What's the Big Deal
It seems like everyone is talking about attachment these days and while it may appear to be a fad, it's an incredible tool for self-awareness and relational health. By exploring how parents + caregivers were able to meet your needs, we can leverage this information and label potential areas of strength and growth for YOU in relationships.
A Short History Lesson
Attachment theory is a psychological model that started in the mid-1900s by a fellow named John Bowlby. He researched how humans responded in relationships when they:
◊ Felt hurt
◊ Perceived a threat (real or not)
◊ Were separated from a loved one
He found that children needed to develop a relationship with at least one caregiver in order to establish emotional and social wellbeing -- specifically on how to honor and regulate their feelings.
In the 1960's and 1970's Mary Ainsworth, a badass psychologist, found that a child's attachment style will shape their adult and intimate relationships. Yes, the attachment you received as a little one contributes to your relationships. But the good news is that attachment style doesn't determine those adult relationships. She found that humans fall into four categories of attachment:
This is the créme de la créme of attachment styles. As a kid your caregivers provide safety, love and respect for you. When you were hungry, frustrated, sad or need some lovin' they swooped right in. By doing this you learned to trust them, yourself and others.
They supported any and all of your emotions, which makes you able to support emotions in other folks. This means that you can navigate challenges in significant relationships.
You are more likely to have a safe and connected relationship with peers, partners and kids.
As a child your caregivers were often not present and if they were you experienced them as being dismissive. In being consistently dismissed, you learned that your needs won't be met by anyone but yourself. And then you found yourself in a survival mentality - getting big, small or silent. It's likely you did whatever necessary to get your needs met. Sadly, this was your reality because you couldn't rely on those who were suppose to provide you with stability, love and safety.
The survival mentality makes it difficult to attend to the needs of other's. You are likely afraid of connection and intimacy .. even though deep down, you have been longing and craving for it.
In significant relationships you likely pull away from things are challenging. You have a difficult time connecting and appear to not need it .. even though that is the furthest thing from the truth!
As a child your caregivers were either loving or terrifying and this could change from moment to moment. This neglectful and/or abusive behavior has a lasting impact.
You have the human need of love, safety and respect but often you push this away because your body expects the need to be unmet. You might push others away because you have a (false) belief that you aren't deserving of love, safety and respect.
In relationships you long for connection but distrust it. You tend to seek less intimacy and find difficulty in expressing emotions, often withholding them.
Your caregivers were inconsistent. Sometimes they showed up with comfort, love and safety. But other times they weren't able to for whatever reason. You were likely an anxious kiddo and had difficulty trusting others. This all make logical sense, because the stability that you NEEDED, well you didn't receive it in the way you deserved.
Trusting others can be really difficult and you may find yourself expecting people to disappoint or hurt you. This expectation can sabotage your need for connection, as you are actively looking for proof that others cannot be trusted.
In significant relationships, you are more likely to find trust challenging, have unrealistic expectations and feel your needs are never being met.
Attachment + Relationships
The majority of folks don't fit squarely in one of the four attachment styles. You likely will find attributes from multiple styles. The value of exploring your attachment style is that it can provide information that will help you be more compassionate to yourself in relationships. It is also super beneficial to understand how your partner attached with their caregivers. Here are questions to get the conversation started with yourself, partner or those around you.
◊ How did your caregivers show love, care, grace, tenderness, intimacy?
◊ How did your caregivers express frustration, anger, stress?
◊ How did you feel valued, respected and witnessed by your caregivers?
◊ When you were experiencing hurt were you supported, neglected, made to feel like you were wrong, or weren't allowed to ask for help?
◊ When exploring you identity were you supported, neglected, made to feel like you were wrong, or weren't allowed to express yourself?
Curiosity + Compassion
If you can use a curious mindset, instead of judgmental, this exploration will be much more beneficial for you. Through curiosity you can label any areas that are sensitive for you. Perhaps you discover that it is difficult to trust others and instead of beating yourself up, you can point fingers to the origin. You can compassionately acknowledge that your caregivers dropped the ball and subsequently your body has a tough time trusting others. You can be kinder to yourself because you weren't given the blueprint for trust ... the pressure is off of you, well for the moment. Now that you know this about yourself, what do you want to do? Do you want to show up healthier in your relationships? Do you want to take pride in YOU? If you want support in figuring out next steps, let's chat!