Wired for Love Relationships: Are You an Island, Wave or Anchor?

In his book Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain Attachment Style Can Help You Diffuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship, author and psychotherapist Stan Tatkin speaks about how a partner’s attachment style can affect the way a person deals with conflict and their ability to form a secure relationship.

Wired for Love is a guide to understanding your partner’s brain and promoting love and trust within a romantic relationship. Stan teaches ten scientific principles you can use to avoid triggering fear and panic in your partner, manage your partner’s emotional reactions when they do become upset, and recognize when the brain’s threat response is hindering your ability to act in a loving way.

By learning to use simple gestures and words, you can learn to put out emotional fires and help their partners feel more safe and secure. The no-fault view of conflict in this book encourages you to move past a “”warring brain”" mentality and toward a more cooperative “”loving brain”" understanding of the relationship.

Based in the sound science of neurobiology, attachment theory, and emotion regulation research, this book is essential reading for couples and others interested in understanding the complex dynamics at work behind love and trust in intimate relationships.

In Wired for Love, Stan classes individual attachment styles into 3 categories: islands, waves or anchors. We all fit into one of these categories based on how we tend to respond in our relationships. Here’s a brief summary of the different attachment styles as described by Stan:

Characteristics of islands

People who are islands tend to:

• like to be alone, enjoy their own space

• have been raised to be self-sufficient and tend to avoid people

• learn early on not to depend on people

• often feel crowded in intimate relationships

• be in a world of their own

• self-soothe and self-stimulate

• not turn to others for soothing or stimulation

• find it hard to shift from being alone to interacting

• under-express their thoughts and feelings

• process a lot internally

Characteristics of waves

People who are waves tend to:

• feel a great deal with their emotions

• have strong attachments in childhood, but they were inconsistent

• have helped soothe a parent or both parents who were overwhelmed

• have felt rejected or turned away by one or both parents

• focus on external regulation- asking others to help them soothe them

• find it hard to shift from interacting to being alone

• over -express and like to talk about all the details

• stay in close physical contact to others

• often think they are too much and nobody can tolerate them

Characteristics of anchors

People who are anchors tend to:

• come from a family where there was an emphasis on relationship

• have experienced justice, fairness and sensitivity in their family

• love to collaborate and work with others

• read faces, voices and deal with difficult people well

Our attachment styles get hard-wired into our brains from an early age. Understanding your attachment style is not about pathology, but is about helping you to deal with your natural state and improve your relationships. Understanding how you move towards and away from others and how your partner moves towards and away can help you improve your relationship.

The brain can react in 2 major ways when we are relating to others and Stan calls these parts of the brain primitives and ambassadors.

The brain primitives

Primitives within the brain are concerned with

• keeping us alive and survival above all else i.e. ‘shoot first, ask questions later’

• very fast responses that are automatic and unconscious

• reactions that don’t require a lot of resources

• memories from the past being triggered by current events

• identifying what looks good and what doesn’t look good

The brain ambassadors

Ambassadors require a lot of energy and resources and are related to the higher thinking areas of the brain. These areas require glucose to run effectively and stop working when primitives are activated.

Ambassadors are concerned with:

• making rational decisions

• thinking from an adult perspective and weighing all the options

• logical thought and making sense of difficult situations

• all higher functions of the brain including complex negotiating and reasoning

So this all sounds well and good, but one of the main issues when couples fight is that the primitives are activated and overtake the ambassadors. All the logic, reasoning and adult responses can be lost in an instant once the primitive are unleashed. The challenge is to soothe your primitives and activate your ambassadors…easier said than done when your brain is telling you your survival is at stake.

Stan’s tips for fighting well in your relationship

• fight friendly- say something reparative or friendly within a fight e.g. “I love you honey”

• face your partner directly and make good eye contact while fighting

• avoid asking questions but make quick statements that help release tension between you e.g. “honey, let’s grab a bite to eat and come back to this later”

• repair your fights quickly to reduce the creation of bad memories that get stored in long term memory

Wired for Love is the book. The theory is all about the latest in brain neurobiology. The ambassadors and primitive’s roles are established in childhood. Hypnotherapy can help to uncover the patterns of “island”, “wave”, and “anchor”. Remember it’s an office visit billed to insurance at Fern Life Center. Get more anchored and take YOUR relationships to a more peaceful, grounded place.


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