A new scientific study published by The Ohio State University suggests that people with attachment issues are more likely than others to be engaged in the stories seen in TV shows and movies, as they connect with the fictional characters and then think about how they would act if placed in the same scenarios.
The results point out that the stories provide a “safe place” for some people to deal with relationship issues in their life, says Nathan Silver, the lead author of the study. Silver is a doctoral student in communication at The Ohio State University.
“We can do a lot more with stories than just escape into them,” Silver said.
“For people with attachment issues, movies and TV shows can be a way to try to understand their problems or to vicariously meet their needs for intimacy in a way that they may find difficult in real life.”
Michael Slater, a professor of communication at Ohio State, conducted the study with Silver. Their results were recently published online in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Silver and Slater examined two dimensions of attachment in romantic relationships: avoidance and anxiety. Partners high in avoidance have a fear of intimacy and tend to not want to get too close emotionally to their partners. Those high in anxiety (also sometimes referred to as love-addicted) behave in a way commonly described as “needy.” They tend to need constant reassurance from their partners that they are loved and cared for. These two extremes of attachment issues form what is referred to as co-dependency in relationships.
The love-avoidant partners, who were low in anxiety, were less engaged with the stories, while the love-addicted partners were more engaged.
What was most interesting is a third group who are both high in anxiety and avoidance. This typically comes from a disorganized attachment during childhood.
What happens between mother and child in moments of distress? When attachment functions well the caregiver defends the infant from fear, emotionally “buffering” the infant and reassuring him or her they are safe from harm. When attachment is sensitive and attuned, the caregiver provides a safe base from which the infant can explore.
In disorganized patterns the parent or primary caregiver is unable to function in the protective role of caregiver or to identify with a child’s subjective needs.
In disorganized attachment, the parent reacts to the child’s upset by being frightened or frightening to the child, themself — compounding the child’s fear. American academic Mary Main calls disorganized attachment “fear without solution.” Psychology Today, Molly S. Castelloe, Ph. D.
“These are the classic self-sabotagers. They really want supportive intimacy, but tend to screw it up because they also have these avoidance behaviors,” say Silver.
“When they watch their favorite shows, people with attachment issues can imagine a relationship without the real-life problems, like the storybook romance of Jim and Pam on The Office.”
“If you take the perspective of Jim, you don’t have to be anxious about Pam. You can vicariously have this very functional relationship, just like they do on the show.”
People with attachment issues often miss the opportunity to enjoy some life experiences, Slater said.
These stories offer people with these attachment issues a safe place to cope with some of the problems they have with relationships. It is a fascinating study and the findings, in particular, make a lot of sense to me. It also gives you a reason to cut your partner some slack if they love watching TV or movies or get sucked into binge watching shows that they find intriguing. It also might prompt a conversation to see if some of these attachment issues are evident in your relationship or your childhood. Getting some counseling to work through them would go a long way.
Pia Mellody’s classic book, “Facing Codependence,” is a must-read if you find yourself in this position.
Disclaimer: I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work shared here on my blog.
To read the full article regarding Silver and Slater’s study click here: