Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 24, 2013

Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love - Part Five

Today Fae Rowen wraps up her series on attachment models and the science of falling in love. If you missed Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4 where she describes the early childhood adaptations and the "repairs" for each of the four attachments styles, you can link to any one by clicking on the part you missed.

by Fae Rowen

I just returned from repeating the workshop that inspired this series. By the end of the first day of classes four months ago, I knew I'd found a treasure trove of help to make my characters–and their backstories–real and believable.

I'm embarrassed to admit that this time, at the end of the first day, I leaned over to a friend who also repeated the class and whispered, "That's a new Powerpoint isn't it?" To my dismay, my friend shook her head. "They're all the same slides as before." No wonder I needed to take the class twice!

Just a brief re-cap, in case you're like me and need some reminders:

  • As infants, our attachment styles developed based on the actions of our caregivers.
  • We adapted our natural tendency for a secure attachment style to survive our  situations.
  • All attachment style adaptations can be repaired to the secure style.
  • When you find someone who helps you with the "repairs" it's quite natural to fall in love with that person because you finally feel safe.
  • Our attachment style influences how we interact with people as adults.

Scientific brain research has shown that we are biologically hard-wired to bond and belong, even though we have a separate biologically-driven instinct to survive.  The brain is a social organ. Mirror neuron provide a system for humans to connect, allowing us to be in another's shoes.

Take, for instance, the "couple bubble." The hormones stimulated--opiate-like endorphins or cortisol for stress--are released whenever two people interact.

When you are in a secure relationship, you "co-regulate" with your partner. When my husband has told me, "Relax. It's not that bad," he's co-regulated with me by diffusing the ramping-up of my anger or anxiety. Your partner--or friends--co-regulate by helping you work through difficult situations either just by listening or by offering advice. You can even co-regulate with your pets. (You've heard how holding a pet  can lower blood pressure, right?) When you are "regulated," feelings come and go like the weather. They don't get stuck.

We can learn to self-regulate, a by-product of the secure attachment style, but  co-regulation with a partner creates more resiliency--physically, medically, and emotionally. Resiliency creates a buffer to stress and trauma later in life. No wonder studies show that married couples tend to live longer!

Try this little experiment. Look at something around you right now that you need "to do."  Now close your eyes and feel that in your body. Open your eyes and look at a beloved pet or just gaze at an image--real or imagined--of someone you love. Did you feel your gaze soften? That's a physical manifestation of secure attachment.

Did you know that Darwin mentioned love ninety-five times in The Descent of Man? He said that what is important in humans is adaptability,  the ability to cope with change

How does this research help you develop characters?

  • The capacity to shift  back and forth between emotional states and not get stuck is the key to resiliency, health and well-being. As your characters fall in love, you can show this in their behavior as they are quicker to come to a solution or action and not spiral into the depths of their painful pasts.
  • Unresolved traumatic stress characteristics stuck in "off": flaccid tone, depression, mask-like face, cognitive dulling, lethargy, weakness, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, disorientation, disconnection, dissociation, collapse, low blood pressure, constipation
  • Unresolved traumatic stress characteristics stuck in "on:: constriction, bracing, anxiety, panic, rage, hypersensitivity, body pain, hyperactivity, easily startled, hyper-vigilance, digestive problems, emotional flooding, tightness, sleeplessness
  • When you really connect with another person, you feel their pain. We are attuned to the micro-movements in the  face and eyes of  our  beloved. Your characters can recognize that "something in the way she held her jaw differently" and bond  when one attempts to lessen the pain of the other.
  • When showing co-regulation, your reader will identify with the  relationship through their own co-regulation memories
  • Rapid movements are more  alarming that slow movements
  • Use the fovea, the part of the eye that reflects light we when feel secure, as in "When she saw me approach, all the candles in the ballroom reflected at me."
  • Tone of voice, tempo/rhythm of speech, inflection, facial expressions, movement and gesture, intensity, vitality all brighten when we are engaged in secure attachment. Your reader will "get" this when you specifically show this in your body language.
  • Secure attachment encourages playing. Remember when you've seen a somber character loosen up and become playful?
  • "Can't think" is part of the stress response. This is how we end up in flight-fight-freeze mode.
  • Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye and turned but  it was gone? Peripheral vision creates threat responses. Body language to show threat response: dry mouth, brace, arrested movement (freeze), along with bold feelings.  Caution-Survival/threat responses take precedence over love responses.
  • Emotional "arc" for a threat response: irritation, worry, anger/fear, rage/terror, overwhelm, fight/flight/freeze, defenses restored, completion & discharge (crying, shaking, sweating)
  • The Avoidant style is more apt for dissociative behavior and stuffs their feelings because they don't want to feel
  • The Anxious/Ambivalent style is most likely to have panic attacks
  • The Disorganized/Disoriented style deeply wants to feel protected by another and is hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive in relationships

