Anxious Avoidant Attachment (Part 1)

Attachment styles can help us better understand our relationships with others and even within ourselves. They help us introspect on our actions and behaviors in our social interactions with others. Our attachment styles were formed during our childhood based on our relationships with our caregivers – how attentive they are, if they met our needs, and if they made us feel that they would be available when we need them. There are four different types of attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant. Any attachment style that isn’t “secure” is known as “insecure” attachment. I am not going to give a whole rundown of attachment theory, but you can read more about it here.

My attachment style is anxious-avoidant attachment aka disorganized attachment, and honestly, it is what the name says. One of the difficulties of having this type of attachment style is the paradoxical nature of what it means. For the anxious portion, I need constant validation and reassurance because I am overwhelmed with the possibility of abandonment. On the flip side, avoidance portion tells me not to get close to others because it will end in rejection. So the bottom line is fear, but also contradicting wants of intimacy and fear of getting it and losing it or being denied it all-together.

This attachment affects my behavior, and I can come across as needy and clingy and/or aloof any given time to the same individual which is hard in any interpersonal relationship. I see the attachment style “side effects” as I’ll call them more in romantic relationships, but it also affects friendships and familial relationships as well. Of course, I have exhibited secure attachment with some people, but for me, that really depends on the person because the very basis of secure attachment is trusting that the person will not leave me.

So where do I start in explaining what the experience is like with this attachment style? I guess I can start with childhood because as I mentioned earlier, our attachment style forms during our early childhood based on our sense of security with our caregivers. There is also assumptions of neglect and abuse in childhood that could contribute to the development of anxious-avoidant attachment. This would probably explain my attachment style quite well. I didn’t have a consistent caregiver and I went through childhood trauma… not sure if I could really call it neglect and abuse, but some might.  I will include a trigger warning here as I continue on with my story in case you find this a sensitive topic. I wouldn’t want to re-traumatize or trigger you.

*** Trigger Warning: Contains anecdotes of childhood trauma and abuse***

My parents were recent immigrants to America when I was conceived and birthed. They had two other children and a newborn to provide for, so they had to work… a lot. This meant I spent significantly less time with my parents (as far as I can recall) than with other people in my life. If you asked me who my primary caregiver during my early childhood was, I truthfully could not tell you. I know my sister played a large role in caring for me, two of my aunts, and maybe daycare? I mean those are the most prominent figures I remember. Not to say my parents were never around, but I did not spend nearly as much time with them as the others because they would be home late or infrequently.

For most of my life my dad worked far from home and would only come home once a week, and I’m pretty sure that was the case in my early childhood too. I don’t remember him ever being home on a daily basis that wasn’t because he was between jobs. So I only ever saw my dad once a week, and he would usually run errands and visit my aunt. The day he was home I was in his care. I don’t have the best relationship with my dad now, but when I was a child we got along pretty well. He favored me much more than my siblings, but our relationship has always been unstable.

My dad isn’t great with emotional regulation, and the emotion that comes out most is anger. As a child, Dad being angry meant someone was going to get his with his belt and it wouldn’t be intentional punishment where it’s like one or two soft-ish hits. It meant he was going to wail on us until he calmed down. The person on the receiving end of his anger was my brother and I witnessed a lot of that happening, but I also wasn’t immune to it. There’s a reason why I don’t wear belts and I still get anxious when belts are around. So basically, when my dad was angry and any of us either triggered it or were around for it and said something he would turn on us and project it to us. There were many times when I ran away or tried to and that was always the wrong move because I would be dragged back and hit harder. The worst part of it was that it wasn’t like he went and got a spare belt to use. He would literally unbuckle the one he had on and fold it in half and swing. He didn’t care where he hit as long as he made contact. So I’m pretty sure this is where the avoidant in the anxious-avoidant style developed.

