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Conversation with Sean: Podcast transcript

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Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast.  This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.

I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.



This episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast we are thinking about the fact that we are loved, and why actually it’s not that easy sometimes to understand that we are loved. So, absolutely core to the Christian faith is the understanding that God loves us. And that our primary identity is that of beloved sons and daughters of God. Which is a pretty amazing idea, the idea that the Creator of the universe loves you just as you are. If you’re a Christian then you may well have heard these words, they come from a letter that Paul wrote, to Christians in Rome, who I think were having a not-a-great time at the time. Anyway, he said this:

Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

And that sounds incredible. And if you’re a Christian, it’s sort of assumed that you can take God’s love as given. You might have noticed that it’s not always that simple. And for many of us, really, truly knowing that we are loved by God, is not something that comes in the Christianity starter pack, even though the advertising tells us that it will. It’s actually something that develops over the course of a lifetime. And that’s why we’re talking about it in this episode. And I’m very pleased to be joined by my friend, Sean Kennedy.


S: Hello.

C: Thank you ever so much for agreeing to do this, it’s really kind of you. We have both been working together for some while now. And actually the reason that I’ve invited Sean to join me for this conversation, is that we have both been thinking for some time, about the fact that understanding the fact that God loves us, is just not that simple. Both in our own lives we’ve experienced that, and walked with it, and we’ve worked and lived with people for whom that is the case. And so the lens that we’re going to look at it through, actually, is the lens of early experience and attachment. So before we kind of head off into that, I wonder, do you want to introduce yourself a bit?

S: Yes, I’m Sean Kennedy, I grew up in Northern Ireland, then in my early career trained as an engineer, worked as an engineer. Then about sort of 1998 I just felt the need for a complete career change, I was bored working with things and I really missed working with people. So, people fascinate me. So I started mentoring back in about 1998. I trained as a counsellor, and then as a coach, personality profiler, etc. So I’m kind of a leadership coach, and a life coach, and I think I might have actually written a few books with you? Did I do that?

C: I think at the last count, it was 2.

S: It was 2?

C: So we wrote Church Uncorked and we wrote Loved, Called, Gifted.

S: Right, ok. … Yeah.

C: *laughs* Did it feel – was it that painful? – did it feel like many more?

S: I’m still in therapy!

C: Yeah.

*both laugh*

C: Ok, so, do you have a definition of attachment?

S: Well, just to keep it really simple, basically it’s how we attach to our parents or our primary caregivers in the earliest parts of our life. I guess even from within the womb. Y’know, through to the time that we leave home, but it’s the really early years that are critical. And that’s kind of the foundation of our life. And everything else gets built on top of that.

C: It’s incredible, isn’t it, just how much of a difference that sort of attachment is. It may be worth just saying that this podcast comes with a bit of a warning. So some of the material that we’re talking about, it might be that it brings things up for you emotionally, and it may be that you need to talk to somebody afterwards, would you say, Sean?

S: Yeah, when I first looked at this, I found it incredibly helpful, but it was also quite triggering. So… so yeah, just be aware.

C: Yeah, ok. So, attachment, I think if I was gonna give a definition, it’s about that foundational sense of being safe and being loved.

S: Yes, absolutely.

C: One of the ways that I’ve sometimes described it is that you get your sense of who you are and the fact that you’re valuable and loved, in the gaze of, usually your mother, in those very early years. And it’s almost like you see your self-worth reflected in the way that your primary care-givers, usually your mother, in the way that they approach you and the way that they feel about you. That gives you that kind of foundation. But what you said about it being “even in the womb” is really interesting, coz I’m an adopted parent myself.

S: So this is why this subject is actually really important to you as well.

C: Oh yeah! Oh I’m absolutely passionate about it, because I’ve seen, I’ve seen the way that it plays out really dramatically. But I – my boys came home aged 2 and 5, but I know people –

S: Came to you.

C: Came to me. Yes! They came home, they came home to me. But I know people who adopted really, really young children. Kind of maybe, 4, 6 weeks old. And there were – or children who had been removed at birth because things were difficult. And actually what you find is that quite often, those children growing up also really struggle, because the stuff that happened pre-birth has had a really significant impact on them.

S. Mm. Mm.

C: And the ripples of attachment kind of work out through the whole of our lives. So one of the reasons that it’s worth talking about in a kind of Christian, spiritual context, and that’s not the only reason it’s important, is because actually that the way we attach to our primary caregivers has an impact on the way that we relate to God.

