As coaches we often try and look for a framework that will help us understand our client – and how she or he – views others, the coach, and the coaching relationship.
We know that understanding our client in a deeper way will help us support him or her more effectively. One very helpful theoretical framework from psychology, that provides an excellent understanding of how our client views the relationship with others is ATTACHMENT THEORY.
So, our goal in today’s conversation is to draw some concepts from Attachment Theory that will be support our work as coaches; these concepts will help us understand how different clients see others within the context of an interpersonal relationship, and therefore, how they see us and the coaching relationship. We’ll understand why some clients may feel needy towards us or why some might distance themselves from us.
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Here’s a bit more detail on how we can understand our own attachment style and that of our clients.
A client who is secure looks at self and others in a positive way and thinks about self and others as being trustworthy and open to intimacy. The secure client is happy to seek support when their emotions are turbulent or when they are in distress; and are willing to look at ways to deal with the problem. They are able to provide closeness and are sensitive without getting controlling or possessive and are able to seek support when they feel anxious. All this suggests that they are more likely to have lasting and more satisfying relationships – both at work and in their personal life.
Remember that the insecure style has 3 variants: Preoccupied, Dismissing and Fearful. Let’s understand some characteristics of these styles so that we can start with identifying our own style and then help our client understand their own style of insecure attachment.
In the Preoccupied style, a person views himself or herself in a negative or diminished way but has an idealized view of the other person. This person with a preoccupied style is always paying attention to the other and is very sensitive about what the other says and does.
Such a person is always tuned in to emotions that are negative, and feels threatened by little things; they are self-critical and resort to emotional outbursts when reacting to stress situations. In relationships, this person shifts between being a compulsive caregiver or being inconsistent and insensitive with responding to the other. They are unable to recognize distress in another because they are too afraidthat they will be overwhelmed by the other person’s negative emotion.
The Dismissing / Avoidant style person has positive beliefs about oneself but has negative expectations of the other person. Such people tend to be distant in relationships, they do not want too much connection, the place a very high stress on independence and often seem emotionally detached.
The person with the Fearful/Avoidance style sees both the self and the other person from a negative lens. This person creates distance in relationships to avoid the pain of rejection of intimacy. They seem to have limited range of emotions and are not effective in expressing them.
They have high levels of anxiety which they keep contained from others. Their interactions with others are of low emotional depth and quality; as caregivers they swing from being highly compulsive to dismissing and avoidance. Their inability to recognize emotional cues from others and their fear in getting close to another leads them to reject or minimize efforts from others to build a relationship.