Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation

073: Be Kind To Your Attachment Strategy and Nervous System

October 05, 2023 Geoff and Cyd Holsclaw Season 5 Episode 73
073: Be Kind To Your Attachment Strategy and Nervous System
Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
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Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
073: Be Kind To Your Attachment Strategy and Nervous System
Oct 05, 2023 Season 5 Episode 73
Geoff and Cyd Holsclaw

When reactions shoot out of us that we regret, then what do we do? Do you blame or berate yourself? Do you shame and shout at yourself? Too often we are unkind to ourselves in situations like this. 

But instead of this, we need to cultivate compassion (and build understanding) for the attachment strategies that have (literally) shaped our nervous systems, which fire semi-automatically when we are stressed out. 

In this episode, Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw talk about being kind to your engrained attachment strategy (commonly called attachment styles) and how these strategies shape your nervous system.

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).
Show Notes Transcript

When reactions shoot out of us that we regret, then what do we do? Do you blame or berate yourself? Do you shame and shout at yourself? Too often we are unkind to ourselves in situations like this. 

But instead of this, we need to cultivate compassion (and build understanding) for the attachment strategies that have (literally) shaped our nervous systems, which fire semi-automatically when we are stressed out. 

In this episode, Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw talk about being kind to your engrained attachment strategy (commonly called attachment styles) and how these strategies shape your nervous system.

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).

[00:00:15] Geoff: So we've been talking about attachment, attachment strategies, attachment theory, and attachment filters. And today we're following up our most recently released episode to talk even more about how attachment strategies embed themselves and even shape our nervous systems. And then maybe a little bit of what we can do about it.

This is the embodied faith podcast with Jeff and Sid Holtzclaw, where we are. Trying to explore a neuroscience informed spiritual formation produced by grassroots Christianity, which is growing faith For everyday people. Now, normally at this point, I would introduce our guests, but we're not going to do that because we don't have any guests, but Sid, the wonderful spiritual director and coach and pastor and author, see, I get to introduce her.

 She, uh, she was like, Hey, we just finished recording an episode with Todd Hall, which is the most previous episode. If you haven't listened to it, it's amazing. Uh, but you had a couple of other things where you're like, Hey, we didn't talk enough about like our body specifically and how our nervous. Systems are shaped by attachment.

So can you kind of lead us into a little bit of what you thought, uh, we should be talking about just to kind of drill in on that.

[00:01:25] Cyd: Yeah, well, I mean, the perfect example that, well, first of all, the reason I wanted to talk about this is because this feels so pivotal in the work that I do with clients on an ongoing basis. Like this moment of like recognizing that our choices that we make are often embedded in our bodies there because I think we're really quick, especially, you know, as believers and people who want to follow Jesus, we're quick to shame or condemn ourselves for this sort of character flaw that like, Why do I keep making these stupid choices that I don't want to make, but in the moment I feel incapable of doing anything different.

And then when I look back on it, it's like, you know, then a lot of people have this internal narrative of like, Oh, I really blew it. I really regret that. How could I be so ridiculous? Like why did I make that choice? That was so dumb. Um, and then they replay the situation over and over in our minds and want to figure out like, what is going on there?

Why did I do that? Or the other response is, well, that was stupid. And then not taking any time to reflect on it because it's too hard to actually have to try to relive the like, Oh, I did that. And I did, why did I do that? And, and so it's easier to just say, forget about it. I'm not even going to look

[00:02:36] Geoff: So if we're supposed to like take every thought captive, you know, this is like what Christians feel. It's like, I'm supposed to take every thought captive. And that word just like flew out of my mouth or that response just kind of came out of me, which means I'm not taking it captive, which means my mind is out of control and, um.

You know, I should be capturing all the thoughts and I'm not, and then you're ruminating on how you failed to do that, or you're avoiding because you just like, you feel bad enough. And I, if I think about it more, I'm just going to keep feeling bad. So I'm going to just move

[00:03:06] Cyd: Or you keep avoiding it because you feel powerless to do anything different. You know, that's another reason of avoiding it, but just that sense of like, it's got to be a character flaw in me, right? They're like, there's this part of me that's not sanctified. Um, it's this unsanctified character flaw and I've been living for this many years.

When am I finally going to be able to overcome this? And so I feel like this question is so related to the conversation that we had with Todd Hall, but we didn't really talk about. like why those choices are so embedded. Um, and so I just thought it'd be really helpful for our listeners to talk a little bit more about the connection between our nervous systems and our attachment strategies.

