Writers in the Storm

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April 17, 2013

Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love: Part 2

First, our hearts go out to those directly affected by the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  We all have indirectly been affected by this act of terror--life is not as carefree as it was this past week-end. 

Today's blog is part two in a series of posts by Fae Rowen about the science of attachment styles and how we can use the research to help our characters fall in love and connect that emotion with our readers. Here's the link to Part 1, if you missed the information about the secure attachment style.

Part 3 of the series, Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment Style, is due on Monday, April 29.

by Fae Rowen

Attachment Style 2: Avoidant Insecure

The Backstory: How does someone "acquire" one of the three insecure attachment styles?  The same way a secure attachment style is formed: from the interaction between a child and the caregiver.

You didn't do anything--bad or good--to acquire your style.

Your attachment style was determined by your parent's and caregiver's behaviors and attitudes. Most probably those folks loved you and did the best they could at the time, given their adult circumstances.

With the Avoidant Insecure Style, the caregivers often showed evidence of love and caring. But through their own fear, perhaps fear of doing something "wrong" in child-rearing, they were not available enough for "interactive co-regulation," where the adult provides messages through actions and words, which lead to secure attachment.

Examples of caregiver behaviors and attitudes contributing to Avoidant Insecure Attachment:

  • Distant or emotionally absent
  • Neglectful, rejecting, or hostile
  • Ineffective or insensitive to child's  needs
  • Communication towards child not age appropriate
  • Incoherent language and facial expression
  • Leave a child alone too much

Here are characteristics your adult characters might display with this style. Choose what works for your story.

  1. Holds no clear memory of childhood because memory-making is impaired.
  2. Minimizes importance of relationships in life.
  3. Lives on his or her own.
  4. Believes in hard work and extreme independence.
  5. Send signals to partners that they don't need them, even though this may be far from the truth.
  6. Partners may feel as if they don't matter.
  7. Lives in an "emotional desert" lacking in emotional connection or affectionate touch.
  8. May dissociate rather than feel own needs, wants, feelings, or desires, including sensations in the body.
  9. When needs, wants and feelings arise there is an extreme level of vulnerability.
  10. May dislike partner's emotional expression, due to their own unconscious repression of emotion.
  11. Feels superior in not needing anyone.
  12. May feel so isolated they cannot reach out to someone, even though they want connection.
  13. Trust is easily violated.
  14. They expect to be hurt or disappointed by others.
  15. They love their partners and children (and others), but find connection stressful.
  16. May be unaware of how deeply disconnected they are from others.
  17. Often feels stress when loved ones approach them uninvited--and relief when they leave.
  18. Seems initially rejecting when approached by partner because they experience stress.
  19. Needs time to shift from disconnection to reconnect.
  20. Needs to learn approach behaviors rather than follow automatic reflex to withdraw or avoid.
  21. May initially feel relief or separation elation at break-ups or separations, but then become very depressed when the loved one is no longer available or gone too long.
  22. Minimizes how much they really need their partner.
  23. Need to realize the level of neglect that seems normal from their childhood.
  24. Feeling the loss of of a deep relationship can bridge to a natural healthy longing to bond, which is the bridge back to secure attachment.

Avoidant style characters might minimize proximity seeking, reduce expectations or deny their needs. They'll have a lack of richness or depth in autobiographical details. They never felt special to their parents.They'll have difficulty with self-reflection, so having them deliver an internal monologue will not be authentic. And they use very few words, so make their dialogue count.

Even if your primary style is not avoidant, I'll bet that you resonant with a few of these traits. And that you can recognize how it would be easy to fall in love with someone who helps you "repair" these behaviors to promote a secure attachment style.

What kind of "repair messages" help build a bridge to secure attachment for our avoidant style character?

Words or actions that say: 

  • You belong here
  • I'm glad you're alive
  • What you need is important to me
  • I'm glad you are you
  • I celebrate your existence
  • You can feel all of your feelings
  • You can feel your body
  • It is safe to be vulnerable and reach out

A soft gaze, or "kind eyes," goes a long way with this style to convey many of the sayings above. Show this behavior across the dining table or at a coffee house. You can show how your character changes and feels after receiving these repair messages.

The repair message can be given through actions or "acts of love." With these acts of love, you can show how the secure attachment bridge is formed between your characters. And, voila, they have fallen in love.

How can you use repair messages to show your characters falling in love? Do you have one that resonates for you? Do you recognize a repair message that a loved one has given you?

~ Fae

A Thank You to our readers:

This is our 400th post. Of course, when we started all this blogging business, we should have anticipated this moment, but we're feeling rather grown-up today. Thanks for reading!

19 comments on “Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love: Part 2”

  1. Wow, Fae, what a great flawed character this would be! In fact, I can think of several in movies and lit like this right now. The first that came to mind is Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain.
    Oh, and Max, from my second book! Isn't that a kick? Wrote him without knowing about this.
    I'll bet I can think of more . . . Can anyone else think of some?

    How much better can my next character, knowing this! THANK YOU!

  2. Yes, Fae ... I think we have all known one of these characters. However, the way you have expressed it ... so completely and in such depth ... puts us inside their heads,their guts and perhaps their damaged hearts. The person I thought of instantly was not per se a character, but a playright who wrote a half dozen characters like this. Neil Simon, wrote plays that showed the parents exactly like this ... women who were emotional brick walls... men who needed to distance themselves. The most obvious would be the mother in Brighten Beach Memoirs. Come to think of it .... she sounded strangely like my own mother. They got the job done but could not bridge that last few inches to touch.

    Look forward to the next installment. BTW ... I save these posts and use them as research when I start developing characters. You are a wealth of knowledge for all of us 🙂

  3. I can think of a ton of these hero's in books....as in a boatload of alpha males that are "healed by the love of a good woman." Why else would 50 Shades of Grey done so well?

    I think at the end of this, we should do a post on how one style can heal another. Or a book analysis of where it was done successfully. Awesome post, Fae!!

    1. All you have to do to help someone "repair" to the secure style is to offer the specific repair messages verbally or with actions. It's science, but, thankfully, not rocket science!

  4. Wow, Fae, thank you so much!! You have given me some wonderful insights into my alpha male hero and the heroine. She was helping to "repair" his attachment style without my knowing it as I was writing. I can really go so much deeper and make this even more emotional now that I understand about attachment style and why the heroine is the perfect woman to help repair him and why his previous relationship failed.

    1. Since we've survived our attachment styles, we naturally know a lot about repair messages--and isn't that wonderful? This information has so much potential for writers to make stories believable to readers through our shared human experience. Glad it works for you.

  5. Fae, my gosh, do you know how close I came to missing this vital second post? I just found it in my deleted file, at the very end of the file too! I'm not sure how that happened. Eeks. So close. And there I was, waiting with bated breath for it to come in. As expected, yes, I am most definitely the Avoidant/insecure attachment style. Wow, no wonder I've never been able to connect with my partners and am happier without one. Whew. This is stunning insight into myself, others, and of course, it gives me so much fodder for my characters. Do you know, I've never written a character with my own attachment style? I wonder why not? You'd think it would be natural, and yet they all have the same secure style you wrote about first. Wishful thinking?

    1. Glad you pulled me out of the trash, Yvette!
      Even though we really know our own attachment style, it's not always easy to put it under the scrutiny required for our characters. But I knew I had to share this information, and I'm glad it unlocked some insights for you.
      Just so you don't miss it, next Monday, April 29th, is the third in the series--the Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment Style.
      Thanks for reading.

      1. Unlocked insights, would be an understatement. Wow, Fae, thanks a hundred times over. I've been walking around the last day and a half like one with the blinkers taken off. Thanks for the heads-up re the 3rd installment. I'll keep my eye on the Inbox.

  6. Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    The emotional back story of why our characters are the way they are is the most important part of a romance novel, aside from the great grand love they find. The typeof behavior as discussed below (Avoidant Insecure) is a favorite one in Romance tropes.
    We all know him; the rake who was neglected as a young child, perhaps mistreated. He grew up never needing anyone, until that one woman comes into his life and he just can't push her out of his mind. Perhaps she has shown him an emotion he's never been made aware of. She makes him feel needed, wanted.
    All four of my main male characters have issues regarding love and the pain it brings. (Of course they do, otherwise what would I write about!?) But the character who is emotionally distant is the hardest to write about. For me it's because I get emotional writing him. I feel the pain he's gone through. You should only see some of the scenes I've deleted because they were simply too much. That's not to say my females character's get off easily. They have to deal with physical abuse and mental anguish. In my second WIP, my heroine is dealing with an eating disorder as well as a desire to control her life, rather than let her father marry her off to one of his cronies.
    Our characters take on a life of their own and we can project as much or as little into their psyche as we want. But I feel that in order for a reader to care about our characters and therefore our book, they must learn form mistakes and grow along the way. They need to be tortured just a little to show them that what is worth it in life is worth fighting for. And also that giving your heart to someone doesn't mean you are losing a part of yourself. You are gaining something far more precious and worthwhile.
    What do you think about this type of character? Do you like reading and or writing about these types of characters?

    1. Thanks, Nancy. The fourth attachment style deals with those who have suffered physical abuse from caregivers. I hope you've saved those deleted scenes, because I suspect you can use them, even if they are a little raw. Thanks again for the reblog and your comments.

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