What are activating and deactivating strategies in attachment?
This is when our brain hijacks our ability to relate to other people in a healthy way.
- Activating strategies are your brain’s way of getting you to cling to other people, most common in Anxious-Preoccupied, but also seen in Fearful-Avoidant.
- Deactivating strategies are your brain’s way of getting you to leave or distance from the connection, most common in Dismissive-Avoidant, but also seen in Fearful-Avoidant.
These strategies are not conscious, until you do work to become aware of them. They feel like your genuine feelings and thoughts. They create thought distortions and urgent feelings that you feel little choice but to act on. They get triggered whenever there is anxiety in relation to the attachment person.
Examples of activation strategies:
- Rationalizing negative behavior that was done to you, explaining it away as the product of trauma or the person being misunderstood, and “they didn’t really mean that”.
- Forgetting the impact of what someone did that hurt you.
- Focusing on feeling sorry for the other person and needing to rescue them.
- Being entirely focused on the other person and not on yourself.
- Needing desperately to hear from them.
- Feeling lonely, longing, and and overwhelming urge to contact them.
- Feeling like we can’t possibly manage without them.
- Remembering all the good qualities and none of the bad ones.
What these are all doing is attempting to inflame your desire to be close to your person, so you hold on tight no matter what they have done. In fact, a toxic relationship can activate trauma bonding, which is when your fear of a person actually makes you want to get closer to them and be overly loyal, similar to Stockholm Syndrome.
Examples of de-activation strategies:
- Mentally reviewing all the negative qualities of a person, and every time they let you down.
- Hyper-focusing on incompatibilities.
- Thinking you are better off alone, and don’t need this person.
- Imagining scenarios of leaving them.
- Overwhelming feelings of wanting to avoid them or never talk to them again.
- Feelings of disgust, and aversion, or just no feelings at all, a blank nonchalance because the feelings are suppressed.
- Avoiding messages or phone calls.
- Downplaying or dismissing the other partner’s needs.
- Fantasizing about other people, or being alone.
What these are all doing is attempting to extinguish your desire to be close to your person, so you run away no matter how good it is. In fact, it’s the intimacy itself, and the perceived overwhelming needs of the partner, that makes DAs want to run. (Note: this behavior is unconscious and innocent, not malicious.)