February 27th, 2014

_Attached_, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

Subtitled: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find-and Keep-Love

Short form: I really liked this book, and intend to recommend it to a lot of people, and will probably just unilaterally buy it for some of them as a gift.

Executive summary: Levine and Heller take the basic ideas of attachment from Bowlby/Ainsworth and translate them from the mother/baby dyad to the adult romantic dyad. They assert that individuals have attachment styles (most are "secure", and the remainder are largely split between anxious and avoidant), altho they do recognize that these styles can change over the life arc. In an effort to get more people into secure attachment relationships, they encourage anxious attachment types to avoid avoidants, and date secures instead. They provide quizzes to identify which type you are, profiles of each type's behavior while dating and tips on how to move yourself in the direction of _being_ secure in addition to dating secure.

Needless to say, I have some Issues (boy, don't I always). While Levine and Heller are prepared to recognize that there are compatibility issues other than attachment style, they spend a limited amount of time on them. The good news is that they are seriously prepared to encourage people to exit a relationship and they even offer some astoundingly useful advice on how to do so successfully. This is mind-bendingly better than pretty much any other couples therapy out there. And I believe Levine and Heller are correct to identify being-in-a-relationship-with-an-avoidant as the Biggest Problem, and therefore the first one to resolve. I also think they are correct in observing that you are way more likely to run into avoidants while dating vs. their representation in the overall population (oh, look: an organized way of thinking about professional daters!!!).

On the one hand, I feel like there might be a certain amount of kicking the emotionally disabled by putting so much blame on avoidants. On the other hand, this crowd does wreak a disproportionate amount of havoc and is singularly uninterested in getting/giving help. And the analysis is incredibly satisfying, in that if universalized in the Kantian sense (if all secures and anxious attachment types refused to date avoidants), it would be poetically just (avoidants would all be stuck with each other. Serves Them Right. See how _they_ like it.).

If you do read it (and I recommend that you do), pay close attention to the details. They are useful details. Because the book is a fast read, it would be pretty easy to turn the content into a less useful cartoon of itself. I'm going to read the most recent Sue Johnson covering approximately the same material, and then contemplate rereading them both.

While this is a different approach than Gottman's, the two are largely compatible. If you are careful to avoid involving yourself with (or being!) an avoidant, the advice from Gottman should actually work really well.

ETA: Also, Levine and Heller are quite adamant about the hows and whys of effective (viz. direct, unambiguous) communication as part of establishing and maintaining a secure attachment, whether that's your "natural" type or note.

ETAYA: http://www.sfu.ca/psyc/faculty/bartholomew/prototypes.htm

Bartholomew's language is a little different. "Fearful" = anxious-avoidant, "Preoccupied" = anxious, "Dismissing" = Avoidant

Bartholomew's final paragraph is worth paying attention to:

"The four-category model conceptualizes working models that are more or less consciously held, though they tend to operate automatically. We presume that at some unconscious level prototypical dismissing individuals do feel negatively about themselves, and their adoption of a detached stance toward others is a way of defending a fragile sense of self from potential hurt by others. Similarly, the positive other-model of the preoccupied masks a less conscious negative model of others, with the tendency to idealize others acting as a defense against acknowledging that significant others are, at least at times, uncaring and unavailable."

And this is why I feel bad kicking the avoidants. Even tho they sort of deserve it.

Probably won't be finishing: _Love Sense_, Sue Johnson

The introduction is terrible. But honestly, this is even worse:

"Monogamy is not only possible, it is our natural state."


Bigots are incredibly annoying. Because we can have a dyad, we should only have one? For realz? WTF. At least that terrible introduction contextualized her perspective well enough that I don't feel compelled to kick the author for having this kind of stupid belief. If your grammy lost her husband when she was middle aged and never remarried, and mom was a hot mess who walked out, well, yeah, you're gonna have a little kink or two in the way you think about relationships.

Skip Johnson; read Levine and Heller.

This is not a book review; it's an explanation of why I will be abandoning this book.

Liveblogging the skim:

"A very common pairing has one anxious and one avoidant partner. This combination, though problematic, can work; the avoidant partner will be responsive at times, and this reassures the anxious partner at least for a while."