And so do I get to talk about that or do

[00:03:49] Geoff: Yeah, let's go for it.

[00:03:51] Cyd: Yeah. So You know, the thing is, is that we have, we have nervous systems, but they're not fully formed when we're born. And so as we're growing up in our early years, our nervous systems are literally still taking shape. And so our nervous systems learn to prioritize what our environment seems to value. So the people around us and the things that happen to us and the things that are important to our caregivers and to our environment.

Those are the things that our brain says, Hey, this is really important stuff. I need to pay attention to this stuff. And so it builds stronger neural connections to that kind of information. So for example, it might be things like, you know, your parents have a lot of rules and when you follow the rules, then you get affirmed and people are proud of you and people like you.

And when you don't follow the rules, you get in trouble. And that. you know, maybe you even, you know, get yelled at or you get spanked. And so you learn very quickly, your brain starts to prioritize understanding the rules and following the rules. And so that becomes your, your nervous system gets shaped to always look for what are the rules in the situation and how do I follow those?

Or on the other hand, maybe,

[00:04:59] Geoff: So that'd be like cause and effect. Like I have, if a happens, then B follows after, and that happens predictively. So if the B I want is a good outcome, then I'll be sure to do this. Hey. That my parents want so that, you know, I can get the cookie after I cleaned my plate, uh, or this B is a negative outcome that I want to avoid.

Uh, and I know that a always leads to B. Um, you know, if I have a bad report

[00:05:25] Cyd: And that always word

[00:05:27] Geoff: And it's always,

[00:05:27] Cyd: used a always. Yeah.

[00:05:30] Geoff: and it's consistent. Um, but it's not, uh, and the real, the kicker is, is it's not social emotional. It's very like impersonal it's rules. Um, and it's, it's logical and it's very linear and causal and things like that.

So, okay. So that'd be like one kind of one environment that people could be raised in.

[00:05:52] Cyd: Right. Yeah. And just to connect back to our Todd Hall episode too, like that's the environment that he named as, um, did he call it avoidant or dismissive? I don't

[00:06:01] Geoff: He called it both.

[00:06:02] Cyd: Or did he call it something else? And then that's the one that we call the desert. So those, that's the connection there. And then, you know, otherwise on the other hand, your body might, you know, maybe your environment is not super predictable.

The people in your life are very relational, but sometimes they're really relational and sometimes they're kind of like, I don't have time for you right now. And so you learn to prioritize what do I see on my mom's face that tells me she wants to be with me or what do I notice in her body language or in her tone of voice.

And so I got to pay attention to that so that when she does want to connect to me, I can go do that. And so your body learns to prioritize those relational, social, emotional cues. And so that would be more like the um, anxious environment, that hypervigilance that I talked about when we were with Todd Hall.

And so depending on, but the thing that's important about this is no matter what kind of environment you grow in, your nervous system is being shaped as you're living this life and having these experiences. And you know, we know that repetition over time is what shapes your brain. And so the same, similar kinds of experiences are literally.

physiologically shaping your brain, shaping the way that your body communicates with itself. So, you know, you have this vagus nerve that connects from your brain to all the, all the major organs in your body, all the way down your body and of the information that's flowing on that vagus nerve at any point in time, 80 percent of it is coming from your body to your brain and only 20 percent is going from your brain to your body.

What's fascinating is that our body, our brain starts to tune out some of that information based on what is perceived as valuable and not based on what's happening around you. So, you know, we've talked about before, like when you first start to say, I'm not very good at noticing my emotions. And then you try and you're like, I don't.

How do I even do that? Like, do I have emotions or you're telling me to notice my body, but why? What's in my body, you know, and that's sort of an indicator of like your brain stopped prioritizing that information that was coming from your body. So it's very hard for you to connect to your

[00:08:10] Geoff: And which would be a attribute typically of avoidant attachment or what we call the desert attachment where you didn't need to be in tune with your body or the nonverbal bodies and communication of your attachment relationships, because it was very verbal word based and rule based. And so as long as you are hearing and understanding the rules, following and obeying what was happening, then you know, life was marching on.

And you didn't need to pick up on social cues, innuendo. Um, Certainly nonverbal, um, what, which doesn't mean you didn't write, like you knew when your parents are really angry and it's like, well, that's bad, right? But the more, it's more subtle kind of, uh, cues,

[00:08:50] Cyd: Yeah, that's obvious. So,

[00:08:52] Geoff: And long term that meant, well, I don't need to pay attention to their bodies.

