A Look at Hypersexuality: Treatment and Assessment

by: Dr. Ainslie Heasman, C.Psych.

The classified advertising site, Backpages.com, was recently shut down by the United States government, thereby making it inaccessible in Canada as well.  The website, which hosted everything from child care to real estate ads, was recently suspended by U.S. law enforcement due to activity stemming from the “adult” sections on the site.

Many essential political and societal discussions have transpired following the decision to close the site, including debates about whether the intention to prevent sex trafficking will benefit from this action.  

Amid these discussions, some of my clients who use the internet to access sex services, and who identify as having problems regulating their sexual behaviour feel a sense of relief.  Some are experiencing an unexpected external control over their response, albeit temporary, now that Backpages.com is no longer accessible.

What is hypersexuality?

Problematic sexual behavior is referred to using a variety of labels – from sex addiction to compulsive or impulsive sexual behaviour to hypersexuality.  Societally, this is commonly labeled as sex addiction, but there remains little scientific evidence to support sex as an addiction.  There is also some suggestion that perceived addiction to pornography can contribute more to psychological distress than pornography use itself (Grubbs, Volk, Exline, & Pargament, 2013).  

Many of my clients seek out therapy for problems managing their sexual behaviours, sexual interests or both. Regardless of the label, many men (and it is mostly men that seek treatment for this in my practice) are struggling with a variety of sexual behaviours, from anonymous sexual encounters to frequent masturbation and pornography use.  Some men also experience distress related to the content of their sexual thoughts, or pornography use (versus the frequency of their sexual behavior).  In other words, they experience a sexual interest that is atypical or less common; the inclination could turn illegal if acted upon and/or it contributes to significant moral distress.  

Assessment 

Research has been conducted to identify the characteristics of individuals who seek out help for hypersexuality, along with related treatment targets (Cantor et al., 2013; Sutton, Stratton, Pytyck, Kolla, & Cantor, 2014). The paths leading people to engage in hypersexual behaviour are varied and beyond the scope of this current blog, but there are more common ones I see in my clients.  Clients often use sexual behaviour as a way of procrastinating, avoiding, and escaping stressors.  Many of my clients struggle with identifying, labeling, and expressing their emotional experiences (preferring instead to ignore and suppress). This is even more common with emotions experienced as being more challenging to manage (i.e., frustration, anxiety, anger, disappointment), and they seek out a distraction, and a way of temporary escape, through sexual behaviour.  

Other clients have varied sexual interests that are explored through pornography or sexual activity with another, that they may not feel comfortable talking about or exploring in their partnered relationship.  At times there is a mismatch in sexual drive or interests in a relationship, but what is often apparent is a lack of healthy communication between partners about their needs and experiences in their sexual relationship. 

What is essential when seeking support is finding a mental health clinician who will engage in a detailed assessment to understand the nature of the problem and the contributing factors.  It is also essential to determine if there are other mental health concerns (i.e., depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder to name a few) that are influencing the behaviour and also require intervention.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to treating individuals who struggle with sexual behaviour. As a result, an assessment helps to determine the most relevant treatment targets to assist those seeking help to achieve their goals. 

Treatment 

A therapist assists clients in understanding the origins and development of their behaviour.  Clients are offered support through their journey to develop and refine skills to live a life that is more in line with their values.  This path is often challenging and filled with a range of emotions, and mistakes and a return to old patterns may occur.  With the guidance of a therapist, these challenges can be navigated and explored in a safe and supportive environment. The client can take steps they feel are necessary to define and live a more fulfilling and value driven life.

Often when a man is in a partnered relationship, couples therapy is recommended, mainly when the sexual behaviour of concern involved infidelity.  In these situations, the sexual behaviour that occurred happened in the context, and with all the relevant dynamics, of a relationship.  If the couple desires to remain together, at the very least, the rebuilding of trust occurs again in the context of the couple.  With that in mind, many men still seek out therapy on their own, either at the insistence of their partner or without their partners’ knowledge that there is a problem.  

If you can identify with these struggles, there is help and support.  Individual and couples therapy is available at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR).

References

Cantor, J., Klein, C., Lykins, A., Rullo, J., Thaler, L., & Walling, B. (2013). A treatment-oriented typology of self-identified hypersexuality referrals. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 42. 10.1007/s10508-013-0085-1.

