Two women friends in an friendly embrace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 5: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored.  How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally.  For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners.  During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.

In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation.  At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down.  It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment.  At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust.  Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.

It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships.  For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication.  It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging.  S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.

At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital.  Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness.  You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner.  You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance.  You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship.  It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries.  Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human.  However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.

Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.

Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship.  Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction.  It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.

In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.

COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

Women reading a book
Christy Gualtieri

Our Special Faults

“A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.” – A letter from Father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband took our kids out to give me some much-desired alone time; and with my quiet house, I did what any sensible mother would do with two hours in a row of time on her hands: I watched Little Women (the BBC adaptation is especially lovely) and cried my eyes out. It wasn’t my first time seeing this version, but I particularly love the sweeping, gorgeous cinematography and how well Marmee’s character was portrayed, and one little bit that I hadn’t thought about much last time I saw it really stood out to me this time. It was in a letter the little women get from their father, who is serving as a military chaplain in the Civil War:

“…will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully…”

Bosom enemies? I didn’t really know what that meant, but I understood the concept of “conquering myself” – trying to overcome my faults in order to be a better person.  From what I understand, the term “bosom enemies” refers to those things which particularly harm us, those special vices that we tend to struggle with more than others. If I spend some time thinking about mine, I can come up with my list fairly easily, but what really struck me was the fighting them part.  I can identify and list what my vices are, but am I actively doing anything to fight them? I’ll admit, it’s taken me a lot of years to even figure out what the heck they are, thanks in no small part to the work I’ve done in therapy over the last ten years, but now that I know what they are and what to do about them, am I following through?

The answer is… not always yes.  

I do try, of course, but most times I’m just content with the idea that I know what my struggles are. I do forget, though, that just labeling it is not enough. I think there is a great freedom in knowing that we do have what it takes to conquer what’s worst about ourselves, even if we don’t have it yet. It’s a skill we can learn to develop, with time and patience and knowledge of who we are. We can start small too, and over time, we can grow out of – and eventually conquer – those things about ourselves that give us the most trouble. (Disclaimer: I’m not referring to the physical aspect of mental illnesses, like chemical imbalances and things like that that are treated with medication. If your condition requires medical treatment, please make sure to follow your doctor’s orders!)

So, what about you? What are your bosom enemies, those special faults” unique to you that you know you can change? How can you fight them? The girls of Little Women resolved hard to grow out of them, and as they grew up they succeeded! Their example still serves us well, 150 years later. We can do it, too! 

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Two women having a conversation with coffee
Christy Gualtieri

Words Matter, Choose Good Ones

I don’t know if this is a trait more particular to women than men, but when I am struggling with an idea or wrestling with my feelings, I like to talk about them. I need to use words to figure out what I’m thinking, like the words themselves help me navigate how I’m feeling about things. And last week was a tough week. I was grappling with some issues that were really near and dear to my heart and my community. And much like me, the people in that community dealt with those same difficult and confusing issues by talking.

But you know how it is when people talk: it can very easily go from “let’s work this issue out,” to “here’s a bunch of hurtful words.” The transition from mercy to gossip can be really quick, almost like a current. Before you know it, you’re swept away in the feelings of anger, disgust, and confusion that can threaten to swallow you whole if you’re not careful.

And, to be honest with you, it’s hard to be careful with what we say. It’s hard to think first and add to the conversation later. It’s natural: we want to be heard. We want to be validated, we want to be right. It’s hard to override that impulse to have our voices heard, even if the things we say can be hurtful or mean. I personally struggle a lot with where the line is between venting and gossip. But I do know that gossip hurts. I have gossiped and been the one gossiped about. And I have felt terribly on both sides.

But then, a wonderful thing happened. I called a friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in years (not on purpose; it had just been a while). I asked for advice, and I got some wonderful encouragement. I was challenged – but lovingly – and I was able to voice my concerns, and as I hung up the phone, I felt better than I had felt in days.

This is important: I didn’t see my friend. I spoke on the phone with them. But just the same, their words – those lifted me up. They were life-giving. They were affirming, and they made a difference.

What you say is important, and the words you use carry a great power to them, even if you don’t think so. And so I want to offer you a little challenge: for the next few days, make an effort to speak carefully. Just take a minute before talking – a small pause, not even a full minute – and even if what you have to say is difficult, try as hard as you can to say those words with love.  Then simply observe. Observe how you feel. Observe how the other person reacts.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we aren’t good enough; that what we say doesn’t matter. But it does – even the small things (especially the small things). Thank you for all the times that your words have brought life, joy, and encouragement to another person. That will inspire them to speak in kind, and remember that their words will help you too, one day.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 2: Engaging Academically and Socially in College and Grad School

A Comprehensive 2 Part Guide: Eleven Areas to Consider to be Successful throughout College and Graduate School

Part 2: Focusing on the Social Engagement

Part two of this comprehensive guide focuses on the social engagement of academic relationships and the long-term growth experienced throughout.  Take a few moments to check out Part 1: Focusing on the Academics.

