The Angry Therapist & Attachment Theory Redo
We’ve all had THOSE relationships. The ones that make you wonder why you keep finding yourself dealing with the same drama again and again. The ones that make you wonder if all relationships are this difficult. The ones that make you say “It’s not me, it’s you.”
If you’re ready to break the cycle of bad relationships, psychologists John Kim (who you may know as The Angry Therapist) and his partner Vanessa Bennett are here to talk about their forthcoming book, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Damona and the guests dive deep into breaking bad relationship cycles, plus Vanessa will share her special sauce for manifesting the relationship you want.
DATING DISH (1:33)
Has attachment theory gone too far?:
Damona would say yes. This recent article from Refinery29 covered the rise of attachment theory, and how we may have become too attached to the theory ourselves. If you’re not completely clear on what attachment theory is, we’re here to give you a little history lesson. Attachment theory was actually developed in 1958 by a British psychologist named John Bowlby. He was interested in how a child’s relationship with their mother (i.e. what he called the primary caregiver) shapes their subsequent approach to the world. If a mother was what he called “affectionless” and not able to fulfill the feminine maternal ideals of emotional support, her child would be “damaged” and experience long term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties.
There are three main attachment styles central to this theory: secure attachment, anxious attachment, and avoidant attachment. Secure attachment refers to those that feel comfortable with intimacy, and are usually warm and loving. Anxious attachment includes people who crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back (aka kinda clingy). Lastly, those who feel avoidant attachment equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness. And there have been many offshoots of attachment since then (anxious-preoccupied, avoidant-dismissive, disorganized, fearful avoidant, etc).
But this new wave of attachment theory rose to popularity in 2010 when a book was released called Attached: Are you Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find – and keep – love, written by Dr. Amir Levine (who Damona has actually studied with) and Rachel Heller. Additionally, attachment theory has slowly seeped its way into self-help culture, with users consistently making TikToks and Instagram posts all about how to identify certain attachment styles in one’s self and in other people. And although Damona respects all the work that has been done on attachment theory and appreciates the tool, she believes that it can be a gross oversimplification of how we bond with others. With so much info circulating on attachment theory, we’ve become so quick to want to label and diagnose people that it prevents us from experiencing the nuance of others. Or on the other end of the spectrum, we see posts about certain attachment styles that we relate to and then deeply internalize it as part of our identity instead of finding ways to continue to grow.
There are many problems with attachment theory, one being that the original study puts way too much emphasis on the mother for influencing how you attach. The study also insinuates that your childhood experiences are permanently imprinted and unchangeable, which is not true. Bottom line – Damona requests that we don’t self-diagnose. “I know that our nature is to lean into self diagnosis. But I really don’t want to do that to people, because I believe these are tools to inform you, so that you can use this information to change what you don’t want in your life… And the danger in searching for a label for yourself or for the people that you are dating, is that that label can actually excuse behavior that needs to change. It can prevent you from going deeper and seeing these conflicts as an opportunity to lean in, to learn more, and to choose differently… Every experience that you have changes you, informs you, evolves you. And I think it’s really time that we just pump the brakes a little bit on the attachment theory.”
JOHN KIM & VANESSA BENNETT (10:03)
John Kim (aka The Angry Therapist) and Vanessa Bennett are licensed therapists, authors, and podcast hosts.
You might have heard John on this podcast before talking about his bestselling book I Used To Be A Miserable F*ck. Since then John has also written the bestseller Single on Purpose, and he dishes out advice on his podcast and social media under the title The Angry Therapist
Vanessa is a Licensed Holistic Psychotherapist, Codependency Expert, and cohost of the podcast Cheaper Than Therapy.
You can read all about their story in their new relationship book It’s Not Me, It’s You (which is available for pre-order now). But today, you will hear the highlights of all their baggage, imperfections, and relationship challenges.
(12:16) How you came together:
Damona asks John and Vanessa to share their relationship origin story. John starts: “Our relationship in the beginning was kind of bumpy. It started with a friend that I worked out with coming up to me and asking me if I liked white girls, and I said, ‘yeah I like all types of women.’ And then he said, ‘Well, I have a therapist for you.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t just date therapists.’”