Grubbs, J., Volk, F., & Exline, J., & Pargament, K. (2013). Internet pornography use: Perceived addiction, psychological distress, and the validation of a brief measure. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 41. 10.1080/0092623X.2013.842192.

Sutton, K., Stratton, N., Pytyck, J., Kolla, N., & Cantor, J. (2014). Patient characteristics by type of hypersexuality referral: A quantitative chart review of 115 consecutive male cases. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 41. 10.1080/0092623X.2014.935539.

Can Social Media Impact Your Romantic Relationship? Here are Five Ways to Get Connected

A restaurant in the U.K. recently announced it will be banning the use of mobile devices in their establishment on February 14 in an effort “to refocus diners on the food and experience”. This move has generated a bit of online buzz and has turned attention to how preoccupied society is becoming with the world-wide-web and more specifically, social media. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we recently asked, Dr. Tracy Dalgliesh C. Psych. “Can social media outlets have an impact on our romantic relationships? What are some positive ways to use them (or not) on Valentine’s Day?“. 

Here’s her response: 

Social media becomes problematic when we use it to turn away from our partner, resulting in decreased connection and communication. Instead of working through an argument and engaging in a difficult conversation, you turn to scrolling through social media. This is an avoidance strategy, and we know from couples research that shutting down (i.e., stonewalling) is a type of communication that can result in long-term couple distress.2 (For more on the four communication styles that predict the dissolution of a relationship, see https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/. Recent research suggests that excessive use of devices leads to lower relationship satisfaction.1 This is even truer for partners with anxious attachment (i.e., they fear that they are unlovable or unworthy). Other examples may include messaging friends over talking to your partner, checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with your partner, or sharing fun and exciting information with others online and not your lover. 

Individuals fall into the trap of the comparing themselves and their relationships to what they see on social media. Profiles often portray the happiest moments – and these are often posed images. They do not display the challenges that couples all face. Frequently seeing these stylized and selected images can impact how you view your own relationship. Thoughts of “why aren’t we that happy?” or “we never do anything exciting” may arise and create negative feelings towards your relationship and partner. This negative filter may then lead to thoughts of “I could be happier with someone else,” further contributing to dissatisfaction. 

Social media can also impact one’s feelings of jealousy and insecurity. All of the platforms for social media offer easy ways to connect with others privately. This becomes a problem when it is done in secret, or when connecting with someone else feels good and you are putting more energy into that connection than with your partner. A negative feedback loop can also start, where jealousy leads to snooping, which further exacerbates feelings of jealousy. In some situations, social media can lead to infidelity. 

While social media can present with its challenges for couples, I do believe that it can be used in a healthy manner – where couples can build and enhance their connection. Here are some tips on how to use social media this Valentine’s Day to enhance your relationship:

  • Set limits on the time that you are on your devices. Agree to put the phones on silent in another room (e.g., from 7pm-9pm) on Valentine’s Day (and maybe every day!).
  • Send a message letting your partner know you are thinking of them or excited to see them at the end of the day. We long to know that we matter to the ones we love, so let your partner in on your feelings.
  • Send a good morning or good night love meme.
  • Share a memory or article with your partner that you found on your social media outlet and use it to get to know the other person’s opinions and desires.
  • If scrolling and connecting is part of your time together, take a break and talk about what you each found interesting. Ask open-ended questions, like “What did you find most surprising to read today?” or “What emotions did you feel while seeing X.”

1. James A. Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058.

2. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.

6 Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day When You’re Single

For some, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with flowers, candy, romantic evenings, sentimental greeting cards and couples expressing love (or strong “like”!). With this holiday right around the corner, we took a moment to ask CFIR Psychotherapist, Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P, “What tips can you offer to help single people who want to enjoy the day without focusing on being uncoupled?”.  Here’s his response: 

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult time for those who find themselves single on a holiday that celebrates romantic relationships. However, fear not, you can still find many great ways to celebrate this holiday that don’t involve finding or having a romantic partner. Here are a few tips for enjoying the day – as a single person:

  • Reach out to your other single friends to connect and enjoy these relationships. After all, creating strong social ties is one of the best ways we can maintain our happiness — and this doesn’t mean having a romantic partner. 
  • Be inventive! In recent years, many individuals have created “Anti-Valentine’s Day” or “Singles Awareness Day” celebrations. It can sometimes be a fun way to shake off any Valentine’s blues while also making light the holiday a bit lighter and fun. 
  • Treat yourself! Splurge on that nice bottle of wine (or non-alcoholic sparkling cider) and a great meal. You deserve it and learning to do this for yourself can help you grow as a person.
  • Self-Care Extravaganza! Start your day off right by trying one of the many mindfulness activities you can find online (there are some great options here) or try a new physical activity (go to the gym, try out that yoga class you’ve been wondering about, or go for a hike at a park you’ve never been too). 
  • Challenge yourself! Try something new to broaden your experience of Valentine’s Day – let it be the start of something new in your life.
  • Most importantly, let yourself experience whatever emotions you’re having! Try your best to label each experience (Sadness, happiness, excitement, hurt, pain, etc.) and provide yourself some time to journal at some point during the day about these experience. Your emotions are important and deserve to be explored.

If you can engage with even one of these activities you should consider it a success. Being single on Valentine’s Day isn’t always easy — but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some fun activities.  

The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Relationship In 2018

written by Sue McGarvie, M.A., sexwithsue.com

Every year researchers come up with new studies that outline the best way to stay connected with your significant other. Much of the advice seems like common sense. But even as a Sex and Relationship Therapist, I have to remember to be mindful and find time to really focus on my partner with these ideas. 

1. Stay positive

“It’s not surprising that the more positive a person is, the more likely they’ll be happy in their relationships. What’s interesting is just how much it matters.

In a study from the University of Chicago, researchers found that when a husband has a high level of positivity, there’s less conflict in his relationship. Likewise, the way partners respond to each other’s good news matters too. In a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the way couples react to each other’s good news—either with excitement, pride, or indifference—is crucial in forming a strong bond.”

2. Have a life outside of your partner

Not only is it important to have something interesting to talk about at the end of the day, outside friendships can help reinforce the couple connection. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome.”

3. Have fun together and do new things

It’s really easy to get in a rut. Doing things that are out of your comfort zone together creates hard-to-break bonds. This also means just having fun together. Research from The University of Denver shows that couples who make time for fun activities tend to stay together longer:

“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.

“The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”

4. Make time for great sex

Yes, I think sex is critical for relationships. Life can get in the way of being sexy. And as partners feel pushed away they are less likely to initiate. And sex starts to feel awkward. Being able to communicate about what your sexual needs are and asking for what you need sexually is something I often facilitate between spouses in my office.

Anthony Lyons, a study co-author and research fellow at La Trobe, said the main lesson from the study is that couples need to learn how to communicate about their sexual needs or their reasons for not wanting sex.

“Couples need to talk about the frequency of sex,” Dr. Anthony said in an e-mail. “Talking openly about sex and finding a middle ground with regard to frequency appears to be very important for overall sexual and relationship satisfaction.”

It might seem silly to do something like scheduling time for intimacy, but it’s important to open up the dialogue about your sex life to dedicate some time to just be with each other.”

5. Explore communication and the division of labour

Communication can be all important when it comes to impacting the relationship. I have a rule with my clients that they have to learn to talk about issues holding hands and maintaining eye contact. It helps. Understanding that if you can maintain your clam and learn to fight fair (here are the rules) then it goes a long way to settling the differences between couples.

Stop fighting about money, and quit talking about big issues by email or text.

Good communication takes effort, it’s hard, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. But when you let small things fester and don’t communicate, problems arise. Studies show that it’s usually money that causes this rift, but every relationship has its own set of issues that need to get worked through.

“Quit hashing out problems over text messages: Technology has a knack for disrupting relationships, but one study pinpointed that couples who deal with fights over text have a lower relationship quality. This means couples who used text messages to apologize or work out differences instead of having face to face conversations tended to report unhappiness. That said, positive texts like the occasional “I love you” are still great, just stop trying to work complicated things out over SMS.”

I hear about how exhausted the women who visit my office are feeling. Some of it is self-inflicted in that they want to entertain perfectly or have a Martha Stewart-esque Christmas. But many of them are working full time and then come home to another full-time job consisting of cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and tired is one of the top reasons women are less interested in sex. 

