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Love On The Brain

When exploring a title for today's topic, the lyrics to Rihanna's "Love on the Brain" popped into my head. If you have ever had the pleasure of listening to that song, you will find it to be a beautifully performed yet haunting description of a dysfunctional love story. If we want to call it love. It mostly sounds one-sided. Whoever the love interest is, the songstress croons how she is unsure of what they want.

"And I tried to buy your pretty heart, but the price too high." It of course doesn't get any better from there. The narrator of this tale sounds exasperated emotionally. She describes her lover as loving when she falls apart so they can put her together, but then throw her against the wall. The love tale is likened to "fist fighting with fire, just to get close to you." Add in good sex and you have a recipe for a person who is sprung and isn't going anywhere even though the love is wearing her down mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It is not just women who get caught into these dysfunctional cycles with their love interests. This happens to the guys as well. During the throes of it, one is always left wondering, how did this happen and how did I get here?

To add some insight, I'd like to start the discussion today with the topic of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Briefly put, the ACE study is considered one of the largest investigations into the effect of childhood abuse and neglect in later life, health, and well-being. The study began around 1995 to 1997 in which data from over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members was analyzed. I won't encumber you here with all the data but will link information from the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study if you desire to do additional research. Simply put, ACEs are adverse experiences that occurred early in development that later predict a wide range of psychological, medical, and functional problems. There are 10 commonly reported ACEs that are divided into three groups: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.

Subsequent studies regarding the ACEs show that ACEs have been known to predict likelihood of medical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, ulcers, and shorter life span; mental health conditions such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and ADHD; and risky behaviors such as drug abuse, suicide attempts, early sexual activity by age 15, and intimate partner violence. Additionally, the ACEs predict job and money challenges, memory issues, lower educational attainment, and likelihood of a person having multiple marriages.

According to psychiatrist John Bowlby, our relationship with our parents in childhood influences our later relationships in our personal and work lives. ACEs can disrupt the natural development of a healthy child-caregiver bond resulting in an insecure attachment style that follow us into adulthood. There are four types of attachment styles: anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure.

Anxious (also known as Preoccupied)

In this style, a person values their relationships but often feel anxious that their partner is not as invested in the relationship as they are. The partner is perceived as the "better half." Anxiety rises at the thought of living without their partner or even being alone in general. Even though they tend to have a more positive and optimistic view of others, their own self-image is often negative. These ones seek approval and support from their love interest, constantly. They can become clingy, demanding, and desperate for love.

Avoidant (also known as Dismissive)

In this style, a person actually can have high self-esteem and a positive view of themselves. However, it tends to lean toward the extreme. They are so self-assured that they don't tend to want to need or depend on others, have others need or depend on them, and they generally don't seek support or approval in social relationships. These are the self-described "lone wolves" that are self-sufficient, strong, and independent.

Disorganized (also known as Fearful-Avoidant)

In this style, a person both desires and fears their partner. These relationships are often inconsistent and unstable because a person with a fearful-avoidant style wants intimacy and closeness; however, they have difficulty with and tend to not trust or depend on others.


In this style, a person is comfortable with expressing emotions openly. These relationships tend to thrive because there is give in take in the relationships because a person with this style can depend on their partner and their partner can depend on them. Make no mistake though; they do not depend on approval from their partner and don't fear being on their own. They generally have a positive view of themselves and others.

So what do you think? Revisiting Rihanna's song "Love on the Brain," which attachment style do you think the narrator is describing in herself? How about in her lover? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment below.

What if you are worried about your own style? (Because hey if I am honest, I found myself in one of the above styles years ago and unfortunately it was not the secure style.) If it makes you feel any better, we are all human and chances are none of us fully belong to the secure attachment group all the time. However, if you suspect that there are some unstable patterns in your behavior that may be keeping you stressed or unhappy in your relationships, please feel free to reach out. If your concerns go beyond the scope of coaching, we can look at alternative options for referral to a qualified mental health provider.

As always, I appreciate your readership. Please remember, wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.

"All you need in the world is love and laughter. That's all anybody needs. To have love in one hand and laughter in the other." ~August Wilson

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