Fostering Secure Attachment through Community: For Non-monogamy & Beyond

Fostering Secure Attachment through Community: For Non-monogamy & Beyond

trevor-cleveland-341795-unsplash - Edited (1).jpg

Attachment bonds are integral to this human experience we share. We evolved in tribes and thus our brains are social organs that respond on a neurobiological level to our interactions with others. One way neuroscience research has found this to be true is that signals of potential rejection or abandonment tend to affect our brain chemistry similarly to if we were facing a lion in the wilderness - sending us into fight-or-flight survival mode. That served us well when we were likely to die without our tribal connections. Unfortunately, it’s an evolutionary adaptation that’s a bit outdated and tends to cause us more trouble than good these days.

Have you ever acted in a way you weren’t proud of when facing fears of rejection or pushed someone away who you were scared may reject you? In the context of modern love that’s how we fight-or-flight. When our fear responses are activated we’re also inclined to make snap judgments - a tendency that’s useful in actual life or death situations, yet often damaging in the context of romantic conflict. What’s more is that our early childhood experiences determine how sensitive our brains become to fear activation.

John Bowlby, the psychoanalyst who pioneered attachment theory, hypothesized that attachment is all about us seeking emotional regulation and feelings of safety in times of perceived danger. He purported that our attachment and fear systems are intricately connected. Mary Ainsworth at the University of Virginia then expanded on his theory to identify three primary attachment styles that have since been proven to be universal across cultures: secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious (with a fourth rare style – disorganized). Then further down the road in Louis Cozolino’s book “The Neurobiology of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain” he detailed neuroscience research that proves “beyond irrefutably” that these attachment styles stabilize in our neural circuitry by the time we’re 12 - 18 months dependent on the responsiveness of our early caregivers.

zach-vessels-1289558-unsplash.jpg

Attachment Styles:

Secure: If our caregivers are responsive to our distress in those early days we learn that we’re worthy of our needs getting met and that we can depend on other people to meet them. With that mindset our fear responses are less sensitive to activation. We also tend to be more comfortable expressing our needs clearly and forming interdependent bonds in intimate relationships.

Insecure - Anxious/Avoidant: If our caregivers were not responsive to our distress or we experienced early traumas, however, we’re likely to learn that we must be hypervigilant in order to make sure our needs are met. We become distrustful of others and assume that we can’t depend on them to meet our needs. This causes us to become hypervigilant and alters the fear systems of our brains on a neurobiological level increasing the sensitivity and intensity of fear responses. I conceptualize anxious individuals as people who are more likely to respond to that fear in fight mode and avoidant types as the more flight oriented ones. In relationships fighting can look like outward expressions of anger or less direct tactics of trying to get needs met; whereas flight looks like withdrawal from connection.

chris-sabor-524212-unsplash.jpg
bill-williams-14506-unsplash.jpg

The good news is that research in “neural plasticity” has proven that those of us with insecure attachment have the capability of shifting our brains towards security in our adult years. We, humans, are super adaptable creatures! In the same way that our brains can initially adapt to unhealthy situations, they can also adapt back in healthier ways. It’s not an easy thing to do - but with dedication, patience, compassion (for self and from others), and sustained effort people with insecure attachment can learn to have more discernment and control in relation to their fear responses - a phenomenon often termed “earned secure attachment”.

Nearly all of the research around how we can achieve that goal has been done in the context of monogamous dyadic relationships. That research has shown that it’s very important to foster security in one’s relationships to create this shift. That makes sense seeing as the fears of rejection that trigger these responses inherently involve other people. It also makes sense because the attachment chemical oxytocin has been proven to calm our fear systems on a neurobiological level and it is released most strongly through connection with others.  If you’re single or non-monogamous, however, don’t fret! Much of the research related to fostering secure attachment can be applied to forming healing relationships beyond the romantic dyadic context if we open our minds (and our hearts)!