Contribute to the household chores: In a small-scale study, UCLA researchers tracked the lives of several relationships over the course of 4 years. Their conclusions? Couple who have a system to handle household chores and who evenly disperse those chores are a lot happier. So, when your significant other makes the suggestion that you do the dishes now and again, just do it.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.

Trusting Again in The Aftermath of Emotional Injuries

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. & Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

Our ability to trust another person is core to our being able to create and sustain close intimate relationships. When we are able to trust another, we reap the emotional rewards of feeling connected to others. Trust is an antidote against any sense of isolation and non-belonging as it allows us to develop relationships in which others can be experienced in a manner that feels emotionally safe and secure. We initially learn to trust others in our relationship with our parents, then our peers, and eventually our relationship partners. Sometimes when we have difficult early relationship experiences we lose our bearings in terms of whom to trust and how to trust another person.

Trust can be eroded when we are hurt, frightened, or angered by the behaviour of those to whom we are most attached. Emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or neglect in our early years, or past and current relationships can breakdown our capacity to trust another, particularly when abuse or neglect occurred by someone who we expected to be a source of safety and security for us. At other times, betrayals and emotional injuries arising from a perceived lack of support from our relationship can also alter our sense of the other person’s reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness. Sexual and emotional affairs, betrayals, and emotional injuries in close couple relationships also erode and create serious ruptures to the attachment bond between partners. These types of emotional injuries in our family of origin and our relationships with friends and partners can leave emotional residue. These injuries then become triggers that are activated in our relationships and that block us from feeling safe and secure with others.

We help you to learn how to trust again in the aftermath of different types of incidents that have eroded your trust in relationships. 

The Couples Therapy Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive assessment, psychotherapy, and counselling to address a wide range of relationship and/or sexual issues for both individuals and couples. In terms of treatment, we offer individual, couple, and group therapy to help you to develop stronger relationships, heal relationship injuries, improve or add new relationship skills (e.g., communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills), and address sexual issues that interfere with sexual satisfaction and fulfilment, regardless of sexual orientation.

Read more about our Couples Therapy Service.

Emotional, Physical and Sexual Intimacy: The Cornerstones of Secure Attachment Bonds and Good Mental Health

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. & Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

When communication breaks down, unprocessed negative emotions accumulate.” 

Emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy can be considered essential components of adult attachment bonds. Our capacity to engage in an intimate manner contributes to our ability to form and maintain mutually satisfying, long-term relationships. Emotional intimacy allows partners to feel seen, heard, and understood. Emotional closeness is core to developing satisfying couple physical and sexual intimacy.

When partners feel emotionally close, physical touch and sexual contact seem less threatening and more rewarding. A solid emotional connection allows individuals to be present and engage moment-by-moment in encounters involving intimate physical and sexual contact. Within this context, more intimate, arousing, pleasurable, and erotic encounters are then possible. On the other hand, when partners lack emotional closeness, they feel distanced or engage in circular, escalating conflicts as they strive to be understood and have their needs met by the other. Negative feelings and emotions begin to accumulate when partners are unable to intimately engage.

In some cases, a partner may fear intimacy, or lack the skills to engage in an intimate manner about their feelings, needs or desires, or lack knowledge about how to respond to the other’s feelings. When communication breaks down, unprocessed negative emotions accumulate. Unable to process their feelings and needs, partners engage in rigid, negative patterns with one another. They begin to distance from each other, experience separation fears, and engage in high-conflict exchanges in their effort to protect themselves from the growing sense of disconnection in the relationship.

Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR help individuals and couple partners learn how to identify, express, and assert their selves in their relationships to others. We also support individuals and partners on how to exit from difficult relationship patterns and become more accessible and responsive to one another. Healthy relationship and sexual functioning are important in maintaining a good sense of ourselves. Both our physical and mental well-being is improved when we have the ability to create and sustain intimate relationships with others both outside and inside the bedroom. In fact, research affirms that many individuals struggle in their efforts to maintain relationship and sexual satisfaction throughout their lives, and that dissatisfaction in these areas of life can have an impact on our mental and physical health.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Treatment Service.

Sex and Attachment

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych and Dr. Marie-Pierre Fontaine-Paquet, Psy.D., C.Psych.

Are you struggling with sex in your relationships

How you relate to your partners sexually is affected by how you relate to each other outside of sex.

