What attachment styles are present in your clients and how do you work with it? Unconscious attachment styles and patterns of behavior can sabotage success. Attachment styles are exacerbated under stressful events. Help clients develop self-awareness and the skills to create a more cohesive sense of themselves, a more authentic self.
A psychodynamic approach in executive coaching is beneficial when patterns of dysfunctional behaviors present within the client. This might be evident when a client is experiencing emotional dysregulation or difficulty maintaining a stasis of emotional equilibrium and close relationships.
Possible triggers include changes in their personal or professional lives, e.g.: relationship challenges, job transitions, impending loss, healthcare issues or illness. The outcome might be evident by professional performance issues and conflictual encounters. Depending upon their attachment style, they will react accordingly (see attachment style descriptions below).
It takes extreme situations for a person to become open to examining sources of tension and to seek consultation. By participating in ongoing (psychoanalytic) coaching, an individual can improve their personal and professional effectiveness by understanding the thoughts and feelings underlying areas of tension. This involves a psychodynamic approach on the part of the executive coach or consultant and an understanding and examination of the unconscious behavioral patterns of the client. A client may be reacting to uncomfortable feelings, emotions and situations by externalizing conflicts instead of dealing with the discomfort. This suggests that the attachment style of the client is presenting difficulties.
The following descriptions summarize psychodynamic attachment styles that can be a source of disruption and tension. All of these styles represent a continuum of behavioral patterns that can be exacerbated when stressors present.
1. Secure attachment is approachable and supportive; this person actively seeks contact or closeness with significant others and uses either a family member, superior, or peer as a secure base from which to explore the world, ideas, emotions, or manage stress or trauma.
2. Insecure or tenuous attachment is a person who appears disorganized and uncomfortable when approaching others for support or help. Often they’ll display outward signs of distress and longing for contact yet seem oblivious to those that could provide this closeness and therefore don’t reach out.
3. Insecure or avoidant attachment is a person who typically avoids closeness with family members, friends, superiors, and peers. Generally they do not actively seek support or comfort from others. These individual tends to be more isolated and a loner. They generally do no offer support to others, a lack of empathy.
4. Insecure ambivalent attachment is a person who forms attachments but has difficulty maintaining any consistency with how closely they remain to others. They will experience difficulties with this closeness and feel that it’s stressful to managing.
5. Insecure disorganized attachment style is a person who appears to have no close relationships with other people. They will often experience distress being close to others, and feel invaded upon, hostile and controlling.
A psychodynamically trained psychological consultant working as an executive coach to examine the interpersonal aspects of a client with an understanding of the core personality developmental conflicts. Developing this diagnostic framework will help the client to understand how their personal attachment styles formed and how they can best manage the characteristics of these styles as they experience stressors.
Kilburg, Richard R. (2004). When Shadows Fall: Using Psychodynamic Approaches in Executive Coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Vol. 56, No. 4, pp. 246-268. DOI: 10.1037/1065-9218.104.22.168.
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