Amir Levine, the author of the book “Attached: The new science of adult attachment - and how we can find and keep love” uses the acronym CARRP to help people remember the main qualities he’s identified bring security to relationships - consistency availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability. In Stan Tatkin’s book “Wired for Love: How Understanding your partner’s brain and attachment style can help you defuse conflict and build a healthy relationship” he stresses the importance of forming “couple bubbles” to serve those functions. But it seems clear to me that with creativity we can infuse those qualities into our relationships more broadly. Let’s get real - if you could choose one person or a whole team of people to stand behind you for a free fall which would you choose? I know I’m definitely going with the team!

tim-marshall-114623-unsplash (1).jpg

If you could choose one person or a whole team of people to stand behind you for a free fall which would you choose? I know I’m definitely going with the team!

According to the mainstream view of relationships we’re supposed to be stuck in a bubble with one person to meet all of our security needs. Of course that’s scary! Society teaches us that we’ll feel complete and less lonely once we find “our one” and get in our bubble with them. The truth is, however, that the narrative of coupledom is often quite isolating. When we visualize coupled people being in a bubble that separates them from connection with others it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Perhaps what we actually need is to pop those bubbles and look beyond them for our senses of belonging.

By letting go of the cultural myth of our “one true love” we can shift our energy to finding our many loves through community - whether we’re non-monogamous or not. Breaking free of those couple bubbles can allow us to foster consistency, availability, reliability, responsiveness, and predictability in our lives through a network of love that can be stronger than the support any one person could ever offer. Expanding our support systems in this way can benefit us all by allowing us to settle into feelings of security in our lives that aren’t fully dependent on our romantic relationships. If we can feel assured that we’ll be held no matter what we can navigate our adventures of love with more steady and less fearful strides.

Through fostering strong connections with community we can actually attain both higher levels of freedom and higher levels of security at the same time. When we know we’ve got loved one’s out there who can catch us if we fall we can feel more free to fly. We can take big risks, go out on limbs, and explore with our whole hearts if we feel confident that we have a network of support we can lean into if those limbs or our hearts get broken. We can also show up for others to be that support for them with less pressure if we know that we can tap out and step up as needed with confidence that our loved ones will have support either way. There’s a reason people say “it takes a village”. It’s because it does - and that’s true for nurturing us humans of all ages!

duy-pham-704498-unsplash - Edited.jpg

On the 1st of June I’ll be releasing an article on my blog with tangible strategies for how neuroscience research and clinical findings in attachment theory can indeed be applied to fostering secure attachment beyond the “couple bubble”. It’ll include strategies people can use on their own and/or with partners that can be put into action right away. There’s definitely hope for healing. Stay tuned to learn more… <3 <3 <3


Approach with Curiosity

Approach with Curiosity

greg-rakozy-38802-unsplash.jpg

Free Your Mind of Projections ~

Instead Ask Questions…

Our brains are masterful collectors of data, soaking up information like sponges and using it to create mental templates for how we interpret the world around us. In that process we often fall into the trap of assuming that other people’s motivations and desires are the same or similar to our own. When we do this it’s called projection. By slowing down and approaching situations with curiosity it’s amazing how many projections we can catch ourselves making and how beneficial that increased awareness can be for our relationships. Curiosity is one of the most valuable assets we have for fostering authentic connection! By staying connected with our senses of wonder we can break through to truly see and be present with others.

The most striking example of curiosity bettering one of my relationships was when I finally asked a partner...

The most striking example of curiosity bettering one of my relationships was when I finally asked a partner what he was thinking when he left the room while I was crying. Directly asking him what he was thinking in taking that action helped debunk my false assumption that he was being uncaring. By getting curious I learned that when he’s sad he prefers to be left alone to process his feelings and that he was trying to be supportive in offering me that space. Then we were able to break down projections on both sides to learn how to more effectively support one another.

