The term attachment is often used in the area of relationships and to describe what kind of relationship one had with their primary caregiver as a child. This first attachment plays a massive role in our development as a child and in how we are as adults.
A General View
So here I will give a general outline of attachment and my current views on what causes attachment problems and what the consequences are when there are attachment problems. This will mean that it will not be extensive or cover everything to do with attachment. When one is aware of these attachment problems, something can then be done.
This is usually understood through the different styles of attachment that have been constructed over the years by various psychologists. There are typically four primary ways how one can be, when it comes to their attachment style. Here one will either: avoid attachment, be in great need of attachment and seek to look after others or have a combination of the three and switch from one style to the other.
The First Attachment
During the very beginning of one’s life, the first attachment figure is usually the mother. And the quality of this early relationship, will often define how functional and resourceful one is as an adult.
As a child, one is completely dependent on this figure for everything. The ability to feel connected; that one belongs and to be able to emotionally regulate oneself is all affected by this early relationship.
To be mirrored by ones primary caregiver, as a child, is what allows one to know that they exist; however, this mirroring may not occur and if it does, then it may not be of the highest quality. And when one is nurtured by their caregiver it will be enable them to develop into a healthy adult. As this doesn’t always happen, one can grow up to feel emotional empty.
This may be due to a caregiver that is emotionally unavailable; with the caregiver being too consumed with their needs to care for the child. This could be due to: stress, work, emotional problems, unresolved trauma, abuse and depression.
What this means is that the child will end up responding in different ways to its mothers style of nurturing. On one side there is the mother’s behaviour towards the child and on the other side there are the Childs responses to this behaviour. The child may also respond to a certain style of nurturing and this will not happen if the caregiver is unaware.
This may mean that the child ends up feeling smothered and overwhelmed or that the child feels neglected and that it’s being ignored. If the caregiver is aware of the Childs needs, then these consequences can be minimized
And together these will influence what style of attachment the child will come to identify with. So now let’s take a look at what some of these consequences are.
The First Relationship
Due to this relationship being the first relationship that we have, it is not much of a surprise to hear that this is the one that shapes so much of who we are. And as well as what has been mentioned above about emotional regulation, belonging and feeling connected; it also affects our sense of: stability, security and how supported we feel. Ones perception of intimacy will also be shaped by these early experiences.
If this early attachment was not very functional and harmonious, it will mean that it is highly likely that one will grow up with numerous problems as a result.
These effects can include:
· Feeling a deep sense of abandonment and/or rejection
· Feeling isolated, alienated, unloved and/or alone.
· Feeling ungrounded and disconnected.
· Feeling that one doesn’t belong; no matter where one is or if one is surrounded by people or by themselves.
· Feeling an inner sense of instability and that one has no sense of inner safety and security.
· Keeping people at a distance and fearing intimacy.
· Fearing that people will leave, if there is not constant contact or closeness.
· The inability to emotionally regulate oneself.
· An undeveloped sense of self.
The Present Day
However, because all of this happened in the very beginning of one’s life, it may seem that these behavioural, emotional and thinking patterns are just happening. And that they are part of one’s nature. What happened during those early years would have had to have been denied and repressed, in order for one to survive.
This will mean that one’s awareness of what happened all those years ago might no longer be available, at least consciously that is. And because this programming is still running behind the scenes it will mean that one is still likely to feel, think and behave as they did all those years ago.
How it is
Although these feelings, thoughts, emotions and behaviours are not who one is, out of familiarity, they can come across as the truth. And in order for ones caregiver to act in the ways that have lead to the development of a dysfunctional attachment; it is evident that they were not aware of their behaviour.
The caregivers may have responded to the Childs feedback at times, but in the extreme cases, the caregiver would have been oblivious to this feedback. This is the result of their own emotional unavailability and lack of awareness.
This will mean that from the very beginning, one will have come to see that this behaviour was normal and will unconsciously accept it.
In order for these patterns to change and for one to be the person that they want to be; there has to be awareness. And out of awareness, it becomes possible for these patterns to change. The mind has formed its perceptions based on what is familiar and it will hold onto them, until its sees that that there is another way to be safe.
From here one can choose to do something else and to behave how they want to behave. This could be through the assistance of a friend, therapist, book, or a mentor.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.