What is the Difference Between Love and Attachment? With Briana MacWilliam

This month, Briana and I are sharing a 4-part video series to help you understand problematic relationship patterns and offer you guidance to enhance your relationship.

  • In our first video, we discussed the question: “How do I communicate my needs in a relationship?” You can watch it here.

  • In our second video, we addressed a special question in honor of Valentine’s Day: “How can I spice up the romance in my relationship?” You can watch it here.

And today, we are examining two misconceptions when it comes to love and attachment:

  1. Attachment is a bad thing.

  2. Love and attachment do not overlap.

In this video we explore the nuances between biological and egoic attachment, as well as dig into the benefits of attachment.

So, first, let’s explore the myth that attachment is a bad thing.

1. Attachment is a Bad Thing.

Attachment is a survival based system.

Attachment can also make for a happy, healthy, and passionate partnership, so long as a state of interdependence is maintained; which is a state of comfortability with closeness, while still being able to maintain a sense of separate identity and personage.

For insecurely attached individuals, we set ourselves up by finding partners that confirm our early models, even when these patterns hurt us and are not in our own self-interest.

For example, in a relationship, the person with an anxious attachment may need to be with his or her partner all the time to gain reassurance. To support this perception of reality, they choose someone who is isolated and hard to connect with; “See? If I didn’t hound him all the time, he’d never express his feelings or show me affection.”

The person with a model of avoidant attachment has the tendency to choose someone who is possessive or overly demanding of attention, from whom he or she constantly needs to escape; “See? I have to be distant, otherwise her constant hounding would suck me dry.”

These cyclical patterns leave one in a constant state of grief over failed relationships and/or unfulfilling romantic relationships.

Why do we pursue relationships when we know they will only cause us grief?

Somewhere in our past, these patterns served a protective function. Through various interactions with his parents, a child learns certain thoughts and feelings are unacceptable and should be eliminated.

So, he creates an imaginary parent in his head to police his thoughts and feelings. Psychoanalyst would refer to this as the “superego” or your conscience.

Thus, whenever he experiences those unacceptable emotions, he receives a jolt of anxiety and represses them in his unconscious. Because these repressions are met with external approval, we may come to view these “defense mechanisms” or coping skills as his greatest strengths. As he matures, however, they may prove to be his biggest crutches.

For example…

  • Being strong and independent can also mean you are emotionally inaccessible.
  • Being good at taking charge, can also mean you are overworked and don’t know how to delegate.
  • Being sensitive and caring, can also mean you are quick to take offense and feel pushed around by the emotions around you.

Harville Hendrix notes when opposites attract, they are trying to “reclaim their lost selves.” An individual’s ideal mate is typically someone who both resembles his or her early caretakers and compensates for the individual’s repressed parts. The individual’s inner image of this person is his or her “imago.”

The imago is a composite picture of those who were most influential to this individual, at an early age. The individual recorded the way they blushed when they got upset, the way they smiled when they were happy, the sag of their shoulders when sad, their characteristic moods, the sound of their voices, how long it took to respond to the individual’s cries, their specific talents and interests, all of the individual’s significant interactions with them, and so on. Importantly, your brain didn’t interpret these data; “it simply etched them onto a template.” A blueprint for love.

Our search for an imago match is an urgent desire to heal childhood wounds. Thus, your “true love” will inevitably reopen some very sensitive injuries.

Relationships between individuals who seem to be caught in a dynamic where the attachment system is activated, with a less than desirable quality of bond between them, need not be considered “bad” or “toxic”…they could be considered a ripe opportunity for growth! Whether that is in or outside of a committed relationship, depends on the emotional and spiritual growth needs and the willingness of all parties involved.

2. Love And Attachment Do Not Overlap.

Attachment can be understood as egoic, or biological, and both forms feed and overlap each other. And both of them can be a precursor to love…and/or hate. So let’s look at these two dimensions:

A. Egoic attachment is thinking that things must come to you and look a certain way, or they are not good. The way around this is to tap into the feeling expression; the essence of the thing that you want. Not the details of it. This means you are capable of ALLOWING what you really want to come into your sphere (check out the video to hear Briana’s red bike example)

B. From a clinical perspective, biological attachment is when you believe someone is essential to your survival because they mirror a pattern of affect and behavior that turns on your most primitive brain system. This could be an “Imago” match, or someone intended to draw attention to the parts of you that were split off as a child in a circumstance much like the one that has been recreated in your partnership.

To put it succinctly, according the neuroscientists: neurons that fire together, wire together. Psychodynamic theorists are more poetic: we are reliving in the hopes of revising old wounds. But what part of us hopes?

I believe it is the “observer” in all of us. Not that part that thinks our thoughts, or reacts to compulsion, but the part of us that is aware of how we are thinking and feeling, and can reflect on those thoughts. This is the mature inner being, and the part of us that offers the freedom to narrate an experience as “difficult” or “pleasurable.”

Love is the ability to reside most authentically within the ourself, so as to be able to see our partner’s authentic self as well, and not have an egoic attachment to a particular outcome such as a judgement or expectation of our partner’s way of being, or their “unfulfilled potential” (from our perspective).

From this place you can see your compatibilities and incompatibilities without resorting to limiting stories about love’s scarcity, and keep yourself open to what is a healthy fit for you, without judgement of someone’s “emotional intelligence” or level of “consciousness” or making it about how worthy you are, or are not, of love.

Romantic love, is when there is harmony within the self, so that when two harmonious selves come together it plays a beautiful song. Like playing two well tuned instruments together, instead of one being tuned and the other being out of tune, or both being out of tune. Fortunately, however, it is the nature of rhythm for those things that are out of tune, to move from a state of disharmony towards harmony.

And If you want to learn more about how I assist couples with fostering intimacy year round, check out my Intimacy 5 Challenge here.

If you are interested in learning more about what attachment style you have, and how knowing your attachment style might offer simpler solutions to your relationship problems, I invite you to take Briana’s Quiz.

With love,

Kyle Benson

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Kyle Benson

Kyle Benson is an Intentionally Intimate Relationship coach providing practical, research based tools to build long-lasting relationships. Kyle is best known for his compassion and non-judgemental style and his capacity to seeing the root problem. Download the Intimacy 5 Challenge to learn where you and your partner can improve your emotional connection and build lasting intimacy.
What is the Difference Between Love and Attachment? With Briana MacWilliam