I don't need to pay attention to my bodies. They don't really share emotions. So I don't even get to learn what emotions are. So i'm disconnected from my bodies Uh, and so it just kind of like cascades that way and our body is literally being Shaped are not our body, but our nervous system, which processes, the information is being shaped to ignore all that information.

[00:09:13] Cyd: Right. Yeah. And in the same way, you know, if we go back to the other, the more anxious or what we call the jungle, right, that's like, you're not going to prioritize the cause and effect stuff because it's not always predictable. And so it doesn't follow the patterns all the time. And so instead of prioritizing cause and effect and paying attention to that, you're instead paying attention to the things that you see on people right now, the things that you sense in people's bodies and faces in the moment.

[00:09:42] Geoff: sometimes people don't say what they mean, and you have to read between the lines because they're actually, they're actually kind of, uh, they're doing something else. And so you have to be careful words and intentions don't always match. And so you're like. We don't have to focus on the words. We have to focus on the body and the emotion and the vibe.

[00:10:00] Cyd: Right. Yeah. And so the point underneath both of these things again is that this stuff actually lives in your nervous system. This your, the shape of your nervous system is different. So you and I have very differently shaped nervous systems because our growing up years were very different. You had a twin.

I didn't. I lost my dad. I lived without a dad for my first several years and you had both parents and you had a twin. Right. you know, you had brothers and you had a brothers and a sister. I only had a sister. Like there's lots of different things. We went to, we lived in different parts of the world. So all of these things shape the way that we're made physiologically, which then gets back to.

Why you make the decisions you make in the moment that you

[00:10:46] Geoff: So let's get back to, uh, like your clients or people you work with who get to that point of being like, you know, I'm so stupid. Or then they get to like, um, why should I be nice to myself? Like I made bad decisions. I should, I should be hard on myself. Sometimes we run across people who are like are really hard on themselves, who feel, who legitimately feel bad for having responded that way.

Um, but you're trying to help them kind of create more compassion. And so how does this help grow in the compassion for people when they're like, I did blow it. Like I'm to blame.

[00:11:20] Cyd: Yeah, and I mean, there is a need to take ownership for our responsibility, right? And I mean just because you made a choice that when you reflect back on it, it seems like a bad choice. It doesn't mean you get a free pass of like, oh my body made me do it because of my attachment system. But it does give you a moment to say what what is it about that response that made sense?

Like, Cause we're always, I think the thing that we forget is that we're always trying to serve ourselves in our own little distorted and twisted ways. Right. So, I mean, you and I have had conversations about this. So like when, when, when I, you know, want to withdraw from a conversation or when I want to, you know, I'm trying to justify myself or something like that.

It's like, well, I'm trying to prove that I had a good reason for doing this. And that's why I'm engaging in this kind of. behavior. And even if I don't know it in the moment, I can reflect back and go, what was that justification all about? What was I trying to get out of that? Like, how did I think that I was doing something good for myself?

And then, you know, when you reflect on it, you're like, Oh, that actually did not do the good that I wanted it to do. Or the good that I wanted is not as good as the good that God offers to me. Right. And so it's like, well, yeah, I can, I can do things because it'll make me feel like I'm safe and I can operate from a place of always wanting to protect myself.

But is that really what God wants for me? Like, and I can see that that choice that I made and that behavior I engaged in did accomplish a self protection for me, but. Can I also see the pain that it caused in severing a relationship or disconnecting me from someone who cares about me or, you know, not allowing me to see that this person would actually really want to help me.

Um, and those are probably more in line with what God wants for me, the good that God wants rather than the good that I feel in the moment is going to be the best choice. And so, but I think it's always helpful. And this is what I'm always, you know, Uh, asking clients to do is, you know, when you look back at something that you did that you didn't, that you, that you now recognize was not the greatest way to handle something, you know, instead of immediately going to like being really upset with yourself, what if you asked yourself, what did I gain from doing that?

Like what's the thing that I gained from that? Cause you wouldn't do it if there wasn't some good that you thought you were going to get from it. Like most of us don't go around trying to destroy ourselves. Right? We're always trying to survive and trying to feel good. And so if you look back at that choice and that reaction, what was it that you were trying to gain from that?

And what did you gain from that? You know, and then just being honest about, well, I gained that I didn't, you know, I distracted myself and so I didn't have to feel what I was feeling. That's what I gained. I gained, um, protection from having to feel that emotion that was uncomfortable for me or, um, you know, I made this choice to yell back at somebody.

