughout my career, especially when it comes to accomplishing goals and providing an environment conducive to productivity.

From a psychological standpoint, validation and needs remind me of John Bowlby’s extensive research on the concept of attachment. He talks about not only the different kinds of attachment styles, but the psychological need for connectedness.

Most attachment styles show up in childhood, in a child’s relationship to their caregiver. Since I come from an abusive background, I am ill equipped to maintain relationships without either being anxious about the future of my relationships or avoidant as to protect the vulnerability. This mainly presents with fearful-avoidant attachment characteristics because I am attached, but I do my best to make sure this person does not realize how far that attachment goes.

This creates a work environment where I could suddenly become cold or suddenly very needy for validation. Part of the fearful-avoidant attachment style that really spoke to me was how as adults, we can become very distraught when relationships end. I find this especially hard at work because many of these people in the last three years have seen me have flashbacks, severe panic attacks, psychosis, and healing.

As someone who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with other mental illnesses, this reminds me strongly of my childhood because of the breaking of my relationships with certain family members. As I have grown as an adult, the anxiety of a broken relationship has just intensified to anyone I become just slightly attached to. But I saw this especially with those who I have opened up to and now have me on read. To me, I gave a part of myself to you that I expect you to keep safe. Which translates to, if you ignore me, you aren’t keeping me safe.

The goal in my journey is to become securely attached, which is obviously the ultimate attachment style, hence the “securely.” I trust my husband absolutely, but when he leaves for work or to do anything without me, there is a considerable amount of distress for me because of my attachment style. I’d love to work on having a secure attachment where I take comfort when he returns but am secure enough that he leaves. These people tend to seek out social support, which I tend to be good at because I constantly reach out to friends. But when I am rejected, it is a harder blow to handle.

Avoidant attachment style sounds like it is. They tend to avoid situations, relationships, and invest little emotion in their partners, coworkers, or anything social. This idea of having difficulty with intimacy sounds like it would suit me well, however, the fact I have a strong need to connect and get validation from other people doesn’t quite match up. When I first become acquainted with someone, it is extremely hard for myself to showcase my best qualities. I tend to be more reserved with people, I talk less, and I am not open to conversations that might trigger a response from me. One of the worst things a person can do in this situation is press me, even if you know me, to open up to other people. Trust me in this, I do try.

The thing about these attachment styles is that I can see myself a little bit in each one. Therefore, I chose the two mixed together: anxious/avoidant attachment style, which translates to fearful-avoidant attachment style. Anxious attachment style is probably a close second and one that is easy for me to slip into. There is a deep fear of abandonment and I can see this every day. I expect a response from people, not right away, but I assume that they need the same time of emotion that I am pouring into them. I do not worry about my husband leaving me, but I do fear that my coworkers will leave me or I suddenly don’t have the support of a friend. I need a lot of support and I feel almost selfish that I require a lot from those around me.

The hardest part is feeling very secure in my relationship with my husband and his family, yet fearful-avoidant with everyone else who isn’t in my inner circle, like friends, coworkers, certain family members, and myself. Sometimes I am the problem, which is where mental illness comes in. PTSD can trick you into believing that you were at fault for the damage inflicted. I am the “bad” person for breaking my relationship to someone who was toxic and causing me serious harm. The need for approval from other sources like job performance, “fitting” in, and my likability.

The good news is through therapy I have grown more securely attached to my husband, but like everything, it is a work in progress. I hope for the next months after leaving my job that I will find it easier to have a secure attachment style instead of having those toxic traits of which I already had formed a habit.

Getty image by 10’000 Hours

Originally published: August 14, 2022
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