Attachment – Why we relate to intimacy the way we do
The human life-span is a lot about two kinds of relationships we form around us – ones that nurture us, make us feel safe and cared for, and ones that do not. This process of forming relationships, and how we feel about them, is what we know as attachment. It is fascinating and very essential to know that our experience of ‘attaching’, or relating to those who have a significant influence in our lives, is largely dependent on our experience of our first ever emotional bond- the one we had with a parent. How we experienced the attention and nurturance we received as infants, largely determines how we relate to emotionally intimate relationships in adulthood! These are values and emotional experiences that we unconsciously carry forward in our lives, creating a ‘working model’ for other relationships. So, to put it straight, how you develop and maintain an emotional bond with a romantic partner is your inherent attachment style.
Understanding your attachment style can be helpful for a few reasons. One, knowing how OK you are with being emotionally intimate with your partner can give you an insight or two about how you probably felt about the same, back in your childhood. Secondly, being aware about your own attachment style is quite likely to make you more aware of what changes you might or might not need to make in the way you feel about romantic love!
There are four major styles of attachment that most people normally fall under. As you go through each of these styles, I urge you to think about which of them comes closest to how you would relate to your partner.
Secure: Securely attached adults are ones who find it easy to trust, connect and depend on their partners. Usually, those adults who felt assured of safety and immediate care from the mother as infants are the most likely to develop a secure style of attachment, where they are confident about exploration and trust that their emotional investments will be reciprocated. Not surprisingly, securely attached adults are also the ones who not only unhesitatingly seek support from their partner when in distress, but also provide support to their partner in need.
Anxious: If you find yourself frequently preoccupied with anxious uncertainties about your romantic life, you probably have an anxious attachment style. Infants who experienced an inconsistent or unrewarding attention and care from the mother are likely to develop a longing for closeness and love, but hardly the trust as they grow into adult romantic partners. If you relate to this experience, you might also relate to the feeling of staying vigilant in your relationships and about your partner because you believe romantic relationships are rather fragile. That can be quite a stressful experience.
Dismissive Avoidant: As frequently seen in these times of busy schedules and demanding jobs, when it comes to romantic relationships, a lot of people seek to be independent and be emotionally distant from their partners. They often come across as focused on themselves and are in reality having to take on the role of being their own parent, because that is what they learned at an early stage of development – that the ‘nurturer’ isn’t going to fulfill their needs and they’re going to have to be there for themselves. Despite an innate, natural need for human connection, this need to protect one’s self can come in the way of providing any emotional intimacy to a romantic partner. If you have an inkling that this might be your attachment style, you might also find yourself responding to most emotional confrontations with an “I don’t care”.
Fearful Avoidant: Though a relatively small percentage of the general population is found to have this style of attachment, it can be a particularly distressing one. The experience that leads to developing this style is that of punitive, combined with passive-aggressive parenting. Therefore, a working model that people use when they have this attachment style is that you need to seek emotional connect to get your needs met, but don’t go too close, lest you get hurt. It can seem like an unpleasant combination of love for and fear of the same person! Adults who develop this style have a fear of rejection, and at the same time may feel trapped about being in a relationship. Understandably, such an experience of relationships can seem like quite an emotional storm.
One word: Choice
Actually, make that two: Awareness, and Choice. While yes, our childhood is the most critical time in our lives where most of our values, experiences and world-views get established, the one thing that distinguishes us humans from the rest of nature is our ability to make choices. However deeply ingrained our attachment styles are, nothing can take away from us the fact that if we choose to ‘earn’ a secure attachment style, we certainly can. Being aware of our patterns and our inherent attachment style brings to light how we’ve been relating to the people we are close to and how we expect them to treat us. One way of challenging your inherent attachment styles is seeking out partners that are securely attached and are willing to support your quest for healthier attachment. Another way, if you find the need, is to seek therapy, and actually take that extra step to unload all that baggage and move towards a more liberated experience of love and relationships.
Having said that, it is when we choose to acknowledge our patterns and make an effort in the direction of secure and nurturing relationships, that we open ourselves up to healthier and more fulfilling relationships – romantic or otherwise!
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