In the CFIR blog post ‘Anxiety and Your Relationships’, we describe how attachment theory may help you to understand your experience of your self and others in your relationships. We also talk about the concept of attachment style, which includes ways of seeing your self (“Am I worthy of love and care?”) and others (“Are you there for me, will you respond when I need you?”) in your close relationships. Sex can be viewed as an attachment behavior, and thus your attachment style affects how you engage in sex. Attachment anxiety and avoidance can interfere with enjoying sex and creating an enriching and fulfilling erotic life.

If you are anxiously attached, you might have doubts about your self-worth and attractiveness, and about your partner’s availability to meet your feelings and needs. Sex can be a way to obtain reassurance about these things – about whether your partner finds you beautiful or sexy, and about whether your partner loves you, cares about you and wants to be close to you. When sex is a way for you to obtain reassurance and to soothe your deep fears about your self or your relationship, you may become demanding and critical of partners when they do not respond to you sexually in the ways that you hoped.

If you are avoidantly attached, you might find it difficult to be close to your partner during sex because you fear rejection by your partner. You might tend to keep more distance during sex and be more focused on tasks and duties, and on performing in such a way that is pleasing to your partner. It might be difficult for you to access your true desires, feelings, and needs and to share these with your partner. You might also struggle with understanding and being attuned to your partner’s feelings and needs when you are so focused on performance and tasks during sex.

When sex becomes a place filled with fear, it may be difficult for both partners to be in touch with, explore and share their erotic potentials and all that sex has to offer.

Here are some tips on how to deal with attachment anxiety and avoidance during sex:

For the anxiously attached:

  • If you have doubts about your self-worth and attractiveness, start working on nurturing a more positive relationship with yourself and your body – as opposed to overly relying on your partner’s responses to reassure you. Try to explore what makes you feel sexy and nurture these parts of yourself.
  • Try not to over-interpret your partner’s cues as being related to you, how much they care about you and your relationship. Learn to calm yourself and to take a step back to notice all of the other factors that may be influencing your partner’s responses to you.

For the avoidantly attached:

  • Develop more awareness of your true desires, feelings, and needs. Try to take a risk to share these with your partner and talk about what interests and excites you in sex – instead of avoiding taking risks by distancing yourself during sex or even avoiding sex altogether.
  • Learn to be more present to your own and your partner’s desires, feelings, and needs during sex. Recognize when you are distancing from yourself and your partner, and remember that the more you distance, the more you can create distress in your relationship.

A psychologist can:

  • help you find and create a more fulfilling sex life by working with you individually and/or as a couple.
  • assess your attachment style and its impact on your sex life, help you understand your sexual desires, emotional reactions, and needs, and help you communicate these to your partner more effectively.
  • help you learn how to respond to your partner’s desires, feelings and needs to help you build a more secure and satisfying sexual relationship.

Especially when couples feel stuck in constant negative interactions as a result of fears that block sexual fulfillment and erotic exploration, a psychologist can help you better understand these moments and help you create more security in your relationship. Over time, sex can feel less dangerous and become a space to explore and connect in movement, touch and shared emotions of excitement and joy.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Treatment Service.

Anxiety and Your Relationships

Written by Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Welcome to our third blog on anxiety! Today, we’ll be sharing some interesting information about anxiety and your relationships to others, such as your partner and children.

Several decades ago a British psychiatrist, John Bowlby, developed attachment theory, which provides a framework to understand how we experience our self and others in our relationships. Attachment theory helps explain the anxiety we can experience in relationships.

Attachment theory suggests that as human beings we are biologically hard-wired to seek out others and to connect to them—emotionally, psychologically and physically. These connections provide nurturance, soothing, contact and comfort to help us ease distress in everyday life.  Attachment is from the ‘cradle to the grave’—-beginning with the soothing, non-verbal communications between a mother and child (e.g., comfort of a mother’s sound, smell and gaze to newborns) through to the nurturing, caring and intimate moments in our adult relationships with our partners (e.g., emotional, physical and sexual intimacy). Our experiences in these close relationships—from childhood and throughout our lives—play a role in determining something psychologists refer to as our attachment style.

