Exploration is the ability to go after what is meaningful to us. We rely on our exploration ability to understand what we really want, plan how to get it, and follow through. However for those of us with insecure attachment our exploration skills are often underdeveloped.
John Bowlby, the founder of Attachment Theory, proposed that a “good-enough” caregiver would provide a stable base for the child. When care is readily available and of good quality, the child is able to confidently explore away from the secure base.
Paradoxically the more stable and reliable the secure base the more courageous the explorations away from it!
What explorations look like for the different attachment styles:
Those of us with dismissing attachment have the sense that attachment and connecting with caregivers is not as available. Connection was, especially, not available when we were emotionally upset. So there is a turning away from attachment and a turning towards exploration to meet our emotional needs.
For the adult with dismissing attachment exploration abilities generally do develop well. They are generally “hyper-explorers”. However, they end up substituting exploration in the place of attachment. It leads to a sense of hollowness and alienation.
For the dimissive the work is not in the area of exploration. Rather it is in having good experiences of attachment, especially soothing and attunement.
For those of us with Preoccupied Attachment, the sense is that the care was too unreliable. This results in the need to limit explorations in favor of maximizing time spent with the caregiver and managing the relationship. This strategy helps us make the most of the unreliable care that was on offer.
This leads to a hyperfocus on the caregiver and a life-long pattern of anxiously over-prioritizing attachment at the expense of healthy exploration and self-development. This is part of the “outside-in” orientation that people have with preoccupied attachment (Brown & Elliott, 2016).
Disorganized Attachment (Fearful Attachment)
Disorganized Attachment can manifest in many different ways. However, the core of disorganized attachment is the “insoluble dilemma” of fearing the attachment figure. This is a very difficult situation.
How do you mange a situation in which your refuge from fear is also the source of fear?
Also, if you are trying to manage danger coming from the outside world AND from the caregiver, how much bandwidth will you have for your own explorations? Likely very little.
So, we see that these difficult early experiences do not allow for healthy prioritization of exploration. Moreover, this type of harsh conditioning generally brings about poor emotional self regulation skills. These skills are what help us persevere through the tough times and get to end-goals of our explorations.
For these reasons those with disorganized attachment generally have the worst exploration abilities. (But don’t worry you can work on it!)
Developing Exploration for those with Insecure Attachment
Exploration can be training through doing imaginal work such as Perfect Nurturer Reinforcement meditations, the Schema Repatterning Meditation, etc. In these meditations, we focus on the factors of secure attachment (Brown & Elliott, 2016):
- Safety & protection
- Attunement / Sense of being seen
- Physical soothing and affection
- Experiencing delight from the perfect nurturers
- Having the perfect nurturer support your exploration
- Experiencing unconditional love
- Problem solving with the perfect nurturer within “the zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky)
- A sense of shared experience and belonging with the perfect nurturer
The emotionally corrective experiences of these factors of secure attachment experienced in the guided meditation remap the internal working model of attachment (IWMA) (bringing about emotional memory reconsolidation). Based on this new positive IWMA, where old symptoms of anxiety and avoidance are no longer necessary, exploration abilities can develop in a balanced way. This results in being able to go after what is most important to us, personally.
If this topic interests you, why not try out this meditation from our guided meditation library or check out this self-paced course about Overcoming Obstacles to Exploration?