Shift into a Sense of Wonder…

Next time you’re in an emotional moment with a loved one I challenge you to shift into a sense of wonder. I bet if you do projections will be illuminated that can better your relationship(s). If you notice physiological signs of fear in yourself (increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating, & obsessive thinking) this tip is even more important! Our emotional systems evolved to make speedy judgments when afraid so we can identify threats and take action quickly. Unfortunately, that long acquired snap judgment skill tends to be problematic in romantic relationships. By being mindful of this we can intentionally slow down in moments of fear to ask questions that can help us formulate more accurate perceptions of situations.

In addition to being educational and positive for our relationships, freeing our minds to tap into our childlike senses of wonder can also be quite fun!

In summary -  my suggestion is that you practice slowing down, getting curious, and communicating directly about your curiosities.  Often times the messages we think we’re receiving from others through body language and behavior are being drastically misinterpreted once filtered through our own mental biases. Clear verbal or written communication will always be superior to hinting, implying, and assuming. In addition to being educational and positive for our relationships, freeing our minds to tap into our childlike senses of wonder can also be quite fun! Now it’s your turn to give it a try!

Activity Challenge:

43291469_693059178555_4013280049120673792_n.jpg

Next time you have an emotional moment with a loved one I encourage you to imagine you’re an alien sent to figure out what’s going on in their mind. Let go of a sense of knowing and get curious instead. What are some questions you could ask to test out assumptions you recognize yourself making?

In getting curious it's possible your assumptions will be proved correct. If you’re jumping to conclusions about other people’s motivations without checking in with them, however, it’s honestly more likely that you’re projecting. Either way, if you ask questions to test out your assumptions you’ll likely learn some valuable info about yourself, your loved one, and the situation - allowing you to behave in a more informed and less emotionally reactive manner. You’ll also likely find that the reactions you get from others when taking this approach will be less defensive and more open allowing you to work more effectively as a team in seeking win/win solutions.

Badass &amp; Off the Beaten Path: Sarah Elsie (AKA Ms. WildJoy)

1 Comment

Badass & Off the Beaten Path: Sarah Elsie (AKA Ms. WildJoy)

Sarahbam.jpg

MEET SARAH ELSIE (AKA MS. WILDJOY)

I absolutely adore this woman! She’s a fiery, badass babe for sure! She’s the kind of woman that rocks the dichotomies of being human in such sweet harmony. She’s peaceful, yet powerful. Dedicated, yet free. Deeply caring, while also unfettered by all the societal BS that can weigh us down. This is an interview about liberation, resilience, and awakening. She’ll take you on a journey of deeply rooted grounding and of rising up in full abandon all in one soulful read. Get ready to be vigorously moved, while not moving at all…

Anna:

How would you describe this life path you’re forging that’s off trail and into the wild?

path.jpg

“It’s a liberation path.

A

path of passion

where

pleasure heals.”

Sarah:

It’s a liberation path. A path of passion where pleasure heals. I go where my soul wants me to go. I do what my heart tells me to do. Every bit of me is devoted to the liberation of my own human experience. It’s twisted sometimes and brutally beautiful but every stone along the way is precious to me. I’ve been called many times an empath, a psychic, a witchy woman, a teacher, and a healer among other things. Although I personally don’t like to lean too much into vocabulary of identity, I do understand when people say those things and I appreciate what they’re sentiments.

I’m not sure that I could call my path anything at all but I know I’m on it because it would be impossible not to be. I’m a person who’s experienced a considerable amount of traumas and challenges, yet not a single day goes by where I don’t consider myself to have it pretty peachy. I just keep going and I let my feet be moved by what has changed within me along the way. One of my longtime teachers calls that resilience . At some point I made the decision that I would rather navigate the oceans of suffering and contrast than hang out in the harbor because the eternal horizons of liberation called to me and I felt compelled to respond.

Anna:

I see posts on your Facebook page about “WildJoy Living Art” and I’m so intrigued. Do tell us more about that...

