Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
Looking back, the hardest times in my life have occurred when I’ve felt insecure about my abilities, relationships, personality, or self-worth. During these dark days, I inevitably found myself in embarrassing situations where I became insecurely attached to someone – or something – that I thought would make me whole. Of course (and I know I am not alone in this), I learned the hard way that no person or thing can make me whole but myself.
Luckily, these difficult experiences were temporary, but not without emotional scars. Feeling insecure in a relationship creates anxiety over being abandoned and the feeling that every day is uncertain. It’s no wonder that those times when I felt insecurely attached were also accompanied by intense sadness.
That’s why I read with interest and appreciation that researchers in New York and Atlanta teamed up to study the neurological relationship between depression and insecure attachment. In their study, 28 women (half of whom were depressed) participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while viewing images of people important to them as well as strangers. They also completed the Beck Depression Inventory, the Adult Attachment Interview, and blood-oxygen level monitoring. The team then tested the connection, if any, between depression and insecure attachment.
Interestingly, the results showed that depression and insecure attachment involved related but distinct emotion-regulation processes in the brain. The ways these processes interact indicate that insecure attachment may play a greater role in depression than previously realized. Also, the results might explain why insecurely attached people experiencing depression may be more challenging to treat in mental health settings than depressed people who do not show insecure attachment. In other words, depression that involves insecure attachment might be more complex and intractable.
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There are other risks associated with feeling insecure in one’s relationships. For instance, another study found that feeling insecure in our attachments may increase risk for health problems later in life (read about that study here). A third study found that the nature of our early attachments to others influences our romantic relationships in adulthood (those details can be found here).
In my own life, I can certainly see how the ties between insecure attachment and depression may have played out during some of my greatest challenges. I can’t help but wonder whether knowing about the link between insecurity and depression could have helped me work through the pain in some way. Oftentimes, knowledge is power and helps us move forward through understanding. Perhaps mental health professionals could use awareness as a type of intervention by helping people experiencing depression become aware of the connection between depression and insecure attachment.
It’s obvious that whether we feel securely or insecurely attached in our relationships has a profound effect on our emotional well-being. Perhaps one way to enhance our overall wellness is to nurture and strengthen those attachments that are so central to our lives.
Galynker, I. I., Yaseen, Z. S., Katz, C., Zhang, X., Jennings-Donovan, G., Dashnaw, S., Hirsch, J., Mayberg, H., Cohen, L. J., & Winston, A. (2012). Distinct but overlapping neural networks subserve depression and insecure attachment. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, 7(8), 896-908.