to maintain the negativity in the relationship and leads partners to “…fight, flight or fear responses that tend to perpetuate distress” (Johnson & Sims, 2000, p. 172). These responses, especially fear, tend to characterize the verbal expressions of attachment injury. If fear were viewed through the attachment theory lens from a perspective of survival, then verbal expressions of attachment injury would be those of threats to survival. These expressions may be of an “all or nothing” flavor (“Our relationship cannot survive if this doesn’t stop”), or infused with statements of figurative death (“It kills me when (s)he does that”).
Millikin (2000) operationalizes attachment injury and explores it in the context of therapeutic change processes. Attachment injuries are conceptualized as “critical negative events” (p. 62); Millikin notes that damage to the attachment bond is characterized by a lost sense of trust on the part of the injured partner, and a decreased sense of accessibility to and responsiveness from the other partner. Verbal expressions might address that loss of trust, in terms of safety or survivability of the injured partner, and the perceived lack of caring in the other partner (“I can’t trust him/her anymore; (s)he just doesn’t understand how much that hurts me.”) Attachment injury may be identified through an inability to reach resolution on a recurrent issue, or through signals of a change in one partner’s perceptions of and feelings toward the other (Millikin, 2000). The verbal expressions for these impasses signaling attachment injury would address recurrent, unresolvable issues (“We always fight about this, and it never gets us anywhere; “We’re stuck in a pit of disagreement and we can’t climb out”). Verbal expressions for signaling changes in perception of the partner might involve negative and emotional comments about the partner (“He acted as though he cared when we were dating, but now I know he doesn’t care at all”).
Attachment injury is conceptualized as an explanation of the impasses encountered in marital therapy (Johnson, Makinen & Millikin, 2001). Attachment injury finds its genesis in the injured partner’s experience of abandonment and betrayal, which lead to feelings of loss of trust and intimacy (Johnson, et al., 2001). The secure haven provided by the relationship has become unsafe for the injured partner. Johnson and her colleagues note that, in the course of therapy, attachment injury is re-experienced as similar to a traumatic flashback. The injured partner becomes overwhelmed by the flashbacks, the other partner may be unresponsive or makes no attempt to re-secure the attachment bond, or the injured partner is not receptive to reassurance the other partner attempts to provide; there is a sense of increased vulnerability in the relationship (Johnson, et al., 2001).
Attachment injury is a process significant to the individual experiencing the injury; the importance is related to the meaning that an event has for an injured partner, rather than the content of the event (Johnson, et al., 2001). This important point suggests that attachment injury may occur as a result of one or both partners being sensitized or vulnerable to certain meanings and interpretations of events. It would be possible, then, for attachment injury to have originated in a past relationship, with re-experiencing of trauma in the current relationship. For example, a new stepmother may re-experience attachment injury in her new marriage and view it as connected to her husband’s perceived abandonment in favor of his children; however, the injury’s genesis was from