And what I gained from that is I felt powerful. Um, and so that was, that felt really good. Or, um, You know, somebody else did something or I did something to hurt somebody else. Um, but then I just continued to, you know, deny that it was my responsibility. Well, what does that do for me? It helps me avoid having to take ownership for the reality that my life impacted somebody else and it hurt them.

And so if we can just be honest about like. What is it that I actually gained from doing that? And you don't have to say that the thing that you gained is the thing that you really liked in reflection, wanted to gain, but in the moment, that's what you wanted. Um, and so just looking at that and then sort of, yeah, that makes sense.

Of course I would want to feel powerful. Of course I would want to be able to avoid discomfort. It's only natural to want to avoid discomfort. Or of course it's hard for me to own responsibility and say that I was wrong because that. You know, that's hard for myself, for my ego or whatever, right? Just to be able to like, normalize.

Well, yeah, I understand that. But then also to take responsibility for, but ultimately. You know, Jesus doesn't intend for me to always feel powerful and Jesus doesn't intend for me to always avoid what's uncomfortable and Jesus doesn't intend for me to avoid taking responsibility for my life. So when I look through the choice that I made and the thing that I wanted through the grid of all of the goodness and wonderful stuff that God has in store for me, how does what I wanted compare with what, with what God has for me, you know, what got available for me already.

And then. You know, being able to work through that and say, okay, I can still choose what I want to choose, right? Jesus let people make decisions. He didn't force them to decide what was best for them. Um, so then you can still look at your choices and go, okay, this is what I did choose. This is what I maybe would have liked to have chosen.

There's going to be

[00:16:16] Geoff: So I want to jump in really quick because you keep saying choose, but that's not, is that, is that the best word though?

[00:16:25] Cyd: You talk

[00:16:26] Geoff: What was that?

[00:16:27] Cyd: You talk

[00:16:28] Geoff: What do you mean?

[00:16:29] Cyd: The choose

[00:16:30] Geoff: because chews can often have like a, like I am, I have, you know, uh, do I want to choose to have reheated chicken for lunch? This is a live choice right now, or the much preferred.

[00:16:47] Cyd: chicken's

[00:16:47] Geoff: Oh, the chicken's gone or well, look, so now I don't have a choice. I will just have to go get a pizza from the freezer, which I'd much prefer anyways. Right. So a lot of times we think of that as, as choosing, like I'm going to choose this or that, well, will I get groceries tonight or will I just put it off till tomorrow?

Um, but what you, but in one sense, uh, we're not choosing that way when these responses come out of us. Um, We chose a long time ago, maybe to respond this way, or they were strategies that we adopted because of the environment we were in. We adapted, we adopted strategies to, in order to adapt to an environment.

Um, and then that they became habits. Um, and then when they're so ingrained, especially when you're young, those habits literally do turn into your nervous system. Um, And then, but as you're older habits, you know, or just could be bad habits or good habits and then they just come springing out of us. And so in one sense, so I just want to nuance that choose, like in one sense you did choose in the past, but you're not exactly choosing now, but that doesn't mean you're not responsible.

And so this is where I like, um, so anyways, so we don't have to keep going on and on. That could be a whole nother, uh, episode, but so what would you leave? So you were talking about what am I,

[00:18:02] Cyd: Well, hold on before, before you asked me the other question, you know, like that just confirms the thing that we said, like, it's because of the way that your nervous system is shaped, that you end up making these reactions. You're reacting out of your nervous system shape. Right. And so it doesn't, it feels it's a default rather than a conscious choice in the moment.

So you're right. I should probably use a different word besides choice. It's more like a, like an automated reactivity kind of

[00:18:28] Geoff: but there is still, what did I gain from this having happened and you know,

[00:18:32] Cyd: Yeah. Because underneath it, Subconsciously, at least, you're still after something. You're still doing it because there's a goal in mind.

[00:18:40] Geoff: and I think asking yourself, what am I again, what did I gain or what maybe did I used to gain from this response? It creates that compassion, right? Like, Oh. Like I could see how that makes sense or that's reasonable because you're, we're looking for the reason. What is the reason that I did that? Um, and so you can understand that reason.

I think a lot of times like fights amongst couples will be like, well, you're the reason, the reason that I responded this way. And then you have all these external environments, but what you're trying to get people to understand as well, actually, there's also an internal environment that I'm reacting to, which is even more prior, uh, more of a priority generally than the physical.

