Why We Turn To Love To Heal Our Broken Pasts

It sounds completely absurd to think that the first relationships we have as a child impact who and how we love 20, 30, even 40 plus years later. But that is the gist of attachment theory. We all have needs. Some of these needs include the need for affection, love, and shelter. As children, when we have a parent who for one reason or another is not able to meet some of these needs, anxiety ensues, and the individual is likely to grow up to have insecure attachments with their friends and loved ones.

There are various ways in which we go about coping with this anxiety from our childhood, but one of the most fascinating ways we do this is in our choice of romantic partners. If these romantic relationships are simply a replica of how our mother and father treated us, essentially, we exhaust an enormous amount of effort trying to fix developmental trauma from our childhood. And in some instances, love is simply another way we appease our unconscious need to heal our past.

There are two parts of us that influence who we love: the conscious and unconscious self.

For those of us who have a tendency of being insecurely attached (aka me lol) our choices in love tend to be made by our subconscious mind. We cling to the way that this person “feels like home”. Then there are the individuals who are insecurely attached, but as a result, become emotionally withdrawn in relationships. They try to keep people close in proximity, but not necessarily close enough to be emotionally vulnerable. The most frustrating, yet not so surprising part about all of this, is that people who are insecurely attached have this magical tendency of gravitating toward one another.

For the sake of this post, love can be grossly simplified into two parts: feelings and actions. And some of us who are insecurely attached tend to fall for partners simply based on feelings, while completely ignoring the actions (or inactions) of their partners. And I use the word “ignore” because often, people are aware of their companion’s negligent behavior, but rather, wrongfully assume they can make this person change.

Some individuals are insecurely attached and as a result rarely open up; they value being self-sufficient and fear rejection so much so that they often use the defense mechanism of not having expectations. By not having expectations, people are attempting to alleviate any disappointment that may arise when they feel someone close to them has failed them. And this usually unconscious way of coping shouldn’t necessarily be seen as bad. At some point, this defense mechanism of being emotionally prude and suppressing their feelings of intimacy was pivotal for their emotional survival throughout their childhood. The issue is, this way of coping is outdated. It no longer serves its purpose and is more likely than not to be detrimental to their intimate relationships.

And then some individuals tend to be more anxious with their partners. We have a tendency to be so fearful of abandonment that we’ll do almost anything to prevent it. We are hypervigilant and so preoccupied with our partner and their behaviors, that any indication of actual or perceived feelings of abandonment can trigger episodes of complete hysteria. Basically, we try way too hard which is why sometimes these people will bend over backward to prove their worth to their partners and seek to satisfy this relentless need for validation. People who are anxious/preoccupied may feel that they need to be constantly reassured of their partner’s love, but the reality is, their need for reassurance will never be satisfied because it is most likely rooted in unhealed pain of their childhood.

Attachment theory is fascinating because it reveals how much we’re all just looking for a second chance – a do-over if you will – to atone the relationships of our past and finally get things right with an inattentive or emotionally (sometimes physically) abusive parent. And because technology has yet to advance to where we can teleport ourselves back in time and be the advocate we needed when we were simply a precious and impressionable little bundle of joy; we desperately seek out opportunities to get things right with our partners. Somehow, if only we could get the inconsistent and emotionally unavailable partner to commit, then THIS would finally disprove the notion we’ve created from our childhood that we are not lovable or good enough.

But the thing is, we have always been enough. The challenge is in understanding that how others treat us is not indicative of our self-worth. But the beauty of it all is that attachment, and our ability to love is not finite. Just as easily as we form unhealthy attachments, we can unlearn these habits and form healthy and secure relationships. Contrary to what is displayed in the media, on television, and in most pop songs, love doesn’t have to be this scream of pain, or an unrequited and dysfunctional romance. But instead, we can strive for something that embodies peace and emotional maturity in our relationships.

Featured image via Motiejus

To read more about the research done on attachment theory and interpersonal relationships check out this website.

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Great article with incredible insight!!! I would love to know what would be some indicators that an individual has progressed emotionally.

    • hello! i’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      we’re all a constant work in progress, so i think becoming more healthy emotionally is just this never ending process. but i would say that some of the indicators to show that we are progressing is really our awareness about our interactions. sometimes it might be difficult to change our behaviors, but the quicker we can look back at that moment and realize we may have acted irrationally, and whatever issue at hand really isn’t about our partner at all, that is one of the most essential parts to making changes in our relationships. thats my long answer lol but basically mindfulness is KEY!

      Hope this answered your question xoxo

  2. This was great Denise! Very insightful. Now if someone would just tell us how to unlearn these bad habits permanently

  3. Exceptionally insightful. Picking up on AV’s question/comment, is awareness of “developmental trauma,” according to attachment theory, in-and-of-itself sufficient for maturing? Or, do individuals need to identify and exercise their trauma before they can truly mature in their romantic relationships?

    • Thank you for your comment! In the book “Keeping the Love You Find” by Dr. Harville Hendrix, he has done a ton of research on attachment and seems to make the argument that being aware of the hurt from our past is a great first step, but there are a lot of ways people heal these relationships. he mentions that therapy is great option, but also just using other relationships (i.e. best friends, siblings, etc.) as an example to guide you on what healthy relationships look like can be extremely beneficial too. I highly recommend his book though, even just the highlights! he’s far more qualified than myself to speak on the topic lol and plus it’s really good 🙂

  4. “And some of us who are insecurely attached tend to fall for partners simply based on feelings, while completely ignoring the actions (or inactions) of their partners. And I use the word “ignore” because