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  • Annika

Building Secure Attachment with Self

A daily practice recommendation for the New Year

Happy New Year from Quad City Psychotherapy. I'm reaching out today to recommend a practice that I've been recommending to my patients this New Year. The practice is called "Letters from Love" and it's the brainchild of spiritual creative, Elizabeth Gilbert. You can read about how to do the practice here:

In almost every therapy session I've been in, as patient or therapist, there are two essential human questions that we're uncovering. Am I safe? Am I loved?

The varying degrees to which we can answer yes determine the severity of our symptoms and the daily dysregulation we experience. The varying methods and strategies we engage in to get to yes can cause quite a bit of turmoil as well.

One of the greatest human privileges is growing up in a home where you can look to your caretakers and know the following:

I am safe.

I am loved.

This is called secure attachment - this feeling of being safe and being loved, not for what you do to earn the love of caregivers, but for being you.

Imagine being a child. Imagine the place you grew up. The walls, the floors, the hallways and nooks and crannies. Imagine the smell, the sounds, the faces, the expressions on the faces. Now notice what comes up in your body. Does that little person feel safe and loved?

Whether we had a secure attachment in childhood or not, many of us, as adults, are still walking around asking other people if we are safe and loved today. If I can get someone to love me back, then I am safe and loved. If I can achieve a certain success, then I am safe and loved. If I can have a certain body or status or be of service to everyone around me, then maybe I am safe and I am loved. If I can worry enough, about the flight, about my kids, about the future, and predict every bad thing and make a plan for every potential outcome, then maybe I can guarantee safety and relax enough to experience love.

The problem with looking outward, as adults, for our sense of safety and love, is that it is always fleeting, always conditional, and that other humans usually let us down. Our parents let us down, our friends, our lovers, our partners, our children - because they are people too and they are concerned with their own safety and lovability - as they rightly should be. And sometimes their unique ways of trying to bolster their safety or lovability harm us and we view their actions as evidence that we need to work even harder for safety and love or maybe we shut ourselves off from love so that we are in control of the whole equation.

Life lets us down. Bad things happen. Things happen that shake our sense of safety and belonging to the core. We don't ask for them, we don't cause them, we can't understand them, they just happen.

Writing yourself letters from love everyday helps build the foundational attachment for adult life, which is our attachment to ourselves and, for those spiritually inclined, to a Source greater than us. There is love and wisdom within us all, waiting to be tapped, that is less ephemeral, deeper, more satisfying than what we can find outside of ourselves. Secure attachment to Self radiates out into the relationships and work and life that unfolds around us by decreasing our anxious attention or fixation on outside people, places, and things to temporarily still these burning questions... Am I safe? Am I loved? The letters will give you truer, longer lasting answers.

For those of you enduring seasons of life, or entire lifetimes, where the question of Am I Safe? is a resounding NO, whether that is because you or your child are sick or dying, you live in a war zone, you experience intimate partner violence, you believe yourself to be unsafe due to intrusive intrusive thoughts (our bodies have a hard time distinguishing between real and perceived threat) about your safety and feel unsafe everyday, please write to yourself from Love and see what love has to say. Love and safety are a chicken and an egg phenomenon. You aren't always sure which one is primary. If I'm not safe, how can I feel love and if I don't feel love, how can I feel safe?

Start with love and see where it takes you.

These letters will hopefully introduce you to a part of yourself, the highest part of yourself, that is unconditionally loving toward you.

As with all things in therapy, these are just suggestions. Take what gives meaning and support and leave the rest.

May 2024 bring you peace.

Annika O'Melia

Psychotherapist and Practice Owner

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