Overview of Secure, Avoidant and Ambivalent

34It’s important to understand Avoidant and Ambivalent before we jump into Disorganized because it’s actually kind of a combination of both of those disturbances.

Think of Secure Attachment as modulated – kind of “in the middle” where you have some yearning to bond but also some comfortable autonomy, and neither one is stressful.

So, there’s an easy flow between connection, a positive aloneness – because all of us like to “refuel”  sometimes. Maybe in our meditation, in our own space, or in our own sense of ourselves; and perhaps we could also call that autonomy. When we think about the attachment system being “too off,” in the context of nervous system regulation, we would be thinking about shutdown (or Dorsal-­‐vagal) response, or depression, or something like that.

disorg21“Too OFF” is usually where we go when we go into more of what they describe as an Avoidant Adaptation; and then when it crosses over into “too much” of the attachment system being activated, where you can’t  stop thinking about, “Am I connected? Am I not connected? What’s going to happen if I leave?” or “Will they come back? You are here today, but are you going to be here tomorrow? Am I lovable enough to keep the relationship stabilized? Are they going to love me enough for me to feel like my needs are met?” …when all that is on your mind a lot, in fact too much – then that can be described as Ambivalent. The signal cry of the Ambivalent Attachment Adaptation is “too ON”.

Avoidant as Infants/Dismissive as Adult -­‐  Ambivalent as Infant/Preoccupied as Adult

Now they used to call it Anxious Ambivalent and we have that in some of our materials too – but really you can have Anxious Avoidant as well, so anxiety can go with any of the Attachment models. So we decided to leave that “Anxious” attribute out. The tricky thing about reading the Attachment material is that sometimes Avoidant is called Dismissive – just to give you some of the language in case you run into it – the infant version of this style is usually called Avoidant and when they talk about the same style in adults, some authors tend to call it Dismissive, meaning you are dismissing connection. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want it, though… it’s just a reaction on top of the longing that was so difficult to feel.

For Ambivalent, when it goes to adult it’s often described as Preoccupied – which just means you are really preoccupied with connection, or the fear of loss of connection. I just want to clear that up, so if you are reading the wonderful books that are out there, you don’t need to wonder, “Which? What? What are they talking about?” That’s part of how it goes…


Now, those of you have  done the  Somatic Experience training will know that when there is a kind of high isolation between too much  parasympathetic or too much sympathetic, you are missing the regulation of the middle. There is a lot of distress in the system. So, when somebody moves into disorganized, often what  you  will see – over any length of time – is a kind of flipping back and forth between the extremes, or elements of Ambivalent and Avoidant.  That means sometimes they are shut down and frozen and not available for contact – they are more  in  their  threat  response,  so  there’s  a shutting down of the attachment system and other times there is a lot of hyper-­‐anxiety about what’s going on in the relationship.

Now what seems to be somewhat typical of disorganized attachment – which of course also has two names so let’s get those up there *draws names on flipchart* – everything has to have at least two names… there is probably more, we aren’t really looking into all of it, but this pattern – I want to clearly write it down – is called Disorganized or Disoriented, and I am going to help you understand what they specifically mean by that. In the literature, sometimes, it’s also called Type D: it’s another way they refer to this dilemma.

Situational of Chronic Disorganized (Disoriented or Type D) Adaptation

So when you are doing a lot of trauma work it’s not unlikely that you are going to be bumping into this dynamic, mixed in with the trauma work that you are doing, right? Any of these could be mixed in, but this one is a strong home for that. And often – and this is true for all of them, but especially  with disorganized – you’ll find a reference to Situational Disorganized and what they mean by that is, certain situations might kick you into disorganized attachment for a while – maybe you had a death early on, or were abandoned early on, and any subsequent death or abandonment may become a trigger.

So you don’t necessarily have to have a chronic or a totally intact pattern on any of these… there could be just one or two things that might push you into insecure attachment. Basically you are feeling love and belonging, and connection and stability, and trusting, and all of that, but certain situations sort of pull the rug out from under you; and just depending on where you go at that moment…

If you enjoyed reading this and are interested in attending our next DARe 4 workshop – register below.

DARe 4: From Wound to Wellness
Cincinnati, Ohio w/ Patti Elledge
March 26-29, 2015 – CLICK HERE to Register

This blog was written from Module 4-1 Transcript – Introduction to Disorganized Attachment (aka Disoriented or Type D).