External environment that's happening. And we bring all these past environments, our whole childhood to play, um, spontaneously. And so then asking those questions creates a little more compassion, which is, Oh, I could see how I respond that way now, given where I came from, but having thought about that, I can make new choices.

I can develop new habits that then can start spontaneously coming out of being, which is how we grow in love toward God and toward others, rather than just kind of. Perpetuating sinful tendencies. Was that putting too much in your mouth there? Or is that

[00:19:54] Cyd: No,

[00:19:55] Geoff: I don't want

[00:19:56] Cyd: that's all.

[00:19:57] Geoff: as an avoiding person, I don't want to control your words.

You know what I'm saying?

[00:20:01] Cyd: But if I do speak the wrong words, it will definitely be my fault. Not yours.

[00:20:05] Geoff: Cause we clearly defined our words beforehand.

[00:20:08] Cyd: Yeah.

[00:20:09] Geoff: as for all you listeners, we do argue about this kind of stuff. It comes to play because I'm like, well, what's the title before we hit record? I'm like, so what's the title that you think of this episode going to be? Like, I want the words to be clear.

Like, what are we, what are we doing? You know? So I'm more of that like desert person who wants to be clear. She's like, I don't know, like, I kind of want to talk about

[00:20:29] Cyd: have the conversation first and then name the

[00:20:31] Geoff: She's like, don't box me in with a title beforehand. I don't know where we'll have gone until we have done it. And I'm just like, that is such a jungle thing to say.

[00:20:40] Cyd: I know, but wherever we go, it's bound to be fun and it's bound to be, uh,

[00:20:44] Geoff: Well, hopefully all the listeners and everyone finds it fun and interesting. Also, uh, if you are interested in more of this, obviously we do have, um, episodes on attachment, uh, in the show notes. Uh, On, um, my blog and writing, uh, there's quite a bit more on attachment and we are offering our attaching to God cohort.

Again, those are in the show notes. You will have already heard on the recording, kind of a little blurb about that. So please check that out. Uh, share this.

[00:21:11] Cyd: okay. But wait, but wait, I'm not done. There's one more thing that's really

[00:21:16] Geoff: Oh, okay. Let's go.

[00:21:18] Cyd: Sorry.

[00:21:19] Geoff: Keep it short.

[00:21:20] Cyd: last thing is that yeah, I know super short So not only looking at what is the thing that you were gonna gain by doing that But also look at the pain that it caused you and then look at you know The thing that Jesus probably has for you instead and that will probably also cause you some pain And so just being honest about okay, there's gain For whatever the choices that I make somehow, but then there's also going to be pain that probably accompanies that choice or discomfort, right?

Rather than pain. So like the choice didn't work out or the reactivity didn't work out and it caused you some kind of pain, but to do the right thing or the Jesus centered thing, the Jesus way thing is probably also going to cause you some discomfort. So being honest about looking at that too, it's either going to make you feel vulnerable or it's going to make you, uh, you know, take ownership or acknowledge that you did something, um, apologize to another person.

There's going to be some discomfort involved in that as well. So I just wanted to say that all of your choices will have a gain that you're after, but they'll also have probably an accompanying pain, which is either a pain. So anyway,

[00:22:29] Geoff: And that's because just, uh,

[00:22:31] Cyd: Then you choose. Once you've reflected, then you choose.

[00:22:34] Geoff: that pain comes from both. Our survival strategies, our attachment strategies come out of trying to avoid and accomplish certain things. And, and because of that, then we are deficient in other things. And so in order to experience those things we're avoiding, that will cause a little bit of pain and discomfort because we've been avoiding it, but then also like going to the gym and working out, like to gain a competency to build a new habit is going to be painful too.

It's going to be difficult and frustrating. So it's pain, but it's good.

[00:23:03] Cyd: Well, and the pain, the pain when we're making a decision that brings us closer to Jesus is the pain of, of dying to, you know, the self that is. So yeah, there's a death to self in both directions. It's just

[00:23:17] Geoff: old

[00:23:18] Cyd: self is dying.

[00:23:19] Geoff: So that the new self can be made. Amen. So

[00:23:23] Cyd: Thanks for letting me get that last word in. I know it wasn't as concise as you probably would have liked it to have

[00:23:28] Geoff: well, thank you all for listening. Please share and subscribe on YouTube or wherever you might hear these things. Um, and we appreciate all of your support, especially those who do support us with 8 or more a month. We really, really appreciate it until next time

[00:23:44] Cyd: Thank you.

[00:23:44] Geoff: we're out of here.

[00:23:46] Cyd: Bye.