Sarah:

WildJoy Living Art has become the phrase to describe both what I’m doing and who I am. I’m a multidisciplinary artist, Licensed Massage Therapist, Intuitive consultant, and alternatively schooling mother to two magical children. I say alternatively schooling because homeschooling doesn’t accurately describe what we do and whenever I use the term unschooling people get really confused . Unschooling is a very real thing though and I reference the work of John Holt often along our journey into the world of emergent curriculum and experiential learning.

When I made the decision to pull my kids from mainstream school I also resigned from my job at a luxury spa to focus on my personal healing practices, which include healing from all systems and institutions that harm more than benefit my family or myself. Now I  extend those practices into the world in various offerings through my business that intersects the esoteric arts , the healing arts and multimedia artistic creation.

So we ARE WildJoy Living Art because we are all healers and we heal ourselves simply by the lives that we lead. You see, authenticity is the medicine. My business IS WildJoy Living Art for the same reasons. If I am a healer it is because I am a woman who is healing herself and I choose to carry that story forward to share it with the world. I am inviting everyone in to see how I decided that my process is all I have to claim, in order to welcome others to claim the processes of their lives too.

Sarah2.jpg

“I am inviting everyone in to see how I decided that my process is all I have to claim, in order to welcome others to claim the processes of their lives too.”

Anna:

My curiosity’s piqued about unschooling. In a culture that stresses the importance of mainstream education so strongly deciding to forego that with your kids is such a brave decision. What were the main reasons you decided to take that leap?

Sarah:

Well, I’m always telling my kids that they’re powerful creators and that they have to take responsibility for their unique gifts by creating their reality and boy did I ever get called out one evening by them. They used to go to public school and one evening my son who at the time was finishing 2nd grade says to me “You say that I create my own reality but I don’t. All day I’m crammed into this building with hundreds of kids that don’t even like me and it doesn’t feel safe or right to me...I don’t want to be doing this with my life every day. This is not how I want to live.”

Damn! That put me eye to eye with my own shit talking for sure! Walk you walk mama! I had to! So two years ago, shortly after this tearful conversation with my son I made some big, radical changes for us.  The compulsory education system just isn’t in alignment with a life of liberation as we see it so we opted out.

Anna:

Of all the people I know I’d say you’re a top contender for giving the least fucks. Does that seem true to you?

Sarah:

I used to joke about making a pamphlet titled “How to care a lot and not give a fuck” and probably should add that to my 2019 body of work. It’s funny because people who know me will probably tell you that I don’t give a fuck about so many things like my reputation or staying inside the lines, but I am also a person who cares deeply about the world.

I care about where you hurt and I am deeply committed to offering bold encouragement, insight, and bearing witness to others along the way. Both of these truths about me probably are born out of the contrast I’ve experienced in my own life. In fact, everything so far has really just been more confirmation that I wasn’t born to follow or fit into the existing paradigm.

Anna:

When I first met you I was smitten that you were a Roller Derby girl. Do you think your time in the Derby helped you in letting go of some of the fucks you’ve freed yourself from along the way?

Sarah:

Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m a survivor of multiple traumas, including getting violently assaulted in my early 20’s. I raged for a number of years and when Derby emerged I found a healthy home for my aggression and a network of other womxn that valued strength, courage and being aggressive. In the early days of Derby we really embraced our derby personas and I became known as The Red Vag of CouRAGE, a play off of the book title The Red Badge of Courage.

Nashville was so affectionate towards me and fully embraced wearing homemade Vag patches which were these red canvas triangles with a hand painted eyeball in the middle and on the back three words: Vision, Humor, Vagina. That was the shorthand of my personal recipe for revolution. I would make loads of them and all our fans would safety pin them to their denim and leather or right over their crotches.

I am still friends with many of the women I skated with and we continue to follow and support each others accomplishments and lives. Derby at that time represented a counterculture of misfit gals and guys. Real rock n rollers who lived on the fringes of Society. Although I’m not sweating and bleeding on the flat track these days I do still street skate often and will always be a roller girl. I highly encourage all sports fans to check out the WFTDA, that’s the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association which features some of the most phenomenal athletes both in the states and globally.