S: Absolutely. This is such a seldom-talked-about thing that is really, really important.

C: And the ironic thing, and the thing which sometimes feels unfair, almost, is that if you, if you’ve struggled to understand that you’re loved by the primary people in your life, then that’s the pattern that you take with you into your relationship with God.

S: And your relationships with your partners and children as well.

C: And your work colleagues…

S: Yes.

C: Yeah.

S: And I think though, we do need to be careful here, coz this sounds awfully fixed and set in concrete. But these things can be healed. These things can be worked on. So I’ll maybe say a bit more about that later.

C: Yes, yeah. But there is something very freeing, I think, about understanding what might be going on, both for ourselves, and for the other people around us. So you, you can have had a pretty reasonably good childhood, and early start in life, but we are none of us parented by perfect people. We all have the disadvantage of growing up in families full of flawed human beings.

S: Mm.

C: So even if this isn’t something which is a major struggle for you, it may well be that as we talk about attachment styles, that there will be things from that that will kind of ring bells for you. What we’re talking about is, what are the survival strategies –

S: Yes

C: – that you’ve picked up along the way. So what were the tools that you actually needed in order to function and survive when you were very little, and how many of those are you still carrying with you while you –

S: Yeah

C: – and how many of them are you using regularly?

S: And using with God, even, as well. Let’s begin with the easiest one. Which is the original one really. British psychiatrist and psycho-analyst John Bolby(?), and he noticed that children who had been evacuated during the war, that they came home with some quite different behaviour from other children that had not been evacuated. If you remember your history, in the main towns and cities, in Britain, presumably abroad as well, they evacuated the children off to the countryside where there was less risk of, of bombing. So, whilst they may have been physically safer, these children, it appears, weren’t as psychologically safe as one might have imagined. So, yeah, they came back with, with different behaviour.

C: So they found something very similar, didn’t they, with the children from the Romanian orphanages –

S: orphanages, yes!

C: – who had suffered really quite severe deprivation in terms of not having…their physical needs were cared for, but they didn’t get their emotional needs –

S: Yes

C: – met at all, and so lots of families who adopted Romanian orphans out of the goodness of their hearts were expecting that if these kids came home, and they looked after them and they loved them, all would be fine, and in actual fact, a lot of them had really severe difficulties.

S: Yes, yeah.

C: So we’re going to look at 4 different attachment styles, or attachment, attachment patterns.

S: Yeah, there’s the secure attachment, there’s what’s called the ambivalent attachment, so ambivalent kinda means you’re not too sure. Do I attach? Do I not attach? Then there’s the insecure-avoidant, standing back, doesn’t really particularly want to attach, and then there’s this severe form called the disorganised or controlling or fearful attachment style.

C: Ok. So I’m guessing that the secure attachment is the one that, that is maybe easiest to understand, and the one that we all kind of expect one another to have.

S: Yeah. So I guess about maybe 55% of the population, maybe a little bit more, according to a 2009 study, 55% of people have a healthy secure attachment. So these people, they had parents who were very much in tune with their needs. And as infants their parents created this safe environment for them where they knew they were loved, so they internalised this secure base.

C: So if you grow up in a home where you know that you’re safe, and you know that you are loved, and you know that your needs are going to be met, both your emotional and your physical needs, then it’s safe to operate in the world in a way that is trusting. So that sense that we are happy being close to other people, it’s not that difficult to form relationships, we can believe that people love us. We can trust people.

S: And they have a strong sense of self and sense of self esteem. Which is good. And they set appropriate boundaries with those around them. So they can handle what life throws at them with maturity and confidence, and these people are likely to find it easier to find clarity about the sorts of things God is calling them to do.

C: Ok, so that’s 55% of people.

S: Yeah, roughly.

C: Which leaves 45% of people, roughly –

S: Yeah.

C: – who are not in the position of having that level of secure attachment. And I’m guessing that once we move away from having a secure attachment, a really secure attachment base, then we are thinking about things which will kind of happen at different levels, won’t they? So not everybody’s gonna have such a severe difficulty with attachment to have a huge impact, but it may well be that you have some things that you think, “that rings a bit of a bell for me”.

S: Yes, yeah, we’re talking 4 attachment styles, we’re making this a bit “boxy” –

C: Yes, yeah.

S: – when in fact it's more of a –

C: Yes, yeah.

