Today, I will share a personal story of how attachment wounds play out in the workplace. I am opening myself up and being vulnerable because I know I am not the only one who has experienced a situation like this, and I want you to know you are not alone.

Attachment Theory Primer

Attachment Theory was originated by British psychologist John Bowlby, who described attachment as “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds between children and their caretakers have an incredible impact throughout their lives.

According to an article on, there are four patterns of attachment:

  • “Ambivalent attachmentThese children become very distressed when a parent leaves. Ambivalent attachment style is considered uncommon, affecting an estimated 7% to 15% of U.S. children. As a result of poor parental availability, these children cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them.
  • Avoidant attachment: Children with an avoidant attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers, showing no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger. This attachment style might be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers. Children who are punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.
  • Disorganized attachmentThese children display a confusing mix of behavior, seeming disoriented, dazed, or confused. They may avoid or resist the parent. Lack of a clear attachment pattern is likely linked to inconsistent caregiver behavior. In such cases, parents may serve as both a source of comfort and fear, leading to disorganized behavior.
  • Secure attachmentChildren who can depend on their caregivers show distress when separated and joy when reunited. Although the child may be upset, they feel assured that the caregiver will return. When frightened, securely attached children are comfortable seeking reassurance from caregivers. This is the most common attachment style.”

There is significantly more research about the effects of the failure to form secure attachments on children than on the lasting effects of these failures on adults. However, based on my own experience of having both a disorganized attachment with my father and an ambivalent attachment with my mother, I passionately contend that even with significant therapeutic intervention, these wounds wreak havoc in the lives of trauma survivors.

The Havoc of Attachment Wounds in the Workplace

This was the case for me last week at work, even though I have spent countless hours in therapy working to neutralize the adverse effects of my attachment wounds. To start, let me say that trauma survivors don’t stop experiencing the effects of trauma just because they go to work. It is not something you can put in a locker someplace until after work is over…it’s part of you. It is woven into the fabric of your life.

Often, these wounds are not triggered by something that happens at work but rather by situations or circumstances that happen outside of work and bring to work with us…which was the case for me this week.

Over the past couple of years, I have gotten much better at letting people in and allowing myself to attach to safe people. Last week I experienced a scenario where most of my significant attachments were unavailable due to vacation or other situations, and I started feeling lonely, lost, sad, and abandoned. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was happening, but that did not seem to matter.

I introduced another attachment to my system in the last ninety days when I got a new boss. She and I hit it off immediately, which doesn’t usually happen, and I didn’t realize how attached I had become to her until this week. She is new to me and new to managing someone with trauma, but I found her open to learning, which I highly respect.

On Monday, I experienced a rupture in our relationship when I reached out to her for guidance on a deliverable she asked me to complete. She became frustrated that it was taking so long for me to understand what she was asking me for when she thought she was being clear (the call was going longer than she expected), and she became a bit sharp in her communication with me.

As a trauma survivor, getting “yelled at” (not that she really yelled, mind you) by my boss or any authority figure is a definite trigger for me. I immediately shrank back into my armor and detached. I got off the phone as quickly as I could and provided the deliverable she was looking for before I logged off for the evening.

At first, I thought maybe she was just triggered by her previous meeting, but you know how these things germinate in your brain, and then you start making up stories about how pissed off she really was at me and that she no longer wants me on her team…yes, I was catastrophizing.

For the rest of the week, I felt like I was walking on eggshells around her. I was sullen, withdrawn, and extremely sensitive to her good-natured teasing (which hadn’t been a problem for me before this situation). I was dysregulated and ready to cry for much of the week. I tried several times to text her to reestablish a connection, but she was unaware of how I was feeling or why.

After multiple days of seeing me like this, my dear sweet husband intervened…thank God for him. He asked me if I would just let this go on until my next 1:1 with her (next week) or if I would just deal with it and get it over with.

I chose to pull my big girl panties up, gather my courage, and reach out to her to see if we could repair the rupture. When I texted her the question, “Are we OK?” she realized something else was going on and asked me to jump on a call with her.

We talked through the situation that happened on Monday, and I let her know that I was feeling a little lost and needed a connection when I got on that call with her on Monday. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what she wanted, but my need was for connection more than instruction.

She was willing to hear me. She didn’t know how big a thing this had become for me. She told me that, to her knowledge, she has never managed anyone with my degree of trauma (yes, I told her about my trauma). She said that she should be the one to change her management style to adapt to me so that I could be successful and that this situation was an opportunity for me to teach her more about trauma and how to manage someone who has trauma.

The bottom line is that the rupture/repair process works in the workplace when you have two willing participants. The process of repairing the rupture in our relationship has made us stronger and closer. We negotiated and established guidelines on what to do when/if this happens again.

In Retrospect

Looking back at my week and the whole situation, I noticed that I was already triggered by the multiple “detachment” events that occurred on Sunday. My desire to be on the phone with her on Monday for longer than she desired was an attempt to attach and gain assurance in that attachment because I felt alone and lost. Reaching out to her via chat on multiple occasions was also an attempt to re-establish a connection due to the rupture.

For Managers

When an employee has attachment wounds from childhood trauma, they can be triggered inside and outside of work, but they may not know they are triggered. This scenario exemplifies how an ambivalent attachment style plays out in the workplace.

Someone with an ambivalent attachment style may need many assurances that everything in the relationship is OK, and some people can become very frustrated with that because they take it personally. I have been blessed with some really understanding people in my life who realize how insecure I am and constantly reassure me that they are still with me.

Attachment wounds don’t just go away with time; however, recent attachment research is telling us that having one secure attachment as a child, even if it isn’t with their parents, can negate the parental attachment wound.

For Survivors

For those who did not get that secure attachment as a child, there is still hope…you can work on creating it with a therapist or trauma recovery coach. They will understand the need for attachment. It could be a start for you.

Eventually, you can learn to attach in a healthy way to other people. It will take some work and some practice, but you are not alone because I’ll be right with you doing my own work. We’ve got this!!

As always, you do not have to walk this journey alone.

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