Thoughts on Jessica Fern’s Polysecure
If all attachment wounds are interpersonal, how can healing them come from within?
One of the books that kept me company during my week of no posting was Jessica Fern’s Polysecure, a book ostensibly all about building attachment security within polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships. I say ostensibly because while Fern’s book contains several helpful frameworks for understanding attachment threat in non-monogamous relationships, her recommendations for overcoming those threats are frustratingly individualistic and don’t veer far from typical love-yourself-before-you-love-anyone-else self-help territory.
Early in the book, Fern introduces something called the Nested Attachment Model. It holds that attachment is an interpersonal, dynamic phenomenon, rather than a static personality trait that gets locked in during childhood.
For a long time, psychologists believed that a person’s attachment style was cemented in infancy, based on the quality of their relationship with their primary caregiver. Early attachment researchers observed infants interacting with their mothers (and back then, it was always mothers), and based on how they coped with a temporary separation, grouped them into one of three attachment categories: securely attached, avoidantly attached, or anxiously attached.
For the next several decades, psychologists claimed that adults carried their childhood attachment style with them into every subsequent relationship. Infants who were securely attached to their moms formed healthy, stable bonds with adult romantic partners; anxious babies turned into demanding adults whose insecurities could not be soothed; infants who were withdrawn became sullen, conflict-averse grown-ups.
The only way for an insecurely attached adult to heal and transform into a securely attached person, therapists believed, was by forming a partnership with a securely attached adult. In this view, insecurely attached people got broken in infancy, and only the love of an unbroken person could cure them. Otherwise they’d continue demanding excessive reassurance or running away from closeness, all their lives.
Today, we know that isn’t actually true. Decades of research demonstrates that attachment styles are mutable, and that we form stable bonds by engaging in productive conflict with another person, and then repairing our connection in the wake of that conflict —…