There is a part of me that, for a while, I’ve wanted to change. It is a part which I’m sure frustrates those who want to be closer to me too. It is how I, generally, don’t get attached to people. I will go weeks, months, or years without talking to friends and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t miss people. And displays of affection such as hugs usually feel empty and emotionless for me. These are some of the most private things I will admit to; I’m scared people will think I’m heartless. In Internal Family Systems, this part of me is called a “manager”. Managers are one of two parts (the other being “Firefighers”) who protect us from being overwhelmed by “Exiles”, those parts of us that carry our deepest wounds. Melissa Sandfort has written a wonderful description of Internal Family Systems on her website here. Melissa describes “managers” as parts that “try to control your relationships and environment so you’re never in a position of being hurt. They avoid emotion, and try to control everything… Very extreme managers may turn people into robots who never seem to feel anything or connect to anyone.”
I long for the closeness, happiness, sense of safety, and oxytocin that comes from being securely attached to somebody. Research has also found that secure attachment makes people more resilient and able to regulate their emotions. But recently, I’ve stopped berating this detached part of me. Instead, I thank them. The have saved me many times in my life. By the time I was five, I had moved house more times than I was years old. I also moved schools a lot; I went to four different primary schools and three different high schools. I was constantly meeting people and then saying good bye. I wouldn’t have coped if I got attached to people. This detached part of me helped me again more recently. It helped me to end a relationship with somebody who was not respecting me. If I was attached to them, this would have been much harder.
My therapist commented that I have shown my system/internal family of parts that I will end a toxic relationship. She hypothesised that the detached part may feel it’s safe for them to take a step back and let me form attachments now, trusting that I will not put up with abuse.
December 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm
You know something, I’ve had the “attachment issues” problems from when I was little but I’ve always been baffled as to just what attachment means. My therapists have described feelings of trust and love and acceptance, ect.
I don’t think attachment or psychological security is gained by simply focusing on emotions. Honestly I could care less how my mom felt about me, good or bad. If I could trust her actions, not her feelings, that would have supplied a sense of security. In fact even if she hated me but still treated me decently in spite of the fact that she hated me, that would have been the greatest gift she could have given me.
Taking risks like your therapist suggests, given that you seem to be acting more independently now, may be a good thing but it’s always helpful to remember that it’s people’s actions that count. They might have any number of emotions with regards to how they relate to you but it’s their actions that count. Be careful.
You’re not heartless, I think what you described is just ordinary guardedness. Let people earn your trust through their actions. Once respect is achieved this way, I have found that attachment follows.
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December 21, 2021 at 3:59 am
Thanks for sharing! Attachment is hard to get your head around when you haven’t felt it before. I’m glad I’m not alone and you don’t think I’m heartless. Thanks for making me feel ok and normal- you’re right I think what I’m trying to describe probably is just ordinary guardedness
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