S: – spectrum really. To have a secure base, a good secure base, as Bolby put it, we need to have “good enough” parents.

C: Yes, yeah.

S: Coz no parents are perfect.

C: Actually, if you grow up in a home where there is neglect and you don’t get that emotional warmth, then to grow up in a trusting way that assumes that if you have needs that somebody will meet them, and if there are adults in your life you can trust them, if that’s not your early experience, then as a survival thing, you will end up developing strategies, and your brain will develop in such a way to protect you from the fact that the adults in your life and the other people in your life later on might not be very helpful.

S: I guess with these other attachment styles we’re gonna look at, the parents maybe weren’t quite good enough? And some of them actually would be quite abysmal.

C: Yes, I think, I, I don’t know how, I don’t know how anybody’s worked this out, or who did the survey, but there is that figure, isn’t there, that a “good enough” parent kind of manages to be reasonably decent about 30% of the time. Which, if you’re thinking, “have I screwed my kids up?” that gives you quite a lot of –

S: Yeah –

C: 70% of leeway. I’m not sure how true that is.

S: I’m not sure how true that is, but yeah. Yeah. We just have to be good enough as parents, and not beat ourselves up about it. And yeah, this is another important thing. When you listen to this, don’t over-analyse your own parenting.

C: Yeah, coz that’s not gonna be very helpful either.

S: No, it’s not.

C: Ok, so the second attachment style would be – what?

S: Ok, that’s the insecure, or ambivalent attachment or anxious attachment style.

C: Yeah.

S: That’s about 20% of the population. These folks, they want to get close to other people, but they’re a little bit anxious about it.

C: Yeah.

S: So it’s like one step forward, one step back. Children with this attachment style are often distrustful of adults. And this is because they’ve never fully learned how to predict how adults will respond to their needs. And this may be because their parents were inconsistent in how they responded to the child as a baby. So love may have been conditional. Mum and Dad may have been unpredictable and sent mixed messages. Sometimes when the baby cried the parents are attentive and nurturing, and other times the parent maybe was unavailable or unintrusive, or dismissive and insensitive, and left the baby to cry.

C: Yeah.

S: So, as toddlers and older children they often physically cling to their parents, they don’t want to let them get away, maybe they don’t wanna be too close to them as well. So again that’s that ambivalence.

C: Mm.

S: They may be worried at some unconscious level that they’re not loved. They will have been confused, wanting to be held and then didn’t want to be. So these angry, conflicting feelings reign inside. But they also pay quite… coz they don’t trust, maybe trust adults, they’re gonna pay close attention to them.

C: It sounds as if often what they’re doing is…trying to figure out what the adult might be up to. Because they’re not always entirely sure. So you can’t completely trust, but you’ve had enough of the love to think, “I’d quite like some more of that.” You don’t want to let your adult disappear, because, are they going to come back?

S: Yeah. Or are they gonna be abusive in some way.

C: Yeah.

S: You’re tryna work out the logic of “what is this world about? Where is my place in it? Am I safe? What levers do I pull to get my needs met?”

C: So you’ve developed some survival skills which are about dealing with that unpredictability –

S: Yeah.

C: And you’re gonna carry those with you into the rest of your life.

S: Yes, potentially.

C: Yeah.

S: This can lead to a really negative self view and a fear of rejection. So as adults, these people have a tendency to be people pleasers, they can be quite preoccupied with what others think about them. And because they don’t feel very lovable, they’re sensitive to rejection, and have this tendency to be overly dependent.

C: Mm.

S: So self esteem is a bit low and they’re a bit prone to anxiety and worry about relationships. So you can really see how that happens.

C: Yeah, ok. And then the third attachment style?

S: So this is where they had even more unreliable parents.

C: Mmhm.

S: This is where they feel little desire to get close to other people. And they wish to avoid them. So this is the insecure-avoidant attachment style.

C: Right.

S: And that’s roughly about 23% –

C: Gosh.

S:  – of the population according to that study. So as children who have this insecure attachment style, they didn’t learn that it was the adults’ rule to care for them. And this bond of trust and love didn’t form correctly with them. And this was most likely because their parents were emotionally unresponsive when they were an infant. So the message that they maybe got when they were maybe crying was, communicated by the parents, “stop crying”. If you’ve feelings, if you’ve needs, well, keep quiet about them. You’re not gonna get what you want, so you’d better deal with it yourself. So, Mum and Dad may have been practical and functional, y’know, they may have fed you, but they didn’t have much warmth or comfort to offer. Unsurprisingly, such people, y’know, learn to avoid close relationships, because they see little point in them. Y’know, you just get hurt, so you’d better look after yourself. So the child is forced to be independent before it’s ready. They focus on their own needs and kind of actually end up ignoring the needs of others. So children with this insecure-avoidant attachment style, they’re self-reliant to a point that needing an adult’s help actually makes them feel insecure. They suffer from high levels of anxiety, and harbour a strong fear of failure. They don’t communicate with adults when they’re upset or stressed. And they can be, appear withdrawn or isolated.

C: I’m wondering, Sean, listening to you talking about that, I think that I’ve met some people who seem to be able to mask their ‘not wanting to be close to other people and rely on them’ by becoming themselves people that others can rely on. You end up with this sense of “I will look after everybody else, but I won’t accept help and affection back”. Does that sound kind of familiar to you? Those people who are very sort of, self-contained, will, on the outside they will give a lot. Sometimes you look at them and you think, “is anybody looking after you?” Then you realise that the truth is that they don’t, that they’re not really comfortable with anybody looking after them.

S: Yes, yes. I’ve met quite a few people like this.

C: Yeah.

S: These actually can be, they sound quite dysfunctional people, but they can on the surface actually function in life quite well.

C: Yes.

S: Except maybe not in relationships. So as adults they value the sort of self-sufficiency.

C: Yeah.

S: I think that’s the right word. They avoid other people. They avoid closeness. I think they, spiritually, they might decide that they, I’ve heard people say “all I need is God, I don’t need other, other close relationships”. Or they decide that they don’t need God at all. And I think this is, y’know, one reason for atheism, actually. And they avoid God because He feels like He’s an unreliable caregiver as well. So they suppress their own feelings. They can be critical and dismissive of others as a way of dealing with some of the rejection and insecurity that they feel. They’re actually likely to dismiss any criticisms of themselves as, y’know, being other people’s problems. So…

C: Yeah. It strikes me, just looking purely at the figures, that these two attachment styles that we’ve been looking at, it is not true that 45% of the population kinda don’t function *laughs*

S: No, no.

C: You know what I mean? So actually, these attachment styles are things which many of us live with and, and we do form relationships and get married and have kids and get jobs and function reasonably well. And quite often we have developed coping strategies that mean that those things work reasonably well, but kind of underneath there are things which sort of trip you up a bit.

S: Yeah. Really good example with this would be my Aunt Anne(?) She was evacuated to Canada. Y’know, she was a journalist, she worked for one of Britain’s leading newspapers, she worked, I think, for the BBC for a while. I remember as a young child, going to a dinner party that she’d organised, I mean she spent most of the time in the kitchen, kind of making sure other people were looked after, but she wouldn’t be there in the thick of it. And she was quite generous actually, as a person, I would not have got through university, I would not have gone to university. She helped me financially. So this is not some anti-social robot that we’re talking about. She was married, so she’d formed a close attachment to her husband and was absolutely destroyed really, for a while, when he died. So yes, she did create certain relationships, and functioned at a level, and functioned successfully at a certain level. But, getting close to her was difficult. It was, y’know, some of the conversations with her were very sort of staccato.

C: Yeah. So then I think, I think, we’re moving on to thinking about this 4th attachment style, which affects just about 1% of people.

S: Yes, yes, this is the fearful, disorganised and controlling attachment style, and these people really don’t want to get close to others at all. So as infants, these people had a very disorganised attachment, and they were probably raised by very quite frightening parents who abused them, who neglected them, or by parents who themselves were very frightened. So for this child the world was scary places, and there were few places and few people where they could feel safe and comfortable. What you might notice about these children, with disorganised or controlling attachment style, is they seek to control relationships with adults. I mean, they might be well behaved for a short time when they meet somebody new, but very quickly they’re trying to take control. They have a limited range of emotions, a poor attention span, high levels of anxiety and stress, which they might mask, you might not know that they have that. They struggle to learn in school, and they resist attempts from support and encouragement from adults. And they are hyper-vigilant.

C: These really are people who find functioning in the world very difficult. This is kind of the sharp end. So these are people who are going to find relationships, and just functioning in life –

S: Yeah.

C: – incredibly difficult.

S: Yeah, yeah. In terms of the adults that they grow into, y’know, yep, they’re gonna have very mixed feelings about getting close to others. They’re gonna be lonely. They actually might want emotional closeness in a way, but they’re gonna feel, it’s gonna feel really dangerous. So they feel inadequate, unworthy, y’know, and they ask themselves, “why would other people want me?” And it’s very hard for them when others show them affection. They struggle to develop loving close meaningful relationships with others. And, y’know, especially with God. Because of all…they are SO defended. They are so defended.

C: Ok. So, that gives us a bit of a sort of overview of those 4 attachment styles. So there’s a few important things to note, aren’t there, about this?

S: Yes, yeah. This is quite a “boxy” model, but actually the truth is, it is, it is more of a spectrum. You can have a bit of one and a bit of another attachment style. I notice that I’ve got different attachment styles with different people. I’ve got a very safe, secure, attachment style with my wife, and much of my family, but there are other people in my life I’ve more of an ambivalent attachment with.

C: One of the things that I would notice is that quite often people will function and will have found ways of being in the world, and will have healed from some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past –

S: Mmhm.

C: – and developed some quite good attachments with people, but under situations of stress –

S: Yes.

C: – or in situations that are a little bit more threatening, then that might be the time when some of those things kind of rear their head.

S: Yes.

C: Well, if you were going to talk about a situation that might be stressful, then I would say that inviting an omniscient being to be your close friend –

S: *laughs*
C: – is a situation which potentially –

*both laugh*

C: – it’s potentially really stressful!

S: Yeah.

C: And especially if you think about some of the things that we hear about God. If the picture that you’ve been given of God is of Somebody who ultimately is going to judge the world –

S: Mmhm.

C: – and what you have done, and that’s going to be something that you’re going to need to ‘deal with’, well that’s Somebody – whatever your tendency towards attachment styles is, whatever tools you might have picked up along the way, although you might be happy not to carry them with you in some circumstances, it may well be that within your relationship with God, you pick them all back up.

S: Yes! I mean you can have a really ambivalent attachment style with God, if you have the threat of judgement and hell, this ‘God that loves you but may punish you severely’, you’re, y’know, you could end up with quite a, a, an insecure, an avoidant attachment to God, or an ambivalent attachment to God. And that’s what I had in my early days as a Christian. I was terrified of God. And I needed to ‘keep a close eye’ on God because He was ‘unpredictable’. And if I did the wrong thing He was ‘gonna throw a bolt of lightning at me’.

C: It strikes me as we’re talking, actually, just how closely those attachment styles map onto the way that people respond to God. So if you start of with that sense of a secure attachment style, that is really –

S: An unconditional love.

C: – Yes! Well, that is the thing that you’re kind of sold in the starter pack, isn’t it? “You will feel safe with God. You will know that God is going to take care of you, that” – as I’ve heard people say – “ ‘God’s got your back’.”

S: Mm.

C: “You can be affectionate with God, because it’s safe to do so.”

S: “And when you’re upset, you can run into His arms and He’s going to proverbially stroke your head.”

C: Yes. And you can see, can’t you, how somebody with a secure attachment style, who has a relationship with God, that reflects that secure attachment style, is likely to say to everybody else, who is struggling, “well, this is what I do, I sit down with a cup of tea and I chat to God and I call God ‘Daddy’, and we have a lovely cosy conversation and I go away knowing that God is going to meet my needs, and that’s what you need to do!” Except that, if that’s not your attachment style…

S: Mmm.

C: …then that ain’t gonna work for you. So, so if you think about the person with that kind of watchful, insecure, ambivalent attachment style that you described, with the parents who, sometimes they’ll meet your needs and sometimes they won’t, sometimes they’ll be nice and sometimes they won’t, and that kind of perfectly maps, doesn’t it, onto that view of God being Somebody who loves you, but then there are the things which you can read and hear about that suggest that God is maybe, God is maybe going to ‘judge’ what you’re doing, and I’ve heard people talking about “how do we remain in the favour of God?” Well, there is a recipe –

S: Ughhh, yes

C: – for quite a lot of, quite a lot of kind of fairly neurotic watching, “have I done the right things? Am I praying enough? Am I doing enough to earn approval? Am I not quite doing enough to earn approval, do I need, do I need to go to three services on a Sunday, and, and help out a bit more, coz, I need to, I need to work quite hard to get God’s approval?” And you can kind of almost hear –

S: And “how sinless and perfect do we need to be?” as well. And “what constitutes something that God is going to ‘lash out at us’ over?” And then we end up in a cycle of perfectionism. 

C: Yes, because if you’re thinking, “well, sometimes I’m gonna get this right and God is gonna think I’m alright, but sometimes I’m not”, then there is always the ‘risk’ that you haven’t quite done enough. There is always the ‘risk’ that it hasn’t quite, it hasn’t quite worked. I have been noticing lately, actually, listening to sermons that there are some styles of preaching which really feed into this –

S: Mmm

C: – it’s that kind of “God might be disappointed with you” sort of thing. So we’re gonna talk about… I dunno, we’re gonna talk about prayer. And rather than simply talking about how one might connect with the divine, what you’ll get is something which sort of says, “well here are 5 different ways in which you must pray. And here’s a whole pile of instructions about how to make your prayer life ‘better’”. And the underlying kind of assumption is that your prayer life probably isn’t quite good enough yet.

S: Yes.

C: “But if you work a bit harder, it will be better”.

S: “You need to do more”, yes.

C: Yes.

S: “You need to do more.”

C:  Yeah.

S: I mean this is just bound to affect… if we were a preacher, or a theologian, this affects what we talk about. It affects how we preach. The sort of sermon that we give. This affects everything, and I think, I think the people that really scared me early on as a Christian was Jonathan Edwards, and he was the 18th Century revivalist preacher in New England.

C: Ohhhh!! He’s the, he’s the kind of “God is holding you over a flaming pit” guy.

S: Yes.

C: *laughs*

S: “He thinks of you like a spider, a wicked spider, and He’s holding you over the flames of hell. And at a whim He might just let go of you.”

C *through stifled laughter*: So what do you reckon Jonathan Edwards’ attachment style was then, Sean?

S: He certainly… I would think he was an insecure, or avoidant, or anxious-avoidant, or maybe even a disorganised attachment.

C: Yeah

S: He’s a really scared, and scary, chap. He’s fire and brimstone. I’m gonna be controversial here, because y’know, the sort of great awakening or revival that occurred as a result of this, and I’m not going to say for a minute that God didn’t move through some of that, but something has happened to Jonathan Edwards that has given him this really dire, unhealthy view of God. That psychologically, does not make any sense to me.

C: No.

S: But I think, these are the lenses with which we are given at an early age that we grew up to view the world through, whether we view God or theology or relationships through.

C: So one of the things that’s been – it’s interesting that you should talk about lenses, coz one of the things that’s been occurring to me as you were speaking, is that it would be very interesting, when listening to sermons, particularly when they are starting to feel a bit kind of toxic, and you’re kind of thinking, “I’m not feeling very comfortable with this”, to think, “what is the attachment lens – potentially the attachment lens – of the person who’s giving the sermon?” So I’m thinking of people I’ve listened to in the past, who talk very much in that kind of self-sufficient, get-on-with-it-and-work-hard-for-God sort of way.

S: Mmm.

C: And listening to you talking about attachment styles today, I’ve thought “well that sounds like that kind of avoidant, ‘I’m not getting close to anybody’ sort of lens”. And quite often it’s – not always, but sometimes it’s quite academic, and quite kind of ‘rule-book-driven’, that sort of “we’ll read the book of Proverbs, and we’ll follow it, because that will give you the instructions for, if we work hard in these sort of ways then we can be, we ‘know’ that God will look upon us with favour. And the thing you ‘need’ to do as a Christian is that you ‘need’ to work harder, and you need to get these jobs done. And we’ll all serve the world, and we’ll go out and meet everybody’s needs.”

S: It’s a very cause-and-effect Christianity. Which is not terribly relational.

C: Not necessarily. I’ve known people who are kind of ‘professional Christians’, they lead churches or they do sort of missionary charitable work type stuff, and they keep going and keep going and keep going, and they work really hard in order to serve God, and don’t often stop and take some time to actually be nurtured. But what that sometimes means is that if you are in the church of somebody who’s leading a church like that, there might be many, many opportunities for ‘ministry’, and to use your gifts and do stuff, but not necessarily very much time spent helping you to understand who you are and what your identity is. So you end up in an environment that is very much about performance and doing things, and you can tie that up into “well, we are loving the world for God”, which is lovely…

S: Mmhm.

C: …except that that’s not the whole picture, is it?

S: No, no. It needs to be more balanced.

C: Yeah. We’re getting to the end of our time, but it strikes me that there are quite a number of different ways in which understanding that we emerge from childhood with these survival strategies, helps us to see the way that we see the world. And actually, I think that there’s something really freeing in thinking, “Ah, so that’s why I find it difficult to let people close, because I have a tendency to be a bit avoidant.” If you spot that, then actually you can begin to look at “well, how might I change these lenses?” Even if it’s just “sometimes, I could take these glasses off, and try out a different pair of glasses.” It might be that to start with, I do that when it’s safe. It might be that I can begin to think “well, actually, if I’m really knackered, coz I’ve been working very hard, it may be that someone else with a different attachment style, will begin to think, ‘I could sit down and look after myself and give myself a cup of tea and a piece of cake’”, or if you’ve got that sort of, that sense of people being unpredictable and you ‘have to’ be hyper-vigilant, if you kind of can see that pattern, then again, it gives you permission to begin to see things differently.

S: Awareness is half the battle.

C: So in summary, I think we’re saying that if you didn’t feel like you got God’s love in the starter pack, and it’s not that easy for you to simply relax into that, actually that’s really normal. And it might take time. And most people find that as the years go by, they find it easier to –

S: Yes

C: – to relax into God’s love. But… So it’s not that it’s impossible, it’s not that it won’t happen…

S: Yes

C: But it is the case that for many of us, it takes time, and it’s not necessarily quick. And if that is the case for you, that is completely normal, it’s a really normal job.(?)

S: Absolutely. Relax into that. Relax that love is a process. It takes time.

C: And it is, it is the journey, actually –

S: It’s the journey

C: – and for many of us, it is the primary journey of our Christian lives.

S: Absolutely!

C: That kind of getting to the point of feeling loved. And the other thing that we have talked about is the fact that when you are listening to other people, particularly people who would regard themselves as Christian teachers, whether they’re writing books or preaching sermons, then they too will have an attachment style.

S: Abso– Absolutely. And it may not be a healthy one.

C: Yes. Or it may have kind of elements of that unhealthiness. So it may be that some of what people are saying is soaked in love –

S: Is good.

C: – and the other thing that that secure attachment does, is that it sends out that sense of welcome and acceptance. So if you are listening to somebody and what they are saying, the way that they are speaking, or writing, gives you that sense of unconditional welcome and acceptance, and hospitality, almost of yourself and who you are, that sense that who you are is ok, then that is coming from a place of healthy attachment. If you are getting the sense that ‘maybe you’re not enough, that you need to work harder, that there's more to do, that maybe God might be disappointed with you, or even cross with you’ then actually, that is likely to be coming from a…

S: An insecure attachment of some sort.

C: Yes, yeah. And if we’re reading the bible, the bible can be really hard for people with the more insecure attachments, y’know it can be riddled with ‘mines’ that we step on, things that make us feel like we’re not ok.

C: Yes, because –

S: Actually those verses aren’t really for us.

C: Yes, because it’s a really complex and ancient book. And so your attachment style will determine the lenses through which you look at the bible and the things which you spot. So the people who look at it and find within it that sense of God’s unconditional love, are probably starting from a place of secure attachment. And the ones who come at it thinking, “Oh no, this is not good!” y’know, “I am in danger”, I think your description of there being landmines is a really, really good one. You’re kind of reading something and you come across verses that kind of make you feel horribly insecure and unsafe.

S: Yes, I think so. I mean, I’m fascinated by how some people describe the bible as a love letter to mankind –

C: *stifled laughter*

S: – and then you get Jonathan Edwards –

C: Yes.

S: –who’s on the other end of the spectrum.  So, how on Earth do you get such a large spectrum, and I think attachment theory is a window into that. I don’t think – let’s be careful here, that’s not all the reasons –

C: No, absolutely. It’s one little piece of the jigsaw.

S: It’s one…significant piece of the jigsaw.

C: Yes, it’s a significant piece, but it’s not all of it. And the other thing to remember is that we have looked at a particularly simple model of attachment, and there are other ways of looking at attachment.

S: Yes.

C: But there may well have been things in thi that have been helpful to you.

S: Yes.

C: And I think we would end by saying, Yes, you are loved.

S: You are loved. You are called. And you are gifted.

C: Yeah.



C: Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved, Called, Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email . You can find a transcript of this podcast at, and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved, Called, Gifted course, or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.


Thank you for listening.


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