My dad wasn’t a safe space because I didn’t know when his switch would flip and I would be the one subject to the belt. Sure, he treated me well, bought me stuff I liked, and cooked my favorite foods, but I was on edge and wary, anticipating potential misstep and accompanying punishment. Coupled with only seeing and spending time with him once a week, it didn’t make sense to put myself in a position to be attached, so distance made sense. Even thought I saw and interacted with him significantly less than others who took care of me, there is cultural emphasis on how important parents are, so even the little bit of contact made big impact.

So if my dad contributed to the avoidant style of attachment, where did the anxious come from? My mom. As I said, I didn’t have a constant caregiver, so I wasn’t ever sure who if anyone was going to stick around. This was way more obvious when it came to my mom. I was very clingy as a child. On her days off, I would go with her to get groceries and be around her when she did the house chores. I bathed with her and slept in her bed. I was very attached. But my mom has the tendency to slip away without letting me know, so there’s the abandonment.

My mom wouldn’t wake me up to let me know she was going to work, so I would wake up in my parents’ bed and she was gone. My mom dropped me off at day care and my sister picked me up, except one time when they had an argument and my mom picked me up late after everyone already left. Let me tell you, I felt like an orphan for a minute there because I really did not know if anyone was going to come get me. My mom did reassure me over her friend’s cell phone they were on their way, but I don’t know that I fully believed it. I recall also being very reluctant to let my mom leave the first day of kindergarten when she dropped me off. I bawled and cried and begged her to stay, and she removed my hands from her and told me to go inside while she quickly escaped through the throngs of other parents and children. However, the most jarring memory I have is when my mom was invited to a wedding banquet.

My mom had a lot of work friends who invited her to many weddings and each time I wanted to go she would tell me she would bring me next time. I noticed the red invitation envelope each time she brought one home and I perked up, only to be denied again. This one time though, I was determined to go. I wouldn’t leave her alone to get ready. I am persistent and I was even as a child, so I would not let up and I think I may have tried to get dressed myself, and crying and having a whole episode of begging her to bring me with her. She got dressed despite my behavior and was worried she was running late because she would be going together with her friends. I think I may have actually hugged her to stay with her at some point, the ultimate level of clingy. Tired of my antics and not knowing how to get me to stop, she tried bribing me with a bunch of stuff and I said no (told you, persistent), she enlisted the help of my siblings to distract me. My brother and my sister did their job, they lured me into playing cards with them because why wouldn’t I want to play with my cooler older siblings. It made me feel grown and it was always a good time when we played together.

I was distracted enough to let my mom finish up getting ready, but when she went leave I ran after her. I think she made a comment about me needing socks or shoes or something, so I went to get them. Meanwhile, she instructed my siblings to lock the door so I couldn’t go to the hallway and follow her. I was tall enough and knew how to open the bottom lock which was just to turn the little knob thing, so they also used the chain lock. We didn’t use the chain lock unless it was nighttime and everyone was home. My siblings blocked me from the door as I tried to get out. They realized I couldn’t actually do anything, so they let me open the bottom lock and look through the crack of the door. I screamed and cried for my mom. I still heard her too because she had gone upstairs to meet up with both of my aunts who lived upstairs to head out. I was ignored and unacknowledged.

I tried jumping to unlock the chain lock and it didn’t work. Then I had the idea to get a chair to use, but my brother blocked me from getting one. It wasn’t until we all heard my mom and aunt leave that they let me get a chair and let myself out. I ran upstairs and opened the outside door, but my mom was already gone. I didn’t see her on our block anymore. I cried so hard and went back down to my floor of the house (we lived in a three-family home) in defeat. I was still crying, but I wasn’t bawling anymore. I was trying to self soothe but feeling left behind and I was so upset and angry that they did that to me. That my mom would sneak away, and my siblings would help trap me. But yeah, that’s a very powerful memory for me (a “core memory” if you will, courtesy of Disney’s Inside Out). And it makes sense that this is where the fear of abandonment and anxious attachment came from.

