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Effective Communication

The last three essays have been a summary of the information about attachment models in adult relationships from the book Attached. In this essay I’ll continue to explore this dynamic.

To summarise the three types of attachment:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

Effective Communication

A few weeks ago I was with a friend having dinner. We were talking about relationships and the dynamics of attachment. My friend made a comment about how he would seek to talk with someone if something seemed amiss in the communication or their behaviour. It seemed quite clear to him that the way to deal with a conflict was to talk and arrive at an understanding of what was going on rather than withdraw  and blame the other or take the blame and fear being abandoned. Not surpassingly, when he took the test latter he came out as securely attached!

What about those of us who do not have as a first recourse the belief that we deserve to be heard, that our needs matter or that conversation will clarify the position? What if we either go in to protest behaviour of being silent, ignoring our partner due to a perceived slight or withdrawing from what we see as their demanding and needy attempts to talk to us? The hardest dynamic of any relationship is the avoidant/anxious, as they will cause each other to go into their coping mechanism: the distance of the avoidant partner will cause the anxious partner to become more eager to get reassurance that they matter – texts, calls, attempts to meet or talk. In contrast the avoidant partner will want space and solitude, and will withdraw from their anxious partners attempts to create intimacy.

The final chapter of the book Attached is devoted to Effective Communication. This is a summary of what is discussed there.

What is effective communication? It is a way of speaking that communicates our needs, rather than leaving our partner to guess what is bothering us. It is an important tool in dating as it will help us to choose a compatible partner. An anxious person will often feel they need to be other than how they are. Relationship advice may tell an anxious person “play it cool, don’t be needy, appear confident and strong to attract a mate”. Whilst it may be true that a self confident secure type who does not need another’s reassurance in order to feel valid is an attractive quality in a partner, if it is not who we are then we will risk attracting someone who is not then able to hold us when we finally reveal our true vulnerability and need.

In contrast, if we are ready to show our vulnerability when we date and name our needs those who withdraw from this would never have been able to give us the support we need, and thus leaves us free to focus our dating attention on those who can. The same applies in friendships.

An example given in the book is of turning a perceived weakness into a strength. If you know you need to be reassured a lot that your partner loves you and is attracted to you, instead of trying to conceal this out of a fear of appearing needy you state it as a given. This will paradoxically make you appear self-confident and assertive, rather than relying on covert means of trying to get this reassurance without being direct about your need for it – sending texts asking how your partner is when really you just want them to reply and ask how things are with you. In using effective communication from the start you also set the tone for the relationship as one where you can both be honest and share responsibility to look out for each other’s well being.

The difficulty of expressing one’s needs as an anxious person is that we often don’t know what they are! Instead we tend to get overwhelmed by emotion and lash out. Ask my ex, I had very un-Buddhist moments with him! Followed by shame for having got angry. In contrast people with a secure attachment style don’t react so strongly, don’t get overwhelmed as easily, and can thus calmly and effectively communicate their own feelings and needs. Secure people also believe they are worthy of love and affection and expect thier partner to be responsive and caring. With these self beliefs they find it easier not to let negative thoughts take over.

What to do then if you are anxious?

Unlike a secure person you’ll be easily flooded by emotions, will fear that the relationship is fragile and easily broken and don’t expect your partner to to respond positively. Fearing the fragility of the relationship you’ll find it harder to express your needs effectively. When you do try to talk, if you have an avoidant partner, rather than giving you the reassurance you seek they may well withdraw. This is  one reason why effective communication in dating is important. As an anxious attachment person one will quickly decide that the person we have met is the one we have to have. It will feel that we stand no chance with anyone else and we will do all we can to make it work with this person, even ignoring the red flags that might make another question a person’s suitability. When we do communicate our needs, if it results in the person backing of or loosing interest it will be easy to feel that we have ruined things, “if only I had played it more cool, I’ve lost the only one who could have made me happy”. In truth it has just saved us from a relationship in which we would have always been trying to be right for our partner, or fearing their loss of love.

The author suggests the following for anxious and avoidant types:

Anxious: turn to effective communication when you  feel you are starting to resort to protest behaviour (needing to text, going silent on your partner in the hope of drawing them in, not answering calls, threatening to leave etc – these were covered in last weeks email). Instead of this, feel into what your needs are right now that are not being met. Once you have calmed down, find a way to effective communicate your needs to your partner.

Avoidant: whenever you feel the need to run this is a sure sign you need to use effective comunication. Explain to your partner that you need some space and that you would like to find a way of doing so that is acceptable to them. Suggest a few alternatives, making sure the other person’s needs are taken care of.



The Five Principles of Effective Communication

1. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be genuine and honest about your feelings.

2. Focus on your needs. This includes your need to take your partner’s well being into account as well – comunicating in a way that hurts them will hurt you. When expressing your needs, it’s helpful to use verbs such as need, feel and want, rather than talking about your partners short comings.

Another book called Non-Violent Communication explores this in much more detail. The author, Marshal Rosenberg, describes a model of  communication based on expressing objective facts, feelings, needs and a request:

“When I sent you a text yesterday morning and you did not reply until today at lunch time I felt upset, because I need to be confident that you can make time for me. In future I would really like it if you reply when you see my message, even if its a few words to say you will reply fully later if you do not have time to text right then, would you be willing to do that?”

This is very different to saying something which blames the other or makes them wrong. Rosenberg’s central premise is that when others hear a feeling and a need they will hear what you are asking for. I used this when I was mugged 10 years ago. Luckily I remembered it all in the moment after a single punch to my face had sent me to the ground. As the man straddled me with his fist in the air time slowed down. I knew he was going to hit me more – he was so pumped with adrenalin his aim was to immobilise me without any concern for how much I might get hurt. I didn’t have time to formulate a perfect feeling/needs want statement! Bur I remember as I looked him in the eyes I said “I’m feeling scared, please don’t hurt me”. I think I forgot to express a clear need “I want to feel safe” but it worked nonetheless. In a moment his fist went down and it was the strangest experience: he spoke to me as if he were talking to a frightened child. His voice was almost reassuring as he said “It’s ok, I won’t hurt you, all I want  is your money”. He then went though my pockets and took all he could and left me laying on the pavement. I had lost a wallet and mobile phone, but I do believe it could have been worse if I had not internalised the importance of using effective communication, so that it came naturally in the moment of extreme need.

3. Be specific. This relates to Rosenberg’s encouragement to state an objective fact rather than emotive statements. Rather than “You are so inconsiderate for keeping me waiting for half an hour” which may just trigger the other person to defend themselves, rather than feel the upset you feel. Rosenberg  suggests instead we express this in a factual way: “When we arranged to meet at 1pm and you arrived at 1.30pm I felt really annoyed as I need to know I can trust people to value my time. In future please arrive at the time we agree or text me so I know you are late and I can decide what to do” You may find other ways to do this, but the principle is to keep to simple facts rather than language that suggests blame.

4. Don’t blame. Never make your partner feel selfish, incompetent, or inadequate. Effective comunication is not about finding a way to communicate your partner’s short comings or making accusations. Make sure you feel calm before trying to discuss something that has upset you.

5. Be assertive and non apologetic. As the author of Attached says: “your relationship ends are valid – period”. People with different attachment styles may not see your needs as legitimate, but they are essential for your happiness and expressing them authentically is crucial to effective communication. The author makes the point that this is especially important for people with an anxious attachment style as our culture encourages us to believe that many of these needs are illegitimate. Instead if a person feels the importance of close contact, emotional availability, loving reassurance when feeling anxious about not being wanted or valued – then these are authentic needs. Better to be honest about this and have the 99 people withdraw who cannot meet them and meet the 1 person who can, than hide them and settle with one of the 99 and have an ongoing struggle to have them meet your needs as you start to reveal them once the dating phase is over.

(The above is a summary of p.235-241 Attached)

I know from experience that knowing all of this does not make it easy to apply it! But as we practice mindfulness and being more open to our emotions and non judgemental about our thoughts and feelings it does become possible to tune in to what is going on for us and to start to take the risk to express this with honesty. The Loving Kindness practice helps us to cultivate a feeling in our heart that “I’m ok and you’re ok” so we no longer come from a place of judging ourself or the other, or of feeling we need to fix our self or the other. Instead we enter into an honest connection with how we are and how the other is. This may mean recognising that how the other is is incompatible with what we need, and rather than making it our mission to mould them into our perfect partner we leave them to find someone who loves them as they are, as we stay open to finding someone who will love us as we are.

For a detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

Why do I always fall for the same type of man….

In 2015 and 2016 I went to Loving Men in Wales. I loved it as an event, and the feeling of community, friendship and ease. It gives a feeling of what it can be like to live in a world where we are connected, and as gay men can enjoy a playful sense of ease and company. I also left each weekend with a deep pang of unrequited love, having on both occasions met a man who for various reasons was unavailable, but for whom I built up hopes that he might be.

The result was then spending the first months of the New Year struggling with a visceral feeling of loss, of pining for what never was but I had hoped might be and shame at feeling I was being weak to be so preoccupied with a man who it seemed showed little interest in thinking of me or having any wish to have any further connection. In fact with each man we did meet in the weeks after returning from Loving Men, and with each I felt them retreat from the eagerness of my desire to have more connection.

Once again, I then blamed myself for being too keen, for not playing it cool, for wearing my heart on my sleeve and being needy, invasive of their boundaries. So this year I decided that I would avoid Loving Men and go away to a space that was just for me, a 10 day silent retreat. On my way there I saw a man on the train who looked as if he was on his way to the retreat. As we got off I asked him if he was going to the meditation retreat and he was. We struck up a conversation and shared a taxi to the venue. In the remaining time left before going into silence we had a great time chatting. He’s straight so I was not worried about any unrequited love….or so I thought!

As we went into silence I noticed a curious dynamic in relation to this man and another. Someone had arrived just as we went into silence who I did find attractive, and as fate would have it he was placed to sit immediately behind me in the meditation hall, so I saw him each time I went in to meditate. The centre divides men and women into separate rooms and men and women are seated on separate sides in the dining room. This is great if you are straight, as it reduces the impact of seeing someone you are attracted to. Doesn’t really work if you are gay!

So over the time I sat meditating and in the stillness of the silent time between meditations I was present to a familiar dynamic. With the man I had met on the train, once we were in silence I became so anxious that I would be too much in some way – that I would be making eye contact when he just wanted to be in his own space or that I would impinge on him in some way (I noticed that I am at ease looking and smiling at people I know, but once on retreat this can feel awkward as we all withdraw into a more personal space. Also I noticed a fear of not being wanted once it was no longer possible to find out through a few words that someone was feeling friendly). With the man sitting behind me, I saw how my mind wove a story of desire and hope – that at the end of the retreat we would talk, he would turn out to be gay, we would meet and realise we were destined for each other. Exactly the story that fuelled my hopes with the two men at Loving Men, a belief we were meant to be together that in the end turned out to be not an intuition but an empty dream.

The end of the retreat brought two lessons. The man behind me, who I had anticipated talking with once we came out of silence, left immediately the silence was lifted and I never saw him! The man I had met on the train and had worried I was going to be too much for, had chosen me as his meditation buddy! I had noticed we tended to be at the same table after a while and had our drinks together in the breaks. This had helped me to relax around him and feel at ease. He then told me at the end that he is a diver and when diving you have one person as your buddy who you stay close to. He chose me.

Apart from showing how my mind got distracted during the retreat, how is this relevant? It actually was a perfect example of the dynamic I had just been reading about in a book about relationships and the dynamics that can happen between people. The book is called Attached, and it describes how people fall into three broad groups when entering relationship:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

A few people are anxious/avoidant, but this is more rare.

The following list of traits for each type are from pages 65-66 of ‘Attached’

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And a few suggestions about how to work with your type:


The book describes the different dynamics that can arise as these three types form relationships. It talks of how anxious types will often enter a relationship worrying that the other person will lose interest, that they will do something wrong to scare the other person away and take the blame if things do not work out. Avoidant’s will be concerned that the other person will become interested too quickly and so will give mixed messages – seeming to show interest whilst at the same time not replying to messages quickly and being ambivalent about committing. Secure people will not play games but be straight forward, showing if they like you, being open to commitment and ready to talk about anything that concerns them in the relationship rather than using it as a reason to pull away or play games.

What can happen is that anxious people create a template of what it feels like to fall in love – the worry, the heightened sense of uncertainty, the fear of rejection leading to the delight when the other seems to want you, but followed by fretting about why they have not replied to a text. The result of this template is that when an anxious person meets an avoidant it feels like love, because it feels like a familiar experience of what falling in love is like. Whereas meeting a secure person can feel flat – there’s no edge or drama, and so an anxious person can overlook the people who would be best able to give them a feeling of security as they chase after all the avoidant people they are drawn to.