Levine and Heller have a much more believable explanation of what actually happens: they drive each other more and more into their characteristic style (the anxious overly activated and the avoidant partner working constantly to counter that with deactivation). It's a little weird how the first one of these I read was so hostile to avoidants, and now this second book is so hostile to anxious.

Her example of a secure-anxious pairing helping the anxious become more secure involves a secure man and an anxious woman. Way to reinforce one of the worst tropes of romance novels. Levine and Heller take that trope on directly. I'm sort of stunned that two books published around the same time on the same topic with roughly the same review level are so incredibly different in quality.

Because it's apparently all about the therapist:

"One of the finest moments for me [sic] is when partners finally disclose their worries and desires and engage with each other tenderly and compassionately. This Hold Me Tight conversation (discussed in Chapter 8) is a transformative experience, for couples and for me [sic]."

This worries me. A whole lot. And it goes downhill from there.

"We've recently completed a study of 32 couples and have found that EFT not only helps couples become more satisfied but also can change the bond between partners, making them more securely attached to each other. This is the first time ever that couple therapy has been proven to have this effect."

That is not a large study. She's reporting her own research. She's making an extremely strong assertion. Which is all hugely problematic, but in no way addresses my question: should these people actually be trying to strengthen their attachment at all? *sigh*

One of the least attractive features of books about couples therapy is how they all seem to spend a chunk of their exposition on how terrible all other couples therapy is.

Oh goddess.

"In his book _Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge_, biologist Edward O. Wilson notes that when he realized "the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws," he experienced "The Enchantment"."

Look, I search hard for points of agreement and convergence from different sources. It gives me confidence when there are several different ways to come to the same idea or theory or opinion or belief. If it turns out one of the paths was flawed or had bullshit premises, the idea itself hasn't totally lost all support. That is a far cry from, everything is understandable and fundamentally simple. No. That is not true. For anything.


"Strong emotion is the essence of love -- and strong emotion is what has given love a bad rap. We don't understand intense emotion, and we don't trust it. We want the joy and elation love brings. They lift us out of our dull, mundane routines and make us feel alive and significant."

This is such pathology! Yuck. Love is _in_ the mundane, and when you can figure out that all that excitement is in fact _really a terrible thing_, and learn to find the quiet contentment, you can actually give and receive meaningful emotional support and connection. Until then, you're really just another fucking addict. <-- See how unattractive strong emotion is? Bleah. I probably need to stop reading, or I will get all ranty.

"Nor is emotion a selfish, corrupting drive leading inevitably to destructive excess and devilish sins, as my first teachers, Catholic nuns, warned me."

Mmmm, Catholic school. It's like the cherry on top. (<-- This is probably an example of sarcasm, which I am currently committed to not using any more.)

"Emotion can spur us to act even when survival does not appear to be an immediate issues." Story of woman in South Tower when plane hit North. Loudspeaker says stay put on 80th. She heads down and is on the 61st when the plane hits her building, and she survives. (1) Not a good example of survival not appearing to be an immediate issue. (2) What, all those other people who died didn't experience emotion? This is right up there with, God Has a Plan for Me, since I survived wtf -- all those other people, God didn't have a plan for. Author goes this way: "Julie could have made the hot and anxious trek down eighty flights for nothing." And then proceeds to talk about false positives/false negatives. But lots of people had emotional responses that day that didn't help them survive. This isn't a very compelling argument (n.b. I do think emotional responses have tremendous survival value. This is just a bad example).

Huge points for not focusing exclusively on facial expression, but also recognizing tone of voice; balanced out by minuses for pretending that all other nonverbals (body positioning, etc.) are irrelevant for "broadcasting" emotion.

_Attached_ had a really nice description of how an anxious attachment style is associated with hypersensitivity to others emotions, and when that helps (if you wait and gather more evidence before acting) and when it leads to terrible problems for the person with that style (if you are impulsive). Wish that exposition were here.

Author gets into that foolishness about attempting to enumerate the "basic" feelings. Talks about Ekman (good), but fails to understand taxonomic issues associated with whether you are a splitter or a lumper. Could have been avoided -- we don't really care about how many emotions there are, only whether their expression is culturally or biologically determined (turns out both, but she's coming down hard on the biological).