Text placeholder.png

Anna:

Are there other major highlight moments of your story that you feel helped you get to such a fearless and dedicated place of liberation in your life?

I’d say cancer was a turning point in so far as it’s added fuel to the fire for adventure and staying on MY path however quirky or uncomfortable or disruptive it may be. It’s made us even more resilient and even more validated in creating exactly the life we really want to live.

Sarah:

Oh yeah! Two years ago when I took the kids out of school and quit that jobbie job I had every intention of selling my home in the burbs for an RV and hitting the road. My kids wanted to drive as far south as possible. I said “well, I can drive you to about 90 miles from Cuba.” “Yeah right Ma!”  I’m serious kids get the map out and see for yourselves. So they did and then they packed. We made it to Kiawah Island and about a week into our visit I became ill. I thought I had the flu, but could hardly stand. I drove off the island to a hospital and they told me I needed a blood transfusion right away to save my life! FUCK! Thank you blood donors!

After a battery of tests they determined I had a very rare kind of cancer that less than 1% of people get and it’s usually not discovered until it’s metastasized. They said I was remarkable and they’ll probably live out their entire medical careers without ever seeing someone find this cancer in early stages. Hahaha! See I can’t even do cancer normal. Our week long visit at my mothers turned into an almost three month stay while I recovered and we embraced that all we have is now.

We returned home to Knoxville once I was well enough. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness and defeat. I’d just almost died and was confused about how to live. I was really vulnerable. My kids were vulnerable and asking me questions like “if you die where will we go?” The whole experience really shook us up and we learned so much. We learned that there really is no “safety” and that the rug can get pulled out from under almost every good plan so we just go ahead and do things. If we fail and have to make a lateral movement or refocus that’s fine.

So long story shorter, I’d say cancer was a turning point in so far as it’s added fuel to the fire for adventure and staying on MY path however quirky or uncomfortable or disruptive it may be. It’s made us even more resilient and even more validated in creating exactly the life we really want to live. Now we’re back to the WildJoy vision board. The house is on the market and I recently found a great team to help us build out a bus into a beautiful, modern, sustainable mobile tiny home. So although I’ve had several major turning points that have asserted me in “leveling up” to the free life I’d say these past few years have really provided just the perfect storm to push me into full commitment toward my WildJoy ways.

Anna:

Wow! You’ve experienced  a lot of struggles in your journey thus far. Amidst the ups and downs of this wild ride of life what are some ways that you ground yourself and help you foster a sense of calm when stormy seas roll through?

tree.jpg

“I’d lean heavily into big strong trees and envision them as my backbone when I was scared...I'd add my tears to the creeks and rivers and thank the waters for carrying them away...and when I felt like I belonged to nothing I'd find or make a place in the Earth to sink my bare feet into and say I belong here. I belong with you.”

Sarah:

Ever since I can remember from early childhood I’ve understood the natural world as spirits and energies. My home life was pretty volatile growing up in an alcoholic household. The violence, the screaming, the meltdowns, nurturing adults through their hangovers when I wanted them to be alive and awake with me. I had a shadow beast of anxiety deep in my belly and it took root. I never knew coming through the front door if I’d be spit on, slapped or hugged...so I spent as much time outside as possible...I learned quickly how to get outside and ask the sky to open up for me and send the winds of change.

I’d lean heavily into big strong trees and envision them as my backbone when I was scared and when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’d add my tears to the creeks and rivers and thank the waters for carrying them away and when I felt alone and like I belonged to nothing I’d find or make a place in the Earth to sink my bare feet into and say “i belong here. I belong with you”. Those are very real practices that I have always known how to do and been compelled to do and never stopped doing.

When I walk deep into the forest I feel at home. The ocean connects me to everything I know and there has been no greater medicine for me than sand, salt water and sky. I have a very intimate relationship with the weather as well. Weather is so spirited and literally is in a constant conversation with my soul. It’s information is angelic. I see nature, the forests, the skies and oceans and rocks and earth as being perfect as they are, as they come, as they change. Nature is a pontiff of possibilities and it is never not me.

sarah10.jpg

“Nature is a pontiff of possibilities and it is never not me.”

Anna:

People often talk about how having children can hinder opportunities for adventure, but I don’t feel like there’s enough talk about how having children can add to adventure. Are there ways that your kids enhance adventure in your life?

Sarah:

My kids are my adventure buddies for sure! They’re my ride or die. Both of them have had a lot of personal struggle and heart ache attempting to fit into the mainstream. When my son came to me in tears and told me going to public school was not how he wanted to spend his precious days on earth I had to listen. I had to take compassionate action and it’s been the most rewarding experience so far because it made my own dreams of chasing sunsets non-negotiable.

Some of us truly were never meant to fit into the systems that currently exist and quite literally lack the capacity to live in a world this hurtful...so we poke holes in the systems or we opt out and create our own lives entirely. I can’t think of a greater adventure than to be in solidarity with young magicians of this caliber as we craft our wildly joyful lives.

kidsfinal.jpg

“I can’t think of a greater adventure than to be in solidarity with young magicians of this caliber.”

Anna:

Who are some role models you’ve looked up to on your journey who have also said fuck it with wild abandon and spread inspiration of liberation?

Sarah:

There are so many people of great significance to me in this regard. Too many to list. I’ve always admired Patti Smith. Over the years I’ve leaned on her words and creations in my most lonesome places and at times of great celebration. I particularly love these words of hers from an improvised meditation of hers titled Constantine’s Dream:

“And Piero della Francesca waking, cried out

All is art-all is future!

Oh Lord let me die on the back of adventure

With a brush and an eye full of light”

Anna:

What advice do you have for others who are currently journeying on the well traveled path in life, yet yearn to venture into the unknown to craft lives that are more uniquely suited for them?

Take the box and turn it upside down and shake the shit out of it until you fall out and then get up and burn that fucker to the ground.

Sarah:

Put yourself in situations where you can dis-identify with society. I’m being very sincere when I say that. Do whatever you can to get outside of it. Take the box and turn it upside down and shake the shit out of it until you fall out and then get up and burn that fucker to the ground...and start having sex the way you REALLY REALLY want to have sex and see how quickly you awaken. Hahahaha! I’m serious. Fuck the way you really want to fuck. Take the time to actually figure that out and come as you are.

And in general when something calls to you along your way respond to it with integrity and intention. If you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing or you’re fearful honor that fear as respect for the deep power of the medicine you’re finding. Open yourself up to mentors along the way if you feel so inspired, but don’t count on anyone else saving you or healing you.

The way I see it, we’re moving through the age of authenticity and into the age of liberation. Do only what really resonates with you. We have to be careful. We have to learn discernment and use it. Don’t let anyone try and convince you that you need them to move forward on your own path or worse that they can tell you what your life path is or even worse that they can heal you because they can not and should not.

You are it. You are the guru, you are the healer, you are everything that you want something else to be for you. Skilled and studied healing arts practitioners are here to offer support services NOT to perform miracles on you or tell you what your dreams mean or initiate you. You are the miracle. You are the dreamer and the interpreter. Your life is your initiation. I meant it when I said we heal ourselves simply by the lives we lead and that authenticity is the medicine.

Pay attention to how things make you FEEL especially in a society that tells us our feelings don’t matter. If a situation FEELS wrong to you then it is. Your feelings are a compass and you are the navigator and the ocean all at once. You are worth more than you have ever been told. Perhaps the most important thing of all is for you to truly believe that.


Sarah4.jpg

You are the guru,

You are the healer,

You are everything that you want something else to be for you…

You are worth more than you have ever been told.”

Instagram @wildjoylivingart

Twitter @somewildjoylady sarahelsie.artspan.com

Patreon (coming soon)

wild.jpg

1 Comment