Polysecure – Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy

Author: Jessica Fern

 

*The term Nonmonogamy/ Nonmonogmaous  – NM – will be used to include any relationship which is not a monogamous couple dynamic.

*CNM – consensual nonmonogamy

 

One of the perks of working as a therapist is that I get to hear what content people are consuming, I often receive excellent book and podcast recommendations. A lot of clients who are non- monogamous or starting out their exploration of non-monogamy have been reading and recommending Polysecure by Jessica Fern. As someone who works with non-monogamous relationships, I felt the need to read this book and I am very glad I did.

I am going to cover some of the key points that I took from Jessica Fern’s book, but I highly recommend reading or listening to it for yourself.

Jessica Fern, a therapist and person who practices CNM relationships is using the lens of attachment to understand its impact on our ability to thrive in CNM relationship dynamics.

The majority of the clients I have had the privilege of working with know their attachment style before walking in. Most are aware this will impact the types of relationships they will experience as an adult, and how they will manage conflict and the cycle of rupture and repair in their significant relationships. Due to this I am not going to give an in-depth overview of attachment styles, but if you are interested in exploring these I recommend reading Attached By Levine & Heller. Its origin is from John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.

Below is a basic overview of the attachment styles and how the manifest in children and adults.

Attachment as a child Attachment as an adult
Secure child
Child seeks the comfort of their care taker
Pleased when the parent returns
Independently explores
Generally happy
Secure adult
Easy being alone and with others
Higher self-esteem and trusting in relationships
Seeks intimate relationships
Able to trust their feelings freely
Avoidant child
Distant from caretakers
Played alone
Internal signs of stress
Avoidant adult
Self-reliant, project unwanted traits
Devalues relationships
Overdevelopment of logical brain
Sensitive to interference of freedom
Anxious child
Hyper-activating attachment
Parent is inconsistent/dysregulating
If they settle their needs won’t be met so they
have extreme responses to get their needs met
Responsible for meeting parents needs
Anxious child
Hyper-activated focus on their partners needs
Hyper-focus on the other to maintain a connection
Fear of abandonment
Gives up own needs and compulsive care taking
Hard taking in the love they need and quick to get in relationships
Difficulty communicating their feelings
Disorganised child
Hyper-activated and deactivated at the same time
Oscillation between anxious and avoidant
Fearful of parent figure/abused
Child learns they aren’t safe
Contradicting behaviour from parents
Chaos
HSP/sensory overload/chemical sensitivities
Decreased olfactory functioning
Disorganised adult
Both dismissive and preoccupied
Uncomfortable relying on others
Easily overwhelmed and flare up
Sense of self and others is impaired
Sees self as broken

 

Fern explores attachment via an axis of attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety, looking at getting the balance between having autonomy and also connection. There is a need for separateness and connection for intimacy to occur. Having and holding boundaries is pivotal to obtaining a healthy relationship.

Low avoidance
Secure Preoccupied
Low anxiety High anxiety
Dismissive Fearful
High avoidance

 

Healthy boundaries – being connected and protected

Porous boundaries – being connected but not protected

Rigid boundaries – being protected but not connected

 

Fern also refers to the nested model of attachment, that we exist outside of ourselves and relationships, we need to consider our home, local communities and culture, society frameworks and even the global and collective experience.

The nested model of attachment & trauma

Global or Collective

Societal

Local communities & culture

Home

Relationships

Self

Additional facets other than the self and relationships that effect our attachments:

  • Home; who was in it, where it was, pets, generations, types of people, cleanliness, space, etc.
  • The local community & culture; work, groups, gyms, spiritual places, technology and how it impacts our ability to create attachments. Online rejection, school culture, overt social rejection, academic pressure.
  • Societal level – economic, medical and legal systems, oppression, legal protections, structural violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, how we are treated. Relationships are defined as valuable, tax breaks for married people. Patriarchy values impact relationships – sexism, objectification, invisibility, exclusion in their intimate relationships. Added pressure to meet beauty standards, and be a boss, and be a parent, and an amazing lover and run a house etc.
  • Global & Collective – attachment to our natural world, climate trauma and environmental anxiety. We are a traumatised collective and often have unresolved trauma from previous generations which can affect our genetics

Some people see CNM’s as a lifestyle choice, others an orientation, and whatever fits you best is correct. It has been shown that there’s a significant increase in demand for literature around CNM relationships between 2006-2015. As Fern covers, and many others also have, monogamy is a social construct. ‘We’ as a collective have decided that this is the ‘best’ route for us to have relationships. To have one partner who will meet all of your needs as we ever change and develop, sounds like a high bar to live up to. When we think about this it’s absurd to expect that one person is going to meet all of our needs and if they don’t then the relationship is a failure. It has been shown that people in CNM relationships have increased need fulfilment, as well as an increase in non-sexual activities and personal growth. There are different types of CNM relationships as outlined below.

CNM Relationships
High sexual exclusivity (mono-sexual)
Monogomy Asexual
Monogamsh Polyamorous
Polyfidelity (closed group) Poly-intimates
High emotional exclusivity 
Mono-amorous
Low emotional exclusivity 
Poly-amorous
Open marriage/rel Hierarchical polyamory
Swinging Non+hierarchical polyamory
Solo polyamory – not couple centric
Relationship anarchy
Low sexual exclusivity
(poly-sexual)

 

*For more information about these definitions I recommend referring to the book.

What is the importance of attachment in CNM’s?

Polysecure – having an internal security to self as well as being securely attached to multiple partners in order to navigate the structural insecurity of non-monogamy.

CNM’s have the capability to disrupt attachments, either to ourselves or to others. Fern suggests that monogamy can be a stand in for secure attachment, buffering us from our own insecurities. If a monogamous couple decided to open up their relationship, they are removing the structure, which can cause relationship issues to come to light. Entering into a CNM relationship as insecure, you are no longer the only person in your partners life. You are opening yourselves up to potentially meet people who are game changers for you. The flip side of this is a sense of security, that your partners are actively choosing you, not because they have to but because they want to.

Creating a secure attachment requires time but is beneficial to creating healthy relationships. When safety is established with our attachment figures it gives us freedom to explore the world from a secure base. This exploration helps us to build personal autonomy.

If you chose to be in a CNM relationship building the foundations of being poly-secure is a must, lots of conversations and questions asked and answered.

  • What does commitment look like to you and your partners?
  • Why do we want to be secure attachments for one another?
  • What does attachment look like for you?
  • Do we have the time for one another?

Ferns uses the acronym HEARTS for being Polysecure in your relationships as outlined below:

HEARTS

H – Here & present

E – Expressed delight

A – Attunement

R – Rituals & routines

T – Turning towards after conflict

S – Secure attachment to self

For further details on how to apply HEARTS to your relationship please refer to the book.

If you are in, or are considering CNM relationships then I recommend reading this book. Deciding what type of CNM relationship would work for you and your partners, hashing out the rules and boundaries, and getting to grips with and understanding your attachments to yourself and others is vital. Nothing activates us as much as someone pressing on our unattended attachment triggers. Doing this groundwork before jumping into anything will save you time, energy, conflict and pain and will hopefully allow you to have wonderful relationships with greater access to having your needs met, socially, emotionally, sexually and physically.

 

Image credit @cottonbro

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