Avoidant’s are drawn to anxious people as it fits with their script that people will become too demanding, needy and that they risk loosing their independence so in the end they need to drop this person in the hope of meeting the right person at some point in the future. It is not that avoidant’s do not want a relationship, but they can have an overly romantic idea of what their ideal partner should be like and so tend to be critical of the people they meet.

What I like about the book is that it does not make any type wrong and does not seek to fix anyone. It encourages you to be aware of your patterns and see how these interact with others, and to recognise that certain parings will be more likely to provide a feeling of security and being held by one’s partner than others. It does not say the neediness of the anxious type is wrong, just something that easily gets triggered when the partner is withdrawing or giving mixed messages, whereas with a partner who is ready to be fully present this dynamic occurs but is pacified by their willingness to hold. This can literally be the willingness of your  partner to take your hand when you want to hold there’s, rather than the avoidant’s response of shaking it off.

Avoidant’s are also looking for love, but have learnt to feel frightened of being overwhelmed. So for them if they recognise that always being attracted to anxious types will not be very likely to lead to a relationship they can relax in they can instead look to meet secure types – but they need to be ready for the challenge a secure person will offer of calling them out on their tendency to pull away. The secure person will not take the blame on themselves as the anxious person does when the avoidant pulls away, instead they will name what is happening and start a dialogue around it.

This is a brief synopsis of the points covered in the book, but if it has interested you or you recognise your type already I recommend reading it. “Know thyself” and you no longer have to live out unconscious dramas and stories. The self test form is below if you would like to find out your type. Or for a more detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

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Social phobia and the fear of groups

As a teen and in my twenties I had an extreme phobia of talking in groups. I only felt safe talking to one other person. As soon as it was no longer a one-one interaction I felt overwhelmed by fear. Fear of being seen to be stupid, having nothing to say, being boring or unwanted.

As a teen I realised that nothing I thought or believed was unique to me: all that I thought and knew was learnt from what I had read or heard. And I started to feel that I was somehow not real, that whereas others were themselves I was just a construction of borrowed thoughts, beliefs and ideas. This made me fear speaking as I felt I had nothing genuine to say.

It was only on coming into contact with Buddhism that I started to realise that this sense of being no one was actually in line with Buddhist teaching and not a deficiency in my personality! According to Buddhist teachings we are all simply constructs of our social and cultural conditions and there is no soul or real self at the core of this. Instead there can be a waking up to the non-self, Awareness, the ‘isness’ of Being. Through my involvement with Buddhist groups I started to feel more comfortable in myself, but I still feared talking to more than one person. On study retreats I was known as the silent one! Everyone else would be jumping in with their thoughts and opinions in the study group and I would sit in silence, not knowing how to join in the conversation.

People who know me now know how ready I am to get into a conversation! Although I still feel a certain fear in public groups, I have learnt not to believe in this and to let go into the free fall of not knowing as I open my mouth and let a conversation start. One of my biggest lessons was realising that no matter what I do I will never be liked by everyone. The burden of wanting to be approved of by all I met was too much. In the end it seems we have to accept some will like us no matter what we do, some will arrive at a balanced view of us depending on our actions, and some will dislike us no matter what we do!! So why worry about the impression one is making when there are some who will disprove no matter how much we try!

Over the last 24 years I learnt to relax and let go of the fear of being in groups. I know how painful it can be and if you experience it I know it can feel as if it will never change. Please be reassured though, it’s simply a self view – and Buddhism teaches that all self-views are in the end empty of any truth, they are simply a story about ourself we choose to believe. The talk linked to at then d of this blog gives a profound invitation to let go of the story. You may connect with what the teacher says or it may seem too abstract. I hope it will give food for reflection. And that you can see that if someone who once couldn’t speak to more than one person at a time now happily sits and talks to a room full of 40 these things can change!

The most important part of learning to let go of my fear was to realise I didn’t have to get it all right, that making a mistake didn’t make me a mistake, and that it’s all right to simply have a go and seem to fail. It requires lots of Loving Kindness to oneself to let go of the negative scripts we may have constructed that we are no good, unlovable, not worthy. As we give this Loving Kindness to ourselves the internal judgements that look on so critically at our performance softens and we can start to accept, in the fantastic quote from a teacher I met in my early years of Buddhist practice, that we are simply “a mess in progress!”

Click here to goto the talk by Gangaji

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