Welcome to the world of attachment, where the deeper you dig the more it helps to connect, or not.
There are many moving parts to who we are and to how we interact and behave in romantic and sexual relationships. And our way of interacting with those around us begins with a love story, at birth. This is a story where the meaning of home is created in the heart and where two people exchange such intimate moments- that the qualities shared between them (both good and bad), actually imprint lifelong ways of giving and receiving. Psychology refers to this very important exchange and reception asattachment, and this theory came into being from the research done by two prominent psychologists, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
Our understanding of attachment provides a cradle for one of the most relevant features we share in human development: love. It coordinates our capacity to connect intimately with our ability to really trust and receive. Attachment determines how our emotional bonds feel inwardly, and establishes how we return our feelings, outwardly; as lovers and partners in this big world.
Have you ever heard someone say to you, “Hey, don’t get so attached!” Well, it’s really not such a bad thing and I’m here to explain why.
Combinations to the heart
There are four different possible attachment patterns that we have each developed from, and these are found in the ways that we and our own mom interacted:
- Secure attachment, where a strong emotional bond between baby and caregiver develops as a result of responsive care giving
- Insecure attachment, which is the result of inconsistent and unresponsive care giving
- Resistant attachment tends to find insecure attachment as mentioned above being characterized by anger and avoidance of baby’s caregiver
- Avoidant attachment describes insecure attachment characterized by ambivalence to the care giver.
Anything sound familiar, yet? How did your parent or caregiver engage you when you were little? And how did your parents engage each other?
It’s a whole different kind of Boob Tube
In this day and age we have all sorts of caregivers but the main squeeze that we are talking about here is ultimately the mother (figure) and child. Psychology calls the organization of this magnificent twosome: object relations. This funny phrase is not talking about a relationship between the couch and the TV, nor does it suggest that you object and strongly challenge your relations! Rather, it refers to how we develop in relation to others, whereupon, relationships between the child (self) and the mother (object) actually become co-constructed internally in the child’s cognition (thinking) while baby develops. Our very first relationship with our very first caregiver establishes a great deal about how open, expressive, or empathetic we will be with future significant others, friends, and even our own children!
As infants, our thinking develops at the same time we learn to interact with the world and when you think about it, that’s pretty amazing to consider that we actually participate in our own conceptions of love before we even know how. This sounds a bit odd, but initially we are unaware that we are not our mother, since we cannot yet differentiatebetween that I am and that you are. Over the course of time with the development of our eyes, ears, touch, the commencement of language and symbols, and an accumulation of interactions with our caregiver; the mother and child union develops into a more composite picture and we becomeindividuated (acting as our own person).
From babies, we grow into toddlers and become adolescents, teens, young adults, adults, and seniors. Along this entire journey we are simultaneously learning intimacy along with autonomy. With age, we (hopefully) become better able to express what is at our core to the larger world around us and, in essence, we reach out and take in what fulfills us; working off cues from the energetic process of our relationships that actually operate inside of us; such as feelings of safety, trust, compatibility, and desire.
You must be this tall to ride: I hate you because I love you
Mary Main added to this fascinating topic of study with adult patterns of attachment that represent what became of these folk with the four early exchanges mentioned above (see Layer Two). There are indeed connections found between present and loving parents with securely attached kids; to absent and neglectful parents and their children’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. And these thought patterns and ways of interacting continue into adulthood and manifest into all different presentations.
To illustrate, let me offer four examples where you can see the correlation between early childhood patterns that turn into adult patterns of attachment.
- Have you ever dated or fallen for someone who you really liked but didn’t hook, and so you walked away, but then you thought better of it after a week or two, and they were forgiving and agreed to see you again? It’s likely that they’re: Autonomous (secure).
- Maybe the neighbor who seems to flirt some days and seems icy on others isn’t really stuck up, perhaps he’s: Dismissing (insecure).
- Or how about your partner who over-reacts because you worked late, again, and now they won’t speak to you, maybe they’re: Preoccupied (resistant).
- And you know that really delightful woman who you made an amazingly deep connection with and who now seems to not know you, much less care?: Disorganized; disoriented (avoidant).
People aren’t simply shy, mean, or inconsiderate; they’re attachment has developed in some particular style and this gets repeated over and over in interactions between all of us! Things may not happen for a reason, but we can usually ascertain some semblance of a motive for most human behavior.
Let me also add here that the way people respond, react, and love has much to do with categories of culture, class, education, ethnicity, sexuality and ableness, too. How each of these categories is supported or oppressed by dominant culture and sub-cultures, plays a major part in all of this, as well. But that is another article, altogether.
From the moment we leave our first home, the uterus, we struggle with attachment and freedom. We internalize relationships through our imitation of them and then spend a lifetime trying to responsibly reconnect with the self within.
Remember, we don’t know that we are not two people when we are newborn. We do not know that “I am not my mother and that she is not me.” What we come to learn is that we can be solitary, and that ways to assuage feelings such as loneliness or rejection, for instance, are linked to re-connecting with the source that makes us feel visible. It’s not an easy task for the caregiver or the infant.
Throughout life, we assemble these kinds of messages of attachment and freedom one experience at a time. Regulating our attachment style also requires that we let some experiences (and people) go as we come to learn they no longer serve us. It also challenges us to trust some people when we, otherwise, might not.
How we operate as our own internal parent depends on which script we are pulling from and whether we identify with our early parent’s beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors; or with our own. It matters not how old we are, and yet, it matters completely as to how well we attach in general throughout life.
Still confused as to which one you might be?
Some questions that might help you to locate your attachment style:
- Do your relationships depend on fighting? This teaches you to withhold what is dear and precious.
- Do your relationships require you to give up yourself? This can equate to over-identification with shame or guilt.
- Do problems get worked out and are emotions expressed freely and truthfully? This can lead to healing and growth.
- Do you and your partner cooperate with each other even when expectations aren’t met? This increases ego strength and supports the idea that you are each worthwhile.
- Do you dominate your partner, or are you dominated? This can equate to little true self acceptance.
- Do you serve the survival needs of your family (i.e., do whatever it takes to get by sexually, romantically, financially, emotionally)? This equates to ‘survival’ equals no boundaries.
It is a paradox that we are separate, and yet, we need one another to feel whole. How well we genuinely accept ourselves as being valuable, will speak directly to how well we will receive others and their true worth as human beings.
It all comes down to this: The more consistent we genuinely love the more we forget about our separateness.
About the author
Kristin F. Jones is a Queer identified Marriage and Family Therapist with a certified specialization in LGBTQ populations. She offers psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families, and adolescents of all ages, ethnicities, gender identities, and sexualities.
Kristin works on a sliding fee-scale. She also works collaboratively with clients who are impacted by anxiety, depression, grief, shame or guilt. She practices at the Counseling Center at Phillips Graduate Institute in Chatsworth, California.
To contact, please visit her website, www.kristinfjonestherapy.com.