  1. Some professors will be more interesting than others. Each has a different personality, temperament, level of structure to the course, and teaching style. Whether s/he is funny, boring, or runs around wearing a cape, understand that they’re human and come with their own weird quirks too. With that being said, if you build a solid relationship with a professor, take them again, and if you don’t, consider that you’re only with this person for one semester and move forward from there.
  1. Ask questions! Use your voice – respectfully. At times, individuals will feel nervous talking with professors or had a difficult experience where it felt like the professor didn’t want bothered. Working through the nervousness and asking questions is extremely important. It will help with your academic success long-term! Many questions and the need for clarifications arise in the years of academia. Go directly to your professor. Most will take the time and want to help you. Plus, this assists with increasing your communication skills.
  1. Personal issues occur from time to time. Most are manageable. However there may be times where balancing personal issues and academics is difficult for students. At times, I will recommend finding ways to focus on academics during difficult times.  Yes, the last thing you want to do. Each semester, I talk with and support students contending with personal issues – many professors do. It’s important to balance your commitments with your goals. For example, the probability of success increases by carving out time in an environment where you feel productive. This may be on campus, in the library, at home, and/or a local coffee shop. Reflect on what works for you when you’re experiencing lower stress levels and do your best to apply this in short to moderate segments. Many times, you’ll feel your motivation return and continue making progress.
  1. Anxiety, whether General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and/or test anxiety with the associated stress of each are experienced by students each semester. It feels extremely consuming and overwhelming for most. At times, even making small changes such as coming prepared to classes and turning in your work on time help minimize anxiety. In addition, practice deep breathing, and work towards building your confidence as a person and academically. It’s important to allow yourself to tolerate discomfort while learning ways to cope with and minimize anxiety, and to remind yourself that you’re in a safe environment. This is an extensive subject and if this is an area you’re struggling with, you’re welcome to contact eTalkTherapy – our therapists will be able to help you work through your anxiety and learn ways to be successful academically and feel confident in the process.
  1. Find a mentor. Most times, as you go through your academic career preparing for the professional world, you’ll meet professors along the way that you’ll remember and reflect on being genuine, approachable, and taking the extra time. At times, you’ll build a professional relationship; especially, if the degree you’re working towards is under the same department as the professor, you may find yourself in a number of her/his courses. They make great mentors. I would recommend asking in a mindful way and if they’re open to it and scheduling allows for it, then you’ll have a fantastic resource (appreciate it).
  1. Remember to have fun! This is an amazing opportunity to unfold more of your identity as a person, to build confidence, and move towards a genuine and authentic self. Enjoy your classes, meeting new people, developing relationships, and learning and growing as a human throughout the entire process.

Please take a few moments and check out Part 1: Focusing on the Academics

Learn, grow, and enjoy,
Mandi

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Engaging Academically and Socially in College and Grad School

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

A Comprehensive 2 Part Guide: Eleven Areas to Consider to be Successful throughout College and Graduate School

Part 1: Focusing on the Academics

Whether you’re new to college or returning after many years, it’s important to learn how to engage and to make conscious choices as to what type of student you plan on working towards being throughout your academic career, and couple this with your natural gifts and capacities. This includes being realistic regarding strengths and weaknesses (academically and otherwise). It’s important to simultaneously work on areas of strength and on weakness where the capacities to improve are present, while accepting the limitations of areas that have a low probability of shifting over time.

Additionally, this is a time of learning and growth academically and as a human-being. The more time spent in academia, the more changes you’ll experience as an individual. It’s important to implement changes towards reinforcing what you’re doing well, adjusting what you’re struggling with, and supporting your short-term and long-term goals.

Below are a few areas to build awareness in and reflect on towards supporting your work towards academic success (i.e., GPA, engaging in an academic environment, and in planning and working towards achieving personal goals, including the transition into a professional environment).

  1. Learn how to study. It’s important to consider that professors have different teaching styles and there are reasons for this. Consider the array of curriculum you will have the opportunity to learn in each course and throughout each semester (yes, I said opportunity). For example, if I am teaching an area of the course focusing on research or statistics, it’s important for students to have examples of research studies or formulas available to utilize in practice and application. There are numerous ways to consolidate and retrieve information, which will help you learn the information better.  This assists in setting realistic and beneficial study goals that feel manageable.
  1. Learn how to take notes. This is difficult for some students. For example, if I am teaching students about brain function and genetic factors relating to a particular set of disorders, I’ll give the students an opportunity to see it, hear it, write it, and then there are opportunities to analyze, apply, and study the information to build understanding for exams and towards future curriculum. It’s important to take the information presented and write it in terms you’ll understand and note the examples given, which will help you remember the information after class.
  1. PowerPoint is not everything, this typically goes for textbooks as well. However, it is an important tool utilized in many courses. Writing every word of the PowerPoint down during class tends to create anxiety and at times, is counter intuitive. This increases the potential for issues with focus, missing important and relevant details, and implementing information into your working memory towards short-term memory, and then long-term memory.  Remember, this is part of note taking and learning how to pull important information.  It takes time, practice, and adjusting to new course work each semester.
  1. Complete your papers, presentations, and other coursework on time. Most times, professors know when you’re making up a fake crisis due to a deadline being missed. With that being said, if you’ve procrastinated and are still developing the discipline to complete your work on time be honest. Additionally, if you’re struggling with an area of the curriculum talk with your professor.  S/he will be happy to give you some direction.
  1. What do I call you? Most professors will have a preference of how s/he prefers to be addressed. It’s important to build awareness of the benefits of developing professional relationships with your professors. One way to begin is by noting what your professor requests to be called during the semester. During the course, in the halls, in emails, etc., address your professor in this manner. If s/he requests being addressed as professor, call him or her professor, if s/he requests being addressed as doctor, call her or him doctor, if s/he gives the option of using first names, then choose what you’re most comfortable with. However, I would recommend going with professor until you know for certain and learn the dynamics of the class environment.

Please take a few moments and check out Part 2: Focusing on the Social Engagement

Learn, grow, and enjoy,
Mandi