When we have experiences in which our primary attachment figures (i.e., mother, father or whomever took care of us when we were younger) have been generally responsive to our feelings and needs growing up, we learn to be securely attached to others.  In these circumstances, we develop a positive sense of our self— we see ourselves as competent, worthwhile, and lovable. We are also more likely to see other people in a positive light— reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. Early attachment relationships are the primary mechanism for developing our capacity for healthy relationships with others. We learn how to tune into our own feelings and needs and express them to others. We also learn how to empathize with others — the ability to tune into what others are feeling and respond appropriately. We also discover how to create closeness with others, while being independent and tolerating distance from our loved ones. 

When we are raised in inconsistent environments — too much or not enough attention from our caregivers — then we might become anxiously attached to others.  An anxiously attached person may have a negative sense of self —and may see themselves as unlovable or unworthy of care — while continuing to hold out hope that others are trustworthy, reliable and will eventually respond to their connection needs.  An anxiously attached individual may experience fear about the availability of important people in their lives—they become preoccupied with how available their partner, friends or family members are to respond to their feelings and needs. These individuals may express a lot of emotional distress to communicate their feelings, needs and concerns to others, and at times, may come across as demanding in their efforts to solicit attention, care and support—this kind of anxious attachment can be overwhelming for others. 

When you are anxiously attached, you also tend to overly rely on your children and partner for reassurance, affirmation and validation.  You overly seek out others to reassure you and to soothe your anxiety about others not being available to you. You may need too much closeness and those around you might feel smothered. Your children and partner may get a sense that there is not a lot of room for them in the relationship — and stop sharing with you as a result — or they themselves might have to increase their expressions to been seen and heard. 

If we are raised in environments where others were harsh and rejecting, we may become avoidantly attached to others. This attachment style makes expressing needs or feelings really hard—the other person is viewed negatively as unreliable and undependable during a moment of need. Avoidantly attached people  experience significant amounts of anxiety as a result of the unavailability of their caregivers—however, their strategy is different than the anxiously avoidant—they learn how to avoid emotions to deal with emotional distress. 

When distressed, avoidantly attached individuals struggle to express their feelings and needs—and, dependency on others for care and support does not seem possible during these moments. When dealing with difficult life moments they dismiss their own and others’ emotions as a strategy to cope—expressing themselves feels risky and may subject them to painful rejection once more.  As a result of this strategy, children or partners may feel that you are unavailable or unable to tune into or attend to their emotional needs while you seek even more distance to avoid difficult feelings. Given these difficulties avoidantly attached individuals often over focus on tasks, rules and duties in their relationships—while struggling to understand others’ feelings and needs. This avoidance often results in significant others becoming anxious and distressed because they feel you are unavailable and unable to connect with them. 

Here are some tips on how to deal with attachment anxiety or avoidance in your relationships:  

For the anxiously attached:

  • If you are anxious and preoccupied in your relationships, start working on developing a greater sense of yourself — learn how to enjoy a good book, find a hobby, keep yourself busy with activities—as opposed to being overly preoccupied with your children and partner.
  • When you are worried about whether or not others are there for you, remember a time that you felt connected to others. Reframe how you think about the absence of loved ones. Try not to get overwhelmed by negative thoughts about their absence (e.g., I’m alone, I miss them), and focus on positive thoughts and feelings (e.g., I look forward—and feel excitement—thinking about my beloved returning home).
  • Try to notice when you may be seeking too much closeness or reassurance from others and try to slow this process down. Although you are feeling fearful or doubtful about whether those closest to you love you—the more you do this, the more they might push you away. Learn to recognize themental and physical cues of anxiety and learn to calm yourself prior to communicating to others.

For the avoidantly attached:

  • Notice what you are thinking and feeling in these situations. Practice giving your feelings and needs a label—What do you feel and need? Take a risk to express these feelings and needs to a close friend or your partner. 
  • Learn how to recognize and attune to others’ feelings and needs. If you are not sure, ask them what they need or how they feel. Remember that the more you distance in moments of distress (yours or others), the more distress you create in your relationships.
  • Recognize when you are distancing from yourself and others. Try to observe yourself inmoments of emotional discomfort and to catch yourself in this distancing strategy. 

A psychologist can help you assess your attachment style and its impact on important relationships (i.e., relationship with family, partner, children, friends and colleagues). After identifying your attachment style, a psychologist can help you to understand your own emotional reactions and needs and communicate to others more effectively. A psychologist can also help you learn how to respond to others’ feelings and needs so your relationships feel more secure and more satisfying. 

Read more about CFIR’s Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Treatment Service.