If how you connect is getting in the way of your happiness and if your attachment style is anxious-preoccupied, there are things you can do.
Those anxious in love are always in a state of hypervigilance—highly sensitive to verbal and facial cues—and research shows that they are actually better at reading emotional expressions than other people. But—and this is a big but—this advantage is negated by their tendency to jump to unwarranted emotional conclusions. They read in, over-generalize from particulars, and are quick to react and fight. But there are ways, suggested by research, to work at disarming the triggers.
- Slow it down
By recognizing that this is your emotional pattern, you can become conscious of unconscious processes. The look on your lover’s face tells you he’s angry or upset and you feel your heart start to pound and you’re about to confront him or you’ve been thinking about how he didn’t call you and you’re picking up your phone: Stop. Give yourself a time-out and take a deep breath. Identify what you are feeling and then think about what happened using cool processing.
- Practice cool processing, not hot processing
Research shows that when we think about experiences by recalling what we felt in the moment, we literally re-live the moment with the same flood of emotions. That then stalls us, makes us ruminate and actually becomes a trigger for increased hypervigilance. Instead, think about why you felt as you did, recalling the experience as though it happened to someone else and as if you are seeing it from a great height. Thinking about why puts you in position to understand both what happened and your own reactivity.
- Assign yourself a worry time
Intrusive and repetitive thoughts we can’t control keep us stuck in relational patterns. If you just can’t stop the merry-go-round in your head—if they keep you up at night or intrude on the daily—expert Daniel Wegner suggests scheduling a “worry time.” This process of “thought postponement” is conscious, whereas intrusive thoughts are not, and inserts an element of control. You may also find it useful to write your worries down; seeing them in black-and-white can help you determine which are real and which are simply projections or by-products of your hypervigilance.
- Visualize a secure person or experience
Studies show that simply thinking about feeling secure with someone—someone who was helpful or attentive—or being in a safe or unstressed place can quell feelings of angst. One study which had anxious people write down their experiences with someone supportive showed that managing their emotions and tamping down anxiety affected their behavior over a period of days, resulting in enhanced views of both the self and the relationship they were in.
You can put yourself in the driver’s seat of the car that’s you.
Copyright © 2016 Peg Streep
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Kross, Ethan, Ozlem Ayduk, and Water Mischel, “When Asking ‘Why’ Doesn’t Hurt: Distinguishing Rumination from Reflective Processing of Negative Emotions, “Psychological Science (2005), vol. 16, no.9, 709-715.
Wegner, Daniel M. “Setting Free the Bears: Escape from Thought Suppression,” American Psychologist (November, 2011): 671-679.
Carnelley. Katherine B. and Angela C. Rowe, “Repeated priming of attachment security influences later views of self and relationship,” Personal Relationships (2007), 14, 307-320.