Basically, my attachment style was shaped by my relationships with my parents at an early age, under five years old because I hadn’t started kindergarten yet when most of these incidents happened. But to think, something so long ago still affects me today at 30 is mind-boggling.  I have made many strides to work on my anxious-avoidant attachment style and correcting it to a more secure one. I figured if my parents could shape the attachment style I have, then I can probably reshape it too. But it’s a long arduous journey and several lost relationships along the way, which I will talk about in a later post. After all, this is part 1.


Performative Allyship

I previously mentioned not wanting to add my two cents to the discourse about the Stop Asian Hate movement and there are several reasons for my silence. For one, it’s a lot to process such as the anxiety and trauma that comes with the events — constant news on my social media, the main topic between friends, and the central conversation in my family group chat. And two, the significant amount of attention being brought to the topic.

As I said before, I support the movement and these hate crimes need attention. They need to be talked about and addressed on the daily. And that’s where my hesitation lies.

Right now, Asian hate crimes, marches and protests are being plastered on headlines and news reports. For now. Just like we’ve seen with the Black Lives Matter movement, the chatter stops when the event stops. And when that happens, many of the voices will disappear. And it feels like all that we are doing now is performative. Performative empathy, performative advocacy, and performative allyship.

I don’t want to add to the performance.

Will I attend Stop Asian Hate marches if they continue? Probably not, and especially not at this time with Covid-19 still spreading and endangering lives.

Will I post on my social media platforms about the crimes to bring attention to them? Again, probably not. I don’t use social media in that way and sharing articles and videos without my own commentary and feelings attached seems empty.

Should I be doing these things? Probably. And I will, when the dust settles and we moved on to the next topic of discussion.

Why? Because as I said, I don’t want to be in a performance. I don’t want to join the hype and act like I’m some advocacy warrior when I’m not. I want to talk about these events and their effect on me on my own terms. I want to do it when people don’t care anymore.

Performative allyship is putting a hashtag after you’ve reposted an article or video, but continue to live your life as before. It’s going to a march to get Instagram photos to show you’re a good person and do nothing thereafter. It’s letting everyday acts of racism, microagressions, and stereotyping pass as the norm.

If you’re going to stand as an ally, it’s an every day stance. Not just when there’s an influx of stories from news outlets. If you’re going to be an ally, it’s speaking up and speaking out against things that are hurting the minority groups (racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, etc.). Not ignoring privileges when they benefit you. If you’re going to be an ally, it’s understanding that we don’t get to choose when we experience these things and that it’s part of our lives.

What can you do? There are so many sources that can tell you. There are so many people jumping at the chance to let you know. Google them, talk to them, make an effort. Have difficult conversations and discussions about uncomfortable topics with the people in your life, your community. But most importantly, reflect and introspect to learn where you stand and what your beliefs are. I don’t think anyone can be a real ally if they can’t explain why they are one.

Growing Up Asian American (Part 2)

The idea is not to make this a whole saga of consecutive posts, but rather enter some thoughts and reflections as I think about myself under the identity of Asian American. And as you will notice in this post, the previous one, and any hereafter, I will not be hyphening the term. I’ve experienced too much internal (and some external) conflict over being Asian American, that it feels wrong to my experience to merge what I consider two separate identities into one.

That out of the way, I’m going to talk about being Asian American and working in the Human Services field and touch upon growing up with undiagnosed anxiety and depression.

The first thing I noticed when I started working in the Human Services industry was the lack of Asians and Asian Americans in the field. When I worked at a residential facility for alcohol and substance abuse, only one of the counselors was Asian. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of Asian presence in the human services workforce because it’s not a traditionally encouraged or accepted field, job, or career path. Not to feed into the stereotype, but the professions I was encouraged to pursue were: accounting or something business related, medicine, or law. That’s it. The one exception I remember was when I said I wanted to be a teacher and my parents were okay with it. Barely.

I think part of the reason why the professions within the helping field aren’t encouraged is the understanding that a job is just a way to make money to provide for ourselves and our family. And it’s a well-known thing that government agencies and not-for-profit organizations don’t pay very much compared to corporate and private companies. Another thing is the concept of working to help people. If there’s one thing I learned growing up Chinese is that you mind your own business and ignore problems not directly related to you. So my work and my job go against the grain, goes against the whole concept of making money and taking care of me, myself and I.

Another thing I noticed, and again not surprised by, is the lack of Asians and Asian Americans served at the agencies where I worked. The populations I’ve worked with are those with mental illness, substance use disorder, and homelessness. And quite infrequently do I encounter individuals of Asian descent, and I’m speaking broader term Asian not just East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean). And I think that could be attributed to the fact that none of these issues are talked about within the community, at least not the one I grew up in. Mental health doesn’t exist. You just get up and go. And if anyone has a mental illness in the family, it’s hush-hush or that person just isn’t ever talked about, or you’re gaslighted into imagining what you’ve heard about the person.

I can attest to my family not believing in mental illness. I went undiagnosed for over a decade because any time I talked about feeling anxious or feeling tired, or if I laid in bed all day, it was chalked up to being sensitive, lazy, and unmotivated. I was usually advised into getting up and just keep going, and also guilted for feeling the way I did because, “All you have to do is focus on school what’s there to be stressed or depressed about?” I believed something was off about me because there were some really dark thoughts that I recognized should not be floating in my mind, but I chalked it up to my parents and siblings being right. Maybe I was overreacting, and it’s just the phase of being an angsty teenager or something. I let it go. I probably shouldn’t have, but there wasn’t a huge culture boost and support for mental health at the time.

It wasn’t until I was struggling greatly with college (and not the academic portion) that I finally went to a mental health professional, after a lot of encouragement and support from my friends, that I received a diagnosis. After finally getting a name to my experience, I started doing research. I learned about how anxiety and depression manifest in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc. And I was mind blown! My experiences and symptoms matched and I felt both concerned and relieved. Concerned because wow it’s a long time to have been left untreated, but relieved because now I can do something about it.

Now, in this new generation and age of mental health advocacy, it was a little less daunting to talk to my friends from high school about it. Also Chinese, and so many of them told me they saw oddities in my behavior and chalked it up to me being me. They didn’t think anything of it because we weren’t educated in this enough. Not at school and definitely not at home. But I remember some of the conversations being that they just figured it was in my personality to be sensitive, to be moody/irritable, to have a short temper. I was astounded. This whole time the signs were clear, but we ignored it because we didn’t know any better.

I don’t know if my life would be significantly different or improved if I started working on myself earlier. I don’t know if I would’ve been open to hearing a diagnosis and believing it earlier. All I know is that because I grew up in a culture that denies the existence of mental illness, I didn’t get any help before it got out of hand. And though part of me is upset and frustrated by that, the other part of me is grateful. In my experience with mental health as an Asian American, I became more resilient and more driven to break the cycle.

So I am proudly and Asian American in a predominantly non-Asian field, and I hope to encourage others of my background to consider and pursue it. And maybe even outreach to people who may not understand it so much within the cultural landscape, it could be comforting to have someone from a similar background talk about traditionally taboo topics. Who knows?

For the time being, I will put a pause on anymore being Asian American posts. Like I said in the first one, these initial posts are dives into my identity, and though they will be deep, I don’t want to focus solely on one piece of my identity. Also with the Stop Asian Hate and crimes against Asians, I don’t want to add to the narrative at this point. I want to take some time and reflect on the issues and my feelings about them before I write or say anything about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe and support the advocacy and agree with the movement, but I’m not ready to throw my hat in the ring just yet. It does not mean that I’m turning my back on it or not giving it any attention because I am flooded by the reality on all platforms, and my feelings of apprehension and fear of going outside and for my family’s well-being are very real.