Vanessa adds her perspective. “I had been following John for a while [on Instagram] but not really engaging… And then randomly, one day, I saw something he posted. And for whatever reason, It kind of piqued my interest. I did a little internet stalking and told my friend at the time, ‘I’m gonna date this guy.’ We [John and Vanessa] had a mutual friend… And so I had this plan to have my friend hook us up. So I went to the friend’s place and randomly out of nowhere, the friend goes, ‘I have this friend that I feel like you’d really get along with.’ And so it kind of felt a little Kismet at that point.”
Vanessa confirms that their relationship was rocky in the beginning, mostly because John was trying to live his single life at the time. John shares, “Damona, I was trying to be single. I wanted my next one to be the one you know, and so I wasn’t done trying to make up for everything that I didn’t do in my 20s. I was in a relationship at that time, so… I never had a one night stand. I never did drugs with someone. I never woke up with someone I didn’t like. I wanted to have all those crazy stories, experiences.”
Vanessa also believes that there was some manifestation at play. “So usually when people say how did you guys meet, my very straightforward answer is I manifested him… I had recently, within the past six months before meeting him, had my heart broken in like a very short but very intense relationship. I had gotten out of a six year engagement and moved across the country by myself… I was in grad school to become a therapist at the time. And I just remember thinking, I am so ready to meet somebody who can speak that language and meet me on that level. Like, I don’t want to mother the men I meet anymore. You know, I want them to meet me there. And I just kept talking about it.”
(18:00) Do you date white girls?:
Damona pulls the conversation back to John’s friend’s question – “do you date white girls” – and inquires if they had to unpack anything while being in a interracial relationship. Vanessa brings up her short but intense relationship before meeting John. “So this relationship I had been in was a Latino man… He kind of out of the blue said, ‘I need to marry a Latina.’ And I remember just being floored and devastated… The reason why [John’s] friend did ask him that is because I said to him, half jokingly, ‘does he date white girls?’”
In their upcoming book, It’s Not Me, It’s You, John also details his experience coming from a very traditional Korean family. “They wanted me to marry, of course, a Korean woman and have Korean babies and all that. But my first girlfriend that I brought around when I was 21 was Caucasian. And then the person I married was Caucasian… I grew up in a very kind of white world in the 80s. And so, you know, when we’re going through our wonder years, the posters on our wall are how we kind of trace who’s around us. And so, for some reason, I didn’t have a lot of Asian friends growing up.”
Weirdly enough, Vanessa goes on to say that the biggest cultural difference between them are their coastal origins (Vanessa is from New York and John is from LA).
(22:00) Feeling chosen:
In another section of their book, John goes into having had a pattern of getting close to his matches and pulling away – even while dating Vanessa. So how did John start to unravel and change that pattern? “I think it’s different for everyone. But generally, we don’t change unless we have to, right? Usually it’s many broken hearts, losing something, whether it’s your love, custody, job. There are things that we lose where we wake up, and we’re like, ‘Okay, we have to look at ourself.’ And so I think for me, it was her having some honest conversations with me. She actually tried to leave once or twice. But I think because of my ambivalence or not looking at my patterns, [realizing] that the House of Cards can collapse, was a cold shower for me.”
John shares that a defining moment for his and Vanessa’s relationship, which bonded them more than anything, was when they lost their first baby. “There was a moment when we were in the hospital, and we found that the baby didn’t make it. There was this weird, deep connection I felt because we were a family for a minute, you know? And so the loss of a baby, for some reason, ignited something in me to really work on this.” It was at this moment that Vanessa found the need to create a boundary – she voiced that she needed to take a pause and breathe, before being able to come back to the relationship and restart the commitment conversation. Vanessa states, “I’m not for or against breaks. What I am for is standing in your truth and not chasing, not begging, and not expecting somebody else to make you feel chosen. And so I think I had a real dose of reality… I just hit this point where I felt like I had spent my lifetime hoping others would choose me. And in that moment, I had this really clear sense of like, I choose me. And he’s wonderful, and he’s great, and all the things on paper. But like, I don’t deserve to feel unchosen in my relationship.”
(End of TW)
(26:44) The definition of love:
Of all the chapter titles in John and Vanessa’s book, “Happily Ever After is Bullshit” is probably the best one. Damona hops on this thought, agreeing that the fairy tales and stories that make us think we should be searching for a soulmate, for “the one,” actually keep us stuck. Because we then end up constantly in pursuit of an idea. John adds that this very idea is the thing that kept him in his patterns. “It’s actually the exact thing that kept me ambivalent, what you’re talking about. That there’s only one person for you on this planet and putting all your chips on that… It’s not even about ‘the one’ – it’s about the one in front of you. And to look at the differences.”
