Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, launches the Spring 2013 season with the 19th installment, discussing Dr. Geoff MacDonald’s (University of Toronto) recent work published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. In this episode, he tells us about how insecurely attached individuals, compared to the securely attached, perceive potential close relationships as socially threatening vs. rewarding. Although we all evaluate what we will get out of our interactions with others, anxiously attached people are more likely to perceive social interactions as threatening. “Anxious attachment seems to revolve around concerns for negative evaluation and rejection,” MacDonald notes during the podcast.
So should anxiously attached individuals fear rejection when initiating a new relationship? Is their perception of threat justified? Not exactly, says Dr. MacDonald. In the beginning of a new relationship there is no objective evidence that others view anxiously attached people as less attractive or of lesser value. MacDonald goes on to explain, “The problem is when people with anxious attachment start acting on their fears of rejection, for instance asking for reassurance over and over and over again. Those kinds of patterns can create self-fulfilling prophecies where the partner starts to tire of providing that kind reassurance.” In other words, anxious individuals are not inherently more likely to be rejected that anyone else. Unfortunately, their constant fears of rejection lead to behaviors that make it difficult to sustain a satisfying relationship for everyone involved.
So what do you do if you recognize this behavior in you or your partner? MacDonald says it’s important to realize that your own fears about rejection are just that: fears. But they are fears that can be overcome if you step back and reinterpret what’s going on in the interaction. Further, although a relationship with a secure person can help an anxious person resolve some of these issues, the best advice, according to Mac Donald, is to deal with these issues in therapy. “Spending time with a therapist is in many ways a way of resetting your attachment system,” said MacDonald. He goes on to explain that the therapeutic relationship is set up in such a way that people can explore and reevaluate the root of these emotional insecurities in a safe environment.
MacDonald, G., Locke, K. D., Spielmann, S. S., & Joel, S. (in press). Insecure attachment predicts ambivalent social threat and reward perceptions in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships doi:10.1177/0265407512465221.