The way we relate to other people and ourselves is often a result of our early attachments in life and what we learnt from our primary caregivers when we were infants. How we form attachments or the ways in which we avoid doing so goes right to the heart of who we are as human beings.
A lot of research has been done into attachment theory and experts have become more and more aware of the significance of emotional connectedness with important people in our lives. A secure attachment to another person is a bond that continues over time and remains consistent even when people are physically separate. Without these attachments, it is hard to experience peace of mind and safety.
When infants have secure attachments to the people who look after them, they will experience intense distress when they leave and great joy when they return. Infants who do not have consistently secure relationships with their primary caregivers may display more complex behaviours.
Some infants may seem indifferent to the people closest to them and others may show distress when they leave but quickly lapse into rage and then despair, not wanting to interact when they come back. This is as a result of difficulties and inconsistencies in the attachment relationship which make separation too difficult to process.
All of this has a lasting impact on the way in which we form attachments in later life and, specifically on the way in which we behave in our romantic relationships. People who have experienced secure attachments in their early lives, tend to be able to sustain adult relationships which incorporate a balance of freedom and independence. In this kind of relationship, you are able to enjoy intimacy with your partner and also value going out into the world and doing things separately. This is because your relationship provides you with a ‘secure base’ from which to live your life to the full.
This is not easy for everybody though and you may find that insecurities get in the way of relating in this way. You may fear being left and therefore feel jealous and possessive of your partner. At the other end of the spectrum you may value your independence to such an extent that you do not give your partner the attention and the intimacy they need and this could be as a result of an unconscious fear of abandonment. Better to keep people at a distance so they cannot hurt you.
Of course, as with so many of our behaviours in life, these attachment styles are often unconscious and so we may behave in certain ways without realising or understanding why we are suffering. People often come to therapy because they have found themselves unable to sustain intimate relationships or can’t understand why the same thing keeps happening again and again.
This is where talking to a therapist can be helpful as it gives you an opportunity to think about your behaviour and how this may be connected to early experiences and fears about trusting other people. Understanding more can bring real relief and enable you to change the way you interact with the significant others in your life.
It can afford you a freedom to reflect on what goes wrong and how you may struggle to form long lasting and stable attachments with other people so that rather than feeling it is just a matter of ‘bad luck’ or ‘fate’ that you find yourself in unhappy relationships, you became empowered to make different and more healthy choices in life.