I must say, Brigerton is not my normal guilty viewing pleasure type of tv show but I watched it anyways and was instantly hooked. As an attachment therapist, I’m constantly noticing the different relationship and attachment dynamics between people and this show had so much to dive into. Please note that there are lots of spoiler alerts ahead so read with caution if you haven't seen the show/haven't finished it yet.
What are attachment styles? There are multiple different attachment style types but for the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the main three categories of attachment style: Secure, Anxious and Avoidant. For the most part, our attachment style is determined by the relationship we have with our primary caregiver(s) and can even be determined as early as early toddlerhood.
Although we tend to hold onto our attachment style into our romantic relationships as an adult, this doesn’t mean that we are permanently stuck in our attachment style if we are a style that we want to change. Neuroplasticity is this amazing concept that shows that we have the ability to change certain behaviors, ways of viewing ourselves and the world around us, and our attachment style/way we relate to others even into late adulthood.
What are each of the attachment styles like?
Secure Attachment Style is the attachment style we mostly all aspire to be in life. People who are securely attached have the ability to have loving, trusting, intimate relationships with their partner and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable or express their needs or wants to their partner. Relationships and dating aren’t scary/intimidating to them. In fact, they tend to desire relationships and find a lot of safety in relationships. They’re easily able to see past people aren’t being genuine or unable to express their love and tend to not waste their time on potential partners who wouldn’t be able to maintain a healthy, loving and intimate relationship with them.
Daphne Brigerton is a great example of a character on Brigerton who has a secure attachment style. Her own parents married for love and exemplify a securely attached marriage. Daphne aspires to find a partner who she can also marry for love and isn’t afraid to express this need or want to those around her. She is attracted to The Duke and is able to see right away, in spite of his pushing away at times, that he shares the same attraction for her. Because of this, she feels confident expressing herself to The Duke and pretty much flat out demanding that they quit “the dance” and get married.
Once married, she is able to confidently express her frustrations with The Duke, noting that it isn’t fair for her that he is pushing her away. She clearly communicates her needs and wants in their relationship without feeling as though they aren’t warranted. She obviously knew that The Duke shared the same feelings towards her because, as all fans know by now, they share a lot of intimate moments together early in marriage. Once Daphne figures out that The Duke hasn’t been upfront with her about his ability to have children, Daphne once again feels confident to express herself and lets him know that this isn’t okay. She talks it over with him several times, never backing down or feeling shame in her emotions. Obviously they are able to work things out and her desire to have children is met as we all see in the sneak from the last episode.
An Avoidant Attachment Style is categorized as someone who greatly values their independence, in spite of also desiring a healthy, loving relationship. People who have this attachment style tend to push their partner away when things in the relationship get too close, too intimate, or too difficult. They struggle with vulnerability and having direct, clear communication with their partner. Usually someone who is this attachment style will get frustrated when their partner expresses their needs/wants, sometimes using the phrase “can’t we just get over it already?”. This attachment style will hold in emotions or things they find frustrating in the relationship, letting it build up or pushing their partner away instead of leaning in to their partner and intimacy.
Simon Basset, aka The Duke, more than likely has an avoidant attachment style. Simon’s own parents were not around, due in part to his mother dying at his own birth and his father neglecting him as a child, sending him away and refusing to have a relationship with him due to his stutter. In adulthood, it’s obvious that Simon has an attraction towards Daphne but also pushes her away anytime they start to get too close, exposing his difficulty with intimacy and vulnerability. Daphne is quite secure in her attachment style which ends up ultimately leading to their marriage. However, Simon starts the marriage off with lies about his infertility instead of opening up to Daphne about his past and why having children is something he’s scared about. Simon never ends up telling Daphne directly in this season about his childhood. She ends up having to find that information out herself through reading old letters and asking others who knew him as a child.
Simon truly needed someone like Daphne who is securely attached and can communicate her needs and not judge him for his past. It becomes obvious through the end of the season that Simon is already beginning to repair his own attachment style, leaning in to vulnerable conversations with Daphne and becoming that much closer to having a secure attachment style.
Those who have an Anxious Attachment Style are those who also truly desire to be in a loving, healthy relationship but also fear that their partner will abandon them once they are in a relationship. Those who identify as having this attachment style tend to feel unworthy of being in a healthy relationship at their core (usually from attachment wounds from childhood) and tend to be on high alert for their partner to suddenly leave them. They tend to be preoccupied with the relationship when they are in it and struggle when their partner isn’t around or isn’t available instantaneously. In other words, this attachment style truly wants intimacy and love but is also scared of it, sometimes almost becoming “codependent”, needing constant reassurance from their partner or settling for a partner who isn’t 100% invested in the relationship usually from a lack of self-confidence or self-worth.
