Monthly Archives: December 2013

Love & Anxiety #7: Early Lessons Set Comfort with Love.

Love and relationships can be so scary and confusing, especially for those of us who were raised in an environment with any abuse/danger, neglect, or lots of anxiety. Here lies the primary premise of attachment theory: Your early environment sets your attachment style for your future! Thank goodness, that is barring any treatment. There are four types or styles of Attachment. The type we want is Secure Attachment, and three are Insecure Attachments. For more information go to

Luckily, thanks to brain plasticity (Google it, it’s a fascinating topic, or reply to me with questions,) we can change our attachment style from any of the insecure styles to Secure attachment, at any age in life. The key is a safe, loving environment and safe, loving people to whom you can attach. Ultimately, learning new lessons about ourselves, about love, and safe relationships.

To explain this to clients I use my concept of a 3-tiered process, tiers that build upon each other and explain how we have been shaped by our early environment and parental attachment styles. It also explains the way we live our lives. In the long run, using this process as adults, we work to change our lives to replace feelings of anxiety with feelings of love. For visual learners, the three tiers and definitions are listed below:

LESSONS: The bottom tier is the foundation. The events we experience in our infancy and throughout our youth, teach us implicit and unspoken lessons or rules regarding the way life works. I.e., ‘If I have an angry and disappointed parent(s), the lesson I learn is, ‘I must be a disappointment and a failure’.

LENSES: This, hopefully, unspoken rule/lesson, becomes a part of my identity and it forms a lens through which I view myself in relation to the outside world. Using the above example, no matter what the situation, I will view myself as a disappointing failure. (Don’t be fooled, we all wear some form of lens, many exist below our conscious awareness. This is why therapy is not usually a speedy process.)

LIFESTYLE: Finally, the top tier is my chosen lifestyle. The lenses I wear, color and shape my view of life and sets my lifestyle-the way I act and live in the world. So, I won’t try new things or I will have tremendous anxiety and an expectation that I will disappoint or fail, even if I do try.

Unfortunately, those early lessons and lenses impact us more deeply than we would like, especially if they were painful. Many of us go to therapy or set goals to change our lifestyles. Sometimes, we try using will power alone, and, often these attempts fail and the old messages are once again reinforced.

Using the tier system as our guide, the key to significant life change, and to changing our attachment style to secure attachment, is to LEARN NEW LESSONS in your current everyday life. Once you learn some new, positive lessons, you will change your lenses through which you view yourself. Finally, changing these two tiers will automatically change your lifestyle. This will be easier than you think because you now have your adult brain and all your life experience and context to help you extract the right lesson from each situation. The need to learn new lessons is one reason why we are always told we need to face our fears or our stuck experiences, in order to move past them. You must have different (positive) experiences to learn the new lessons. Tune in to my next blog where I use the topic of spirituality to talk about learning new lessons.

Going deeper:

What is one or two of the main lessons you learned as a child with regard to relationships? Is this a message you want to keep living by, or is it one that you desire to change?

Identify one lens through which you view the world that differs from the lenses of your spouse or best friend. Journal about that difference and how each of your lenses changes the way both of you interact with the world

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.

Love & Anxiety #6: Stranger Danger!

I saw a nice little tableau acted out before me yesterday on my way home from exercising on the beach. A family was walking toward the beach. Mom, Dad and the oldest son were all clumped together, but straggling behind about 80 feet were two younger sons. One appeared to be age 7, and the other boy, maybe age 5. The 5 year-old had frozen on the sidewalk and refused to budge. The older brother was trying to convince him to move and follow the family. Nothing seemed to be working. Biking by, I heard the older brother urgently whisper, “Willy, come on, there’s a stranger coming.” Sure enough a man was coming up on the sidewalk behind them. By then I passed them, so I don’t know if he moved or is still standing there, but it made me think about relationships, anxiety, attachment, and safety.

One of the reasons love can conquer anxiety is we are “hardwired” to attach to others and be in living in community. We are mammals after all, and mammals are social, pack animals. Though we are much more than animals, we have similar needs. A beloved other, someone from our family/pack, can bring peace and calm to a bad situation. But if a stranger approaches, our anxiety can skyrocket. What happens in our brains? Why the difference?

Once again it helps to understand the 3 brain systems. Our recognition and understanding of the identity of another person, resides in our Cerebral Cortex and in the Limbic systems. So, if we are doing well and feeling safe approaching and attaching, the appearance of a stranger may elicit healthy interest or curiosity. But, if we are in anxious-avoid mode, this will not be the case.

In our Primitive Brain/Brain stem, things appear very differently. It’s almost like being blindfolded. We are not aware of the identity of any person approaching us. Our Cerebral Cortex knows this is Aunt Sally, or the neighbor we enjoy, or the hot, new co-worker from next door. However, the Primitive/brain stem only sorts people into a few categories. I.e., Are they safe, dangerous, do we know them, do we love them, do we hate them, do we want to fight them, or have sex with them, etc. So stranger danger is not a joke to the Primitive Brain.

When we are feeling safe, considering attaching to a new person is natural, even if it that someone is a stranger. Every dear friend we ever had, was at one time a stranger to us. In this mode we are open and curious about the new person. As we engage in a bit of social interaction, all parts of our brains are deciding what we feel about this person. If we enjoy the interaction, we will leave with some positive feelings toward them.

However, if we are in anxiety-avoid mode, or when we have been programmed to “fear the stranger”, we approach any new person with anxiety, skepticism and suspicion. Our ability to see them clearly is clouded by the avoid-system in our primitive brains. Why does this matter? Well, if you join a new company, move to new neighborhood, find a new love, etc., all of these options include meeting and growing some kind of attachment to new human beings. Initially all are strangers to you, but soon to be part of your everyday life.

So, remember this information if you have to get to know some new people with whom you will be spending some time. Be sure you are relaxed and feeling safe and good. Let the Safety-attaching mode be strong in your brain. Then, the avoid system of your brain will not be registering danger signals. This way you have a better chance of really getting to know these people, AND, it will help you make a better first impression. Coming off as aloof, angry, or suspicious, will not endear you to the people who will populate your new life.

Going deeper:

1. What is your most prevalent attitude toward people who you don’t know yet?

2. This week notice what your bodily responses to people who you don’t know? If you feel anxious, try to identify what causes this feeling inside of you. Is it old messages, a prior bad experience, or something else?

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.