How Attached Are You To Your Work?

How does your attachment style and childhood trauma show itself at work?

Go to the profile of Maxine Harley
Jul 12, 2016
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How does your attachment style affect your success at work?

To answer that we need to start at the foundation level.

Our early experiences of trauma, whether physical or emotional, affect the way our brains become wired up. Particularly so when the trauma is repeated and recurring (as in the case of a troubled childhood with toxic parents; or repeated physical illness, assault or medical interventions and operations).

Our 'Adverse Childhood Experiences' (or A.C.E. Studies - carried out in the late 1990s and subsequently) are also a reliable indicator of how successful we will be in life - a significant part of which is our working life and the financial rewards we'll get in exchange for our time and energy.

Our past can also determine our style of 'emotional attachment' to significant aspects of our lives.

This attachment style in turn shapes how we see the world, our self-concept, our ability to form and maintain relationships, our comfort or discomfort with intimacy, the way we parent our children, and our success in our working career or business (particularly our relationships with colleagues, staff and line managers).

It's been estimated that about 45% of us had a childhood that left us with an inner sense of the world being a good place, and that we are safe and valued within it. This is known as a secure attachment style and it comes from having had 'good enough parenting'.

This then leaves almost half of us feeling either insecure or even chaotic in the way we emotionally attach to other people.

This also affects how attached we can become to things in our lives such as our career or business - which form part of our adult self-concept and identity, and something we can feel either proud or ashamed of.

Your ability to attach and form 'meaningful' relationships is crucial to your success at work.

It's said that having Emotional Intelligence is much more useful than academic intelligence. This is all the more understandable if you work as part, or leader, of a team.

An inability to form meaningful human attachments can lead to forming substitute attachments with your inflated false ego and its craving for recognition and status. This is a creative defence against 'non-existence'...of the dread of being a 'nobody' a failure, and unworthy of attention or success.


How does your attachment style and childhood trauma show itself at work?

You will have come out of childhood with deeply internalised beliefs about what you are like, and how likeable you are - as well as your own set of behaviours. If you experienced childhood trauma and developed an insecure attachment style, these behaviours will be either too tight or too loose.

Being too tight means being rigid and inflexible, unable to delegate or trust that anyone else can do a good enough job for you (to meet your high standards).

This may be true in some instances, if staff or colleagues are incompetent and unreliable. However, we need to be aware of how much of this is being set up by ourselves. We then sub-consciously repeat our earlier feelings of being let down and disappointed.

Being too tight also includes having to control and micro-manage everything you can – as a precaution against failure and the searing searchlight of blame and shame being cast over you again.

Someone who it too tight is very hard to please, and they'll easily see the worst in others - until they're consistently proven wrong. Their 'inner child' is squashed and lacks spontaneity, creativity and joy.

On the other hand, someone who is too loose in their behaviour has weak boundaries in what they disclose about themselves – over-sharing - or in what they'll do for others.

They struggle to say no, and they also lack self discipline. Their inner and outer life feels shaky, loose and tentative. They are likely to be a people-pleaser whilst ignoring their own needs and pleasure.

They take on too much and then feel taken for granted.

Their inner child is too playful, and they show immature behaviour – which is seen as silly and inappropriate in the workplace, and for which they might be ridiculed or rejected.

Colleagues and staff don't know where they stand – all the more so if any of them also happen to be one of the 45% of people with shaky foundations too!


What effect do your core beliefs about yourself have upon your performance at work?


The most obvious effects are in the ways you either hold yourself back or push yourself too far.

  • If you lack confidence, feel like a fraud about to be exposed, feel unworthy of someone's time and respect then you will probably shrink to fit the small box you think you belong in. You will allow others to take advantage of you, or even to take the credit for your good work.
  • If you have a 'persona' of confidence that isn't real you will find a way to trip yourself up and embarrass yourself – to expose your flaws (as you see them).
  • If you crave attention and need to be liked then you are likely to get the opposite, when your staff of colleagues avoid you (or worse they feel embarrassed for you), and you lose their respect.
  • You may find yourself seeking approval and permission to act - due to your fear of getting it wrong if you were to trust your own instincts and experiences.
  • You may become competitive with colleagues and wish them well behind gritted teeth and seething envy or jealousy.
  • You will feel 'not good enough' despite promotions, awards and the opinions of others.
  • It will feel unsafe and threatening to speak up – unless you can hide behind the role you play out at work, when you'll have your well rehearsed script to read from.
  • If you feel that you are only as good as the current project's success – then you are transferring your worth onto a transient outcome. That's not any basis for self concept to flourish.
  • If you think that you have to be what other people (particularly 'authority figures') want you to be, you'll be wearing a mask – at the expense of your authenticity and ability to be honest about how you feel, what you think, what you need and prefer to happen.

In short you lose yourself – you don't fully clock in at work - you are a virtual boss, leader, and colleague despite being there in the flesh.

When you learn to have a solid attachment to yourself and your inner child, you can heal and transcend your own emotional wounds, make peace with the past, and re-parent yourself. Then you will become enabled and empowered to become a better, more effective and successful professional.

    You'll fix the broken pieces and create a much better 'whole' you for your work, or your business, to be built upon.


    It's never too late to prepare and coach your own inner child for success in the workplace.

    Becoming self-aware is the vital first step.

    Aware of how you tend to perceive things, your optimism or pessimism, your courage or self-sabotage, your shaky self-concept, the impact of your body language, behaviour and communication style upon others, and how you are impacted by authority figures, or any weak and vulnerable team members... and how much of an effective team member you are yourself.

    Not forgetting the extent to which you are defending your ego, or projecting attributes and intentions upon other people without finding out the facts.

    These are some of the many signs of a troubled inner child. A child who doesn't feel 'old enough' or competent enough to be at work - and who messes things up for you when their unhealed wounds are activated.

    You owe it to yourself, your family your business and your colleagues to heal your emotional wounds, recover from your early traumas, and make peace with your past.

    By doing do you become someone that others are keen to form a healthy attachment to... and someone they really want to do business with!


    Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

    www.maxineharley.com – where you will find plenty of FREE resources relating to the consequences of lack of emotional attachment and a troubled childhood

    www.maxineharleymentoring.com - helping women to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours - to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better at home and at work

    www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk - a series of 10 online self-help workshops - helping you to help yourself - with a wide range of life issues (e.g. stress, anxiety, depression, anger)

    www.qpp.uk.com - changing the sub-conscious belief system and S.C.R.I.P.T. (c) Sub-Conscious-Rules-Influencing-Present-Time

Go to the profile of Maxine Harley

Maxine Harley

MIND HEALER & MENTOR - Psychotherapist (MSc), Author, Columnist & Blogger. Please see www.maxineharley.com and www.maxineharleymentoring.com, S.E.L.E.C.T. Your Life Company Ltd.

I help women to FEEL better - so they can BE, DO and HAVE better! As a MIND HEALER I specialise in helping women to recover from a troubled childhood and toxic parents, to heal and transcend their emotional wounds, re-parent their inner child, and make peace with their past. This enables and empowers them to become better parents, partners, professionals - and all round happier calmer people :-) As a MENTOR I offer different levels of therapeutic self development - including MINDING YOUR BUSINESS, MINDING THE GAP, and MIND MASTERY...please discover more at www.maxineharleymentoring.com

4 Comments

Go to the profile of Laura Rose-Baker
Laura Rose-Baker about 2 years ago

Really interesting article Maxine. What is your definition of a 'toxic' parent?

Go to the profile of Amy Gannon
Amy Gannon about 2 years ago

This is such a great article - one I have been looking for for a couple of years as I knew there was some underlying link between my behaviour at work and my childhood and attachment style. Thank you very much for sharing this, I will be sure to look up your other resources! Thanks, Amy.

Go to the profile of Maxine Harley
Maxine Harley about 2 years ago

Hi Laura...a 'toxic' parent is one who 'uses, confuses and abuses' their child.
They are either a 'not-good-enough' parent, or a 'nowhere-near-good-enough' parent or a 'terrible and terrifying' parent.
As you can imagine there are personality disorder traits present too - such as narcissism, borderline psychosis, anti-social etc.
I have two short videos which explain this with more clarity and depth...you can find them on the 'Free Resources' page on my website http://www.maxineharley.com (The 5 Types of Parenting, and How To Deal With Your Toxic Parent)
I hope that helps.
Feel free to message me if you'd like to know more.
Warmest wishes,
Maxine maxine@maxineharley.com

Go to the profile of Maxine Harley
Maxine Harley about 2 years ago

Hi Amy,
Many thanks for your kind words...I'm glad you liked the article and found it relevant.
I have written another one here in Life Labs on a similar theme - Your Inner Child in the Workplace.
I know from my own experiences in the workplace (back in the 1980s) that my past 'stuff' certainly got in my way and yet I had no idea that it was me who was making things worse for myself, and creating difficulties with colleagues! :-)
To be fair...I'm sure many of them also had their own 'stuff' playing out too.... no wonder things get in a mess! :-))
Warmest wishes,
Maxine maxine@maxineharley.com