Penelope Featherington would be an example of a Brigerton character who has an anxious attachment style. While she isn’t in a romantic relationship in this season, there are several clues that this is her attachment type including that her own parents’ marriage is insecurely attached and they did not marry for love. Penelope has an instant crush on Colin Brigerton and becomes pretty preoccupied with the idea of there being a possible relationship between the two of them, in spite of the fact that he’s also not 100% available nor has he indicated an interest in her at all. He is nice to her but also clearly isn’t interested in her romantically which seems to hit on all of Penelope’s anxious attachment core wounds and low self-worth.
As fans realize at the end of the show, Penelope ends up being the one behind many of the rumors that ended up making the relationship between Colin and Marina much more difficult to maintain, and ultimately causing the breakup between them. Someone who is anxiously attached to someone is more likely to sabotage another relationship when they feel as though they deserve to be with the partner more than the partner they are with. They aren’t able to see that their love interest isn’t interested in them, instead focusing on the idea that someone else “stole” them from them. Penelope struggles to let go of the idea of being with Colin which ends up taking away from the energy she could have spent towards a possible suitor who would be fully invested in a relationship for her.
Thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think!
Ahh, let’s talk about sex (or lack-there-of) with your partner when you have a small child. For most families with small children, one partner tends to be the primary caregiver to the child even if both parents are equally contributing. That's usually because one partner tends to take on more of the emotional duties of taking care of the child, manages their day, makes the appointments, cooks their food and makes social connections for them.
Here's a quick summary of the 2 different roles each partner might play in this dynamic:
The primary caregiver: Often feel like they are about to collapse from exhaustion after their child falls asleep. They feel both touched out physically and can feel like they have no more resources left to give away. They don’t not want to have sex with their partner but they’re also so damn tired all the time (because toddlers and babies are cute as hell but also extremely exhausting). At the end of the day, they tend to feel satiated from all the emotional connection with their child and also taxed. They can feel like their partner keeps placing more demands on them when they initiate sex. After time, this can lead them to feeling like sex is just another chore on their to-do list of things they need to do for someone else (but not for them).
The non-primary caregiver: Meanwhile, this partner feels like they haven’t seen their partner in a meaningful or intimate way all day (or weeks or months...) and miss them. They know that their partner is busy with their child all day which is great because it allows for them to have more time to do the things they need or want to do. When this partner makes a bid for connection to their partner or tries to initiate sex with them at the end of the day, they often feel rejected or insecure that their partner doesn't find them attractive anymore or only ever wants to be with their child. This felt distance from their partner can lead them to feeling lonely and deeply desire to connect with their partner.
While completely normal & common for parents of small children to play a part in this dance of intimacy, it’s also important to acknowledge the dance as a dance you both get sucked into & to work on it together so that the emotional toll doesn’t create irreparable damage over time. The first step in a healthy, safe partnership with this dynamic is to always communicate to your partner what you are observing as a pattern and how it makes you feel. Discussing it in this way can make the conversation feel like less of a blame game and focuses on the real issue at hand: how to intimately reconnect back to your partner when there's a desire discrepancy and an exhausting toddler in the mix.
Additionally, each partner should contribute to the solution in their own way. Here is one simple idea for how each partner can contribute below. Note that these are suggestions based off of a generalization of these two separate types of partners in the above mentioned dynamic but all couples and situations are different. Therapy is always the best place to explore deeper and more meaningful issues and strategies.
Primary caregiver: Try to view your partner’s attempts to initiate sex as a strength and not as them just adding another thing on your to-do list. Thank them repeatedly for how they prioritize your sex life. Remind them that sex is very important for you & that you want to work through this together. Try to remember the pleasure you experience from feeling desired. Recall times in the past when you had an amazing sexual experience with your partner and see if you can pick up on anything you can apply to your current situation. Commit to talking to your partner about sex at least once a week. Partners who talk about sex are more likely to have sex.
Non-primary caregiver: You will now be in charge of making your partner engage in some sort of pampering self-care after kiddo is in bed. Yep, that’s right. Giving your partner (consensual) forced self-care time helps them get out of "parent" mode, reminding them of who they are as a person with sexual desires. Compliment the parts of them that you find attractive or sexy throughout the day without any pressure to engage in sex. Help remind them that they are more than just a parent by also talking about the things they used to love and enjoy before having a kid.