Damona then hits John and Vanessa with a huge question – what is the definition of love? John begins hesitantly, “Oh, man, that’s a great question. I think one that love is a choice, right? Yes, love produces a feeling. But it is a daily choice. We were listening to you and Dr. Drew last night, going through your podcast. Dr. Drew talked about how long term relationships can be like recovery in that it’s just one day at a time. And so kind of bringing it back to the here and now… Also, I think that love is about the journey of what comes up and processing that. That’s what puts two people on a path of growth.”
Vanessa’s take on the question? “Carl Jung would say that every one of us, from a soul perspective, our desire is to individuate. Our desire is to grow, our desire is to expand and to elevate. And in that sense, all relationships are unconsciously drawn into our sphere in order to help us with that, right? They help us by challenging us by putting up a mirror, by showing us our blind spots, by showing us our areas for growth. So the way I look at relationships now is like, it shouldn’t just be easy-peasy sex and butterflies and rainbows all the time…. I want the challenge. I want the growth. I want the mirror that makes me uncomfortable, and makes me have to say, all right, like, this is my opportunity to heed the call and do a little self exploration and growth.”
(31:06) An opportunity to practice courage:
A big part of any relationship is the conflict – how to navigate through it, and then how to use those moments as a mirror for reflection (like Vanessa mentions above). Vanessa says that most of us aren’t actually taught how to have conflict in a healthy way, particularly if our families didn’t provide a good model for us. “A lot of us didn’t learn to sit across from each other respectfully, and have compassion and validate the other person’s feelings. Or depersonalize what they’re talking about, so that you’re not in such defense mode that you can’t see the person sitting across from you. You know, and it’s not easy. I don’t want to say that to be like, *womp womp* to the people that are listening. But it takes work and a lot of work and a lot of commitment for yourself to really say, ‘Where can I get better at not taking things personally and not get defensive?’ Because really bottom line, the way that relationships grow deeper is through that rupture/repair, rupture/repair, rupture/repair… And if there’s no rupture, it’s actually really hard to create that repair. That’s where the depth comes from.”
John believes that encountering conflict is actually a perfect opportunity to practice courage. “So every time there’s conflict, there’s an opportunity for you to be courageous. And by courageous, I don’t mean kicking doors down. I mean looking inward, doing things that are uncomfortable. Being vulnerable, being curious instead of judgmental.”
So let’s say you’ve had a conflict, you’ve disagreed and voiced your opinion, and now you’re ready to repair. How do we go about giving an effective apology? “Many people talk around that. And then they don’t actually say I’m sorry, and really mean it,” John starts. “So I think it starts with that. And then I think there’s a responsibility to an apology. Meaning, what are you going to do about it, what’s the ownership?” Vanessa shares, “I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but I think we have this misconception that if we validate somebody’s feelings that we agree with them. And they don’t have to go hand in hand. And I think for a lot of us, it’s such an ego based thing. We feel like by saying we’re sorry, we’re somehow losing a part of ourselves, we’re somehow acknowledging something that we don’t want to acknowledge or agree with. And that’s not the case. They’re separate.”
Check out John and Vanessa’s book It’s Not You, It’s Me. Pre-order your copy HERE, and you can submit your receipt to join their book club – they’ll be dissecting the chapters of their book every Monday at 1p PST.
And be sure to follow John @theangrytherapist and Vanessa @vanessasbennett on insta.
DEAR DAMONA (40:55)
Submit your questions on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and hear our answers live on the show! Here’s what our listeners asked about this week:
- Voice Message from Reesie – Hi Damona! I’ve been listening to you for quite a while. So long story short, I matched with someone on a dating app. We had switched numbers, then I ended up deleting the app and was kind of just going to put that approach to dating on hold. But he ended up reaching out to me, so we started talking. Come to find out that he didn’t live in the city that I lived in, he lived much further away. So we weren’t able to go on an initial date as soon as I typically would have, like within a week or so. We ended up talking on the phone and texting, we never did a video chat or spoke on the phone or anything. Then we went on our first date, and he did share that he smokes cigarettes (which is usually one of my dealbreakers). So basically: how do you discern between if you’re being judgemental and a little bit closed-minded to a potential partner that could be a good match, and associating their habits with their core values (like cigarettes and taking care of their body & being health conscious)?
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