attachment injury

Have you ever been injured? The answer is likely yes. We have all sustained some kind of injury in our lives. Many of us bare physical scars of that time we fell off the monkey bars or incurred a sport injury. Although they are now healed, these scars are constant reminders of the trauma or pain we suffered in that moment. Similar to physical injuries, many of us experience emotional and psychological injuries that can continue to bleed into our everyday life. These injuries and traumas can be devastating and are actually processed by our brain as physical pain. More specifically, we can actually experience injuries in the safety/security of our relationships with others: a painful event so real that it has been given the name “Attachment Injury”.

Attachment injury, a term coined by psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, is a distinct incident where one partner experiences a violation of trust that damages his/her belief in the security of the relationship. The partner feels that they have been abandoned, betrayed, or that trust has been breached in a critical moment of need for support. Such injuries or betrayals are often subjective and look different for each person. For some it may be when their husband left them at home with a newborn and travelled out of the country for work. For others it may be when they discovered their wife was sharing intimate details about their marriage with another man online. Either way, it is experienced as a breach of trust and is a defining moment in the relationship.

To the person experiencing the injury, the betrayal is felt like a devastating blow that severs the security of the relationship. The injury or betrayal often gets replayed in the person’s mind and becomes the standard by which the injured assesses their partner’s dependability. When recalling the event, it brings back strong emotions for the one who feels betrayed. Conversely, the inflictor of the injury is often unaware of the impact that they have had, which generally results in them becoming defensive and minimizing the event. For example, the husband who left his wife and newborn child may that he did it out of necessity to support his new family. He did what he thought was required at the time and may not have understood that what his wife needed in that moment was his presence and emotional support.  These crossed wires can create an unhealthy pattern in a relationship where one partner never feels heard or understood, and the other partner feels that they are constantly being accused and punished for past behaviour.

The pain experienced from an attachment injury can be excruciating. Feeling rejected or abandoned by the one you love and are most attached to is devastating. It leaves you feeling broken and insecure. Dr. Sue Johnson would even go as far to say that such injuries can be experienced as emotional trauma and could result in posttraumatic stress symptoms such as disturbing memories, vivid images, ruminating excessively, etc.

All of that to say, if you have experienced an attachment injury you are not being dramatic, blowing things out of proportion or exaggerating. You had a legitimate need at a particular point in your relationship that went unmet and it caused a lot of pain and resentment.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you feel your partner has failed to support you in a crucial time in your relationship? Maybe you are still unsure. Ask yourself the following questions: if most of the answers are yes, than your relationship may have suffered an attachment injury.

  1. Do you constantly bring up the past in a fight with your partner?
  2. Are there specific events that you can’t/won’t forgive your partner for?
  3. Have you felt abandoned by your partner at a crucial moment in your relationship?
  4. Do you feel that you are constantly trying to communicate with your partner and still don’t feel heard or understood?
  5. Do you get very emotional/angry when revisiting a specific event regarding your partner and your relationship?
  6. Do you feel there was a specific point in your relationship where it took a turn for the worst?
  7. Is there a particular negative moment in your relationship that you constantly relive or ruminate about?

If you are reading this and find it descriptive of your relationship and how you feel, don’t worry: those who have experienced these types of hurdles in their relationships are not doomed. Personally, I find that having knowledge and understanding brings relief because a plan can be put in place to repair the damage that has been done.

If you are interested in repairing an attachment injury, stayed tuned for my next article that will give some tips on overcoming these obstacles.

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Wishing you love,