Finally, always remember when it comes to desire discrepancy in relationships, to take the pressure off the act of sex or getting any immediate result when applying any of the above suggestions. Try to shift the focus towards pleasure and how to help the primary caregiver fill up their cup. Don't be afraid to get creative with what sex looks like. Sometimes sex after kids might mean less or no penetrative sex and that's okay. Talk about the pleasure you both are experiencing together from the experience.
Back in March of this year when the sh** storm, COVID, first hit, I decided that it was time to start working remotely. A lot of time and consideration went into this decision but ultimately, it made the most sense for my business because I could not regulate my own nervous system when I was seeing clients in-person at the office. My mind was racing and exhausted by all the new things my body and brain needed to orient to when working with clients. Since moving my practice completely virtual, I have been able to feel myself again in sessions. I am present, grounded and able to focus on my clients in their sessions.
While some aspects of therapy have seamlessly transitioned to video therapy, there still remain a great deal of unknown and negative aspects. One of the unknown aspects that many new and potential clients have concerns about is around EMDR. EMDR processing traditionally utilizes tappers, following the therapist's hand/fingers side to side, a lightbar or auditory head set for the bilateral stimulation phase. Not exactly ideal for virtual therapy where even just sitting still can cause many individuals to experience exhaustion, nausea, headaches, and a long list of other physical and emotional side effects. So could virtual EMDR actually work? The answer is, yes.
If you're considering starting virtual EMDR therapy, here are some things to take note of:
1. EMDR is an entire theory and process with many steps along the way. There are many steps in EMDR prior to the more active phase of EMDR, the desensitization and reprocessing phase, that most are familiar with. In my sessions with clients who use EMDR, we sometimes never even get to this phase. Many clients begin to look at the event(s) that brought them in with a new, trauma-informed lense and feel better before we get there. There is so much amazing work you can do in EMDR therapy without actually reprocessing the event.
2. You can get creative with bilateral stimulation. In 1:1 therapy, therapists will be in charge of this part of therapy, monitoring the number of times the light/buzzer will go side to side. Therapists will still monitor this part of therapy in virtual sessions but if you're a client who gets dizzy or nauseous just at the idea of watching your therapist move her fingers from left to right for several minutes while you reprocess trauma or a stressful event over the computer, you can take on this part.
Bilateral stimulation done by the client is actually not very difficult at all and really just requires a little bit of creativity from the therapist and client. If you're a client and you have the money, purchasing a theratapper machine for therapy might be worth the investment. The therapist will monitor and let the client know when to start and when to end. Some EMDR therapists even use programs like RemotEMDR or Active EMDR that can display bilateral movements through the screen.
In my training on using EMDR with children, I learned lots of different creative ways to do this. One of my favorite, more affordable options is for the client to take something like a toy car and move it back and forth on your desk quickly while the client watches and the therapist monitors sets. The free-est option would be for the client to simply tap on themselves in a butterfly hug as they engage in this part of EMDR. Many of my clients report positive results from scanning the top of their laptop or computer, or any two fixed objects in their view from side to side. In other words, there are lots of different creative ways to play with virtual bilateral stimulation.
3. Your therapist might use attachment-based or a more holistic style of EMDR which might or might not even need the use of bilateral stimulation. As a more holistic, somatic-based therapist, I have a love/hate relationship with EMDR. Some aspects of EMDR, such as reading off the protocol scripts, are just too rigid for my personal therapy approach and for many of the clients I work with. I love talking with my clients and I find that the secure attachment created through talk therapy can be invaluable for many clients who have experienced trauma or who have been in abusive relationships or families. Many other EMDR therapists are with me here and utilize a more "organic" or attachment-based version of EMDR. This version of EMDR will sometimes utilize bilateral stimulation when needed, but for the most part, the therapist will interweave attachment-based EMDR tools throughout the session. This means, you might not even need the bilateral stimulation piece very much at all if you prefer this approach.
4. The environment the client is in while doing virtual EMDR therapy is important. One big piece of EMDR, is ensuring environmental safety. Without a private office for clients to go to, many clients are forced to do therapy in less than ideal environments such as vehicles, at their work office, or in a closet at home. Although many clients are able to find a safe environment to have therapy sessions, many other clients live in close quarters with family members/roommates who can't or won't leave or who are/have been abusive or manipulative in the past. Before starting EMDR therapy virtually, the client will want to spend some time making sure they can find a private, safe space to really be able to stay fully present and engaged in the session.
EMDR therapy experts are currently studying the efficacy of virtual EMDR to give us all the final results but so far, everything coming out sounds promising. If you've been considering EMDR therapy and live in Austin, I'm happy to share feedback on whether EMDR might be an option for you in a free phone consultation session. In the session, we can discuss a plan of action and approach that works for you.