Introduction 

A Fearful Attachment Style centers around the heart’s cry of “I am not worthy of love from others and I can’t make it on my own.” People with a fearful attachment often experience that their source of comfort is also their source of pain.

Every attachment styles center around love. We all want an answer to these 2 questions.

  • Am I worthy of love?
  • Are others capable of loving me?

Ephesians 3:17-19, the Apostle Paul prays for us so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith; that we are rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend the width, length, and depth of the love of Christ so that we may be filled with the fullness of God.

This is the foundation of a person securely attached to God, they are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.

In 1 John 4, John says several times in that chapter that God is love. We are created in His image therefore, He created us to love and be loved. The primary source of our ability to give and receive Love is Father God, Himself.

A person with a fearful attachment style does not believe that God (or anyone else) loves them and that there is no safe haven for them. They are very fragile and have constructed a hard shell around their hearts so that they will not be hurt again.


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Fearful Attachment in Childhood 

Unfortunately, some children grow up in homes where they don’t feel worthy of love and they don’t believe others can love them. They believe there is a price for love and it is very costly.

Often the child is physically, emotionally, sexually, or verbally abused. The child does not feel safe and struggles to find a safe attachment source since it is likely that one of the parents is the abuser.

Childhood characteristics 

  • Children grow up in homes that are physically, emotionally, and sometimes sexually abusive.
  • Parents may exhibit out-of-control rage, fierce demands, or soul-numbing isolation
  • The child does not have a safe haven for exploration.
  • The source of the child’s comfort is also the source of pain and hurt.
  • Fearful people don’t believe they are worthy of anyone’s affection but they don’t have the confidence to make it on their own.
  • Children can’t figure out who to trust.
  • They long for acceptance but are afraid that people will hurt them.
  • Parents are both the source and solution to their fear and anxiety – no safe haven
  • Children become disorganized and fragmented during stressful times.

6 types of child abuse 

  1. Psychological abuse
    1. Rejection
    2. Sarcastic put-downs
    3. Callous harshness
    4. Confused inconsistency
    5. Unreliable care
  2. Emotional Neglect
    1. No warmth, touch, or emotional connection
  3. Physical Abuse
  4. Sexual abuse or incest
  5. Exposure to severe marital conflict
  6. Addictive Behavior

Fearful Attachment in Adulthood 

The adult with a fearful attachment style has a great deal of trauma to work through from their childhood.

Trauma destroys the power of reflection. When children are traumatized or are constantly threatened with trauma, their power of reflection goes underdeveloped.

The power of reflection allows us to label our internal experiences. God made us in His image and blessed us with the profound ability to verbally describe the world around us. Then He extended the blessing so we can describe the world inside ourselves.

This is the ability to describe our feelings, our thoughts, even our physical sensations. The more we understand that world inside, the better we understand the world at work within others. We empathize with them and see the world thru their eyes.

Researchers have used brain-imaging techniques to show that when trauma victims are reminded of their tragedy, the parts of the brain associated with intense emotions and visual images “turn on”  and become active. Simultaneously, the part of the brain associated with speech ‘turns off’. The result is what Basal van der Kolk calls “speechless terror”, the ability to tell the story of the horrific event.

Basal A. van der Kolk, A.C. McFarlane and L. Weisaeth – Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society (New York: Guilford, 1996)

Adult characteristics 

  • Continuation of their life story of loss
  • Believe God is malicious, like their early caregivers
  • Respond with a mixed set of behaviors – addictions, self-protection, clinginess, anger, rage
  • Experience anxiety, worry, and even panic attacks, pain
  • Identity Problems
  • May commit to some goal during an emotional high, but when the high fades, there is no internal sense of self-value to keep the commitment alive.
  • Has problems learning from past experiences
  • Inability to consider future consequences
  • Experiences emotional storms
    • Struggles with self-soothing and emotion regulation
    • Prone to depression
    • Emotional flashbacks
  • Responds with panic, anxiety, and a sense of extreme helplessness rather than focusing on problem-solving.
  • Identification with the Aggressor
  • Instead of seeing the aggressor as bad or faulty, the child or adult directs blame inward
  • Faulty Assumptions
    • By identifying with the aggressor, the abused child/adult can continue to view the parent as an attachment figure
    • “Learned helplessness”, they often believe that nothing can be done to change their situations.
  • Victims can also over-control.
  • Distressed Relationships
  • Constant tension between being a doormat and a control freak
  • A compulsion to repeat the trauma and turmoil
  • Faulty Selection in relationships
  • Common for traumatized partners to select partners who treat them as their original abusers did.
  • Distorts situations to fit past experiences
  • May engage in behaviors that actually provoke others to abandon them or behave aggressively toward them (a self-fulfilling prophecy).

What is Hope?


Conclusion 

If you are a person with a fearful attachment style, the good news is that there is hope for you to fully trust that your Heavenly Father has good plans for you. While it may take some time to fully heal from all these experiences, your Heavenly Father is a safe place for you.

I am currently working on an in-depth study on the Father’s Love which will provide a guide for healing your heart. Also coming is “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

Please contact me at Michelle@findinghopejourney.com if you would like more information.

If you are taking my Spiritual Roots of Human Behavior course, the areas of focus are Doorpoints, Rejection, Fear, Self-Hatred, and Why We Do What We Think.

You are loved more than you can imagine. You are accepted in the beloved by your Heavenly Father.

Scriptures for Meditation

  • Psalm 139
  • Philippians 4
  • Psalm 103
  • Job 38-42

Further Reading on Attachment Styles 

  1. Secure Attachment
  2. Avoidant Attachment
  3. Anxious Attachment

Adapted from God Attachment by Drs. Tim Clinton & Joshua Straub and Attachments by Drs. Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy.

This article is intended as a general overview of the fearful attachment type, not a diagnostic tool. 

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