And your readers will fall in love with your characters while your hero and heroine fall in love--because they're hard-wired to recognize the develop of a secure attachment, even without knowing the science behind it. Here's a review of the character traits that show a secure  attachment is developing:

  1. Unflappable trust
  2. Presence in the relationship
  3. Safe and protective
  4. Affirming, positive
  5. Consistency, reliability
  6. Playfulness
  7. Attuned and resonant with the feelings of the other
  8. Reciprocity in communication
  9. Welcoming, affectionate
  10. Ease in coming and going
  11. Predictability

Try a couple of "love bombs" in your dialogue: "I'm thinking about you" and, of course, "I love you."

I must thank Patti Elledge, the facilitator of the DARe 1 training, for presenting the  material in an easy-to-understand format with "a drop of compassion." This mathematician had no glitches with psychological terms or language. You can visit Diane Poole Heller's website if you are interested in the training or if you'd just like to take the Attachment Styles Quiz.

I thought  I could share this information in one post. But even five didn't allow me to work in everything  I've learned, like the language of the "felt sense" and the five languages of love. Please bear with me if I am compelled to share more body language and character writing tips based on Attachment Theory in the future.

In November I'll be attending the next workshop–Adult Attachment Styles. I'm sure I'll learn even more about how to show the love bonds forming between my characters. Who knew that a workshop for professional therapists would provide such richness for a writer!

References you might  be interested in:

Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin

Six-minute You Tube on Emotion by Dr. Alan Schore

Nine-minute You Tube on Joy by Dr Alan Schore

18 comments on “Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love - Part Five”

  1. Wow, Fae. This explains things that I've written into my characters, subconsciously! Fascinating. I'll bet I can do it better, knowing the background!

    One thing I've noticed is that adults who had unstable childhoods tend to notice emotions in other people more. Closer. They feel it in themselves, as you described above. They developed that because when they were children, their safety depended upon it.

    I think it makes them more observant adults. Did you ever watch the Actor's Studio? I was always amazed at how many actors had bad childhoods. Now I understand. They can portray (either through acting, writing, music, painting, whatever) the emotion - because they're more in touch with it! Wow. that's huge!

    Thanks for this great series...I've learned so much!

    1. Thanks for adding your insights about early childhood to the discussion, Laura. You'd think I would be way observant! The Actor's Studio is one of my favorite show, too. Loved your book signing Saturday. Can you say, "Sold out"?

  2. Interesting. This is a lot of material, and very insightful, especially how this part of the series recapped the role of the caregiver and went on to talk about the things that we look for in romantic situations when we read someone else's fiction. I would say a good summary of the questions: How do you make your readers fall in love with your characters? is to make them believable. We do that by drawing from our own experience.

    But I also have a question for you. Sometimes in my writing (and in my reading) I run across characters that aren't very likeable, the anti-hero, if you will. I find a lot of times I end up caring about those characters as well. The example that immediately comes to mind is the protag in The Stranger by Albert Camous. He was simply deplorable, but I have to admit I felt a fondness for him and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

    I think I liked him so well because on some level he resonated with who I used to be and had some young and frat boyish qualifies that I admired and wish I had been in my youth.

    It's an interesting discussion on how to make the readers like the characters. Thank you for this post.

    1. Thanks for digging even deeper, Andrew. Camus, Godot, Hesse--I think there is a time when your soul just has to read these authors to evolve your consciousness. As to your question, perhaps the caregiver in us sees the possibilities for "repair" and we connect with a character on that level. But then again, sometimes I think we connect with where we are at that point in time. I can remember reading certain books for the first time, Stranger in a Strange Land for instance, and being blown away. When I read it again twenty years later, it was still very good, but didn't have the same impact. Same thing for the Foundation seriesby Isaac Asimov.

  3. Fae, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights with us! I have read this series with fascination. I realize I have used some of this for my characters without really understanding why. I was letting my characters guide me and I am glad they haven't been steering me wrong. 😉

    But it will help me even more now that I understand why my characters respond to one another the way they do. And I'm hoping I can guide them even better now that I have a deeper understanding of their actions and feelings.

    Again, thank you so much for this and can't wait for more tidbits with body language and character writing tips.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Carol. Like you, I often didn't understand what I was doing--or why. I knew I had to share this amazing information. Best of luck with your writing.

  4. Thanks, Fae ... this series has been incredibly helpful. Pscyhology can point us in the direction we were heading and shine the light on the places we are still afraid to go. I agree with Laura. Those children who call themselves "survivors" have a more heightened sense of sensibilities or how emotions play out. It makes them wonderful actors and writers. And as it has been said ... the best comics are "damaged" goods. They also become some of the best dramatic actors. Loved this and of course I will archive. I do hope you return with more insights 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to share all this, Fae. You've broadened my writing toolbox and made me more aware of what I'm doing. I'm looking forward to what you'll share next.

  6. I usually know the heroine better than the hero so these blogs will be really really useful to determine what kind of personality will best make her happy. Thanks for these awesome blogs Fae.

  7. Oh, Fae, I've been looking forward to this since your last instillation! And I'm so glad to hear that you will continue!!!

    I wrote last time, that I found Attachment Theory quite awhile ago, and practice not only on my characters but with my family. Attachment Theory for children is all about ensuring that secure feeling in our kids, and it's been raising a lot of debate these last few years about breast feeding and co-sleeping, etc. I think there are some issues that I don't quite agree with as far as this kind of caring, but the majority of Attachment Theory I think not only is scientifically sound, unlike some other psychological fields of study, but just works. It's amazing to see my son play with other children, and how they are just drawn to him. He makes everyone happy and content. I think a large part of that is because I just happen to have the world's best kid, but some of it is me practicing the Attachment Theory, and always striving for him to be secure.

    And when practicing this on my characters it is always more interesting to me when I throw in not secure characters together, but their wills to make things more secure--safe, trust, affection, welcoming, and love--for each other conquers all. However, I always have to make sure that when not secure characters are thrown in together they don't set each other off, and make each other worse for their time together. It's a balancing act, but so good!

    I'm looking forward to your next installment!

    1. You are too kind, Lani. As a teacher, I'm always so happy to find out when parents are actively learning ways to help their children in any area. Just today someone told me that it was always so easy to be around me, even when I wasn't at my best. I have my parents to thank for my secure attachment. Unfortunately, as a writer, that's put me at some disadvantage with what other people have gone through and have to deal with in their adult lives. After the first day of the attachment styles workshop I knew I'd found a powerful writing tool that would let me use science to build real, believable relationships between my characters.

      Thanks for reading. I'll be back!

  8. Just read this incredible series from start to finish -- I will definitely be recommending it to others (writers and non writers alike!).

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