Relationships! They are in every aspect of our lives, and yet none of us know how to master them. Even the relationship with ourselves seems to be extremely difficult to make sense of. The creation of a harmonious union with ourselves and with other people are surely what most of us (all of us) truly wish for. Why is it so difficult?
Being attached to your “tribe” or your loved ones is linked with security. The human race is a social race, and we need each other. Attachment is a basic human need. It’s mirroring the truth of this universe, oneness…
This week I’ve felt inspired to dive deeper into the realms of relationship dynamics. That too is complicated, but I find it very interesting to research and learn more about – and I find it very important to share. I think this type of awareness is crucial for those of us who struggle with relationships – in all of its varieties. Just knowing a tiny bit of these different dynamics make me feel relief, because I already see myself and others with much more clarity. This gives me a great advantage and the opportunity to really understand others, what they need and how to meet those needs, and to understand what I need myself, and how to express those needs.
So what creates these different relationship dynamics that we keep experiencing with ourselves and the people in our lives?
*“Attachment is an emotional bond one develops with another person, which reflects the trust and security he/she feels in that relationship. Attachment theory is based on the idea that how we bonded with our parents when we were babies impacts our relationships as adults.”
When a child is born it depends entirely on its primary caregiver/s (usually parents), to comfort it. If the child feels any type of distress, it relies on the parent to help it feel better – to help regulate its emotions. For a parent to do this, they have to be attuned to their child.
*”Emotion regulation is skills that help regulate the physiology, experience and actions associated with emotions”.
Imagine a person who doesn’t know how to regulate their own emotions (because they were never taught how to) having a child. When this child begins to cry or show any other type of emotion, the parent will most likely have no capacity to help, guide or teach their child how to regulate what it is feeling and experiencing. Because of that, this child can in fact not rely on the parent to make it feel safe, and when that happens the parent are not able to form a secure attachment to their child. Instead, and over time, the attachment that is formed is what is called an insecure attachment.
First of all I will briefly explain what is meant by secure attachment:
Basically our parents are suppose to help us regulate, organize and identify our emotions until we develop the ability to do this for ourselves. The secure-attachment style is when the parent provides a secure base from which the child can explore from independently, with the knowing that it can always return to a safe place. When a child learns it can feel distress and then get comfort and help to feel better, they learn that negative emotions are not to be feared, and that they can be tolerated and dealt with in effective ways. It creates an optimal development of the child’s nervous system, providing the skill to regulate their emotions as they grow up. This creates a basic trust in the world, a feeling of safety and a healthy self-awareness. As adults they don’t worry too much of being hurt in relationships, because they are not afraid of those emotions, they know how to tolerate the pain if it comes. This gives them the freedom to be who they are and to know what they want, because their emotional compass was never taken (hidden) away from them, instead they were taught how to use it.
There are three different insecure attachment styles:
The anxious-attachment style is formed when the parent is inconsistent in meeting their child’s needs, and therefore behave in an unreliable way. This parent reacts unpredictably to their child, and when they respond it is often based on their own emotional state at the time and their own needs, rather than the needs of the child. Because of the inconsistency a child experienced from its parents, as an adult the individual tend to focus exclusively on maintaining relationships as a way to feel better, and may not be aware of their own inner, emotional lives. Maintaining their relationships and being accepted is more important than how they authentically feel within a connection with someone.
The avoidant-attachment style is formed when the parent is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to the child. They disregard the child’s needs and maintain an emotional distance. Behaviors like this makes a child feel rejected, unheard and unseen – because it is. And after many attempts to interact with the parent just to be rejected and hurt by doing so, the child closes off parts/needs of him/herself, in order to stay physically close to the parent. It is a matter of survival for a child to do so. This is the birth of a defense mechanism and the belief, that it will have to be completely dependent upon itself to meet its own needs, and to never rely on others to do that. Therefore they will have little or no desire to seek help or support from other people. An upbringing like this will close off to the part of self that needs and wants intimacy and closeness with others, or more so it is hidden away.
The disorganized-attachment style happens when the parent is unable to attune to their child’s needs and isn’t able to function as the protective role. The communication is basically out of sync. When the child feels upset and turn to the parent in the expectation of receiving protection and safety, this parent will most likely react to the child’s upset by being frightened themselves or seem frightening to the child. Or they might attempt to soothe the child, but by standing out of reach. This behavior of unpredictability confuses the child, as the parent is now both the source of anxiety and safety (as the child’s survival depends on being part of the “tribe”). The child will experience conflict in whether or not to approach the parent. As adults many may find it difficult to form and sustain solid relationships. They often have difficulties managing stress and can demonstrate aggressive behaviors because of it. They may see the world as an unsafe place.
The information above is of course very wide in its description. Every person has a much more complex experience that cannot be contained in this way, and many may even have different attachment styles overlapping each other. The information can be of good help though, as a way of understanding oneself and others better, and to give meaning to one’s experiences growing up and how it can still have a huge impact on one’s life to this day.
I have aspects within me with different styles of attachment, being both the anxious – and avoidant. I feel progress already though, learning about myself and my own patterns. The clarity, that information like this provides, is the first step towards changing and expanding into the secure form of attachment.
I wish I had a recipe to end this post with, on how to create a secure-attachment style. I know it is indeed possible and that there are a lot of help to get. Learning a way to regulate emotions can be done with practices such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness. Being aware of what we feel when we interact with others, can in itself reveal a lot of what we would like to change and improve. And as I mentioned above, clarity is the first step towards change.
I’m posting the link to a test called “What is your attachment style?”. I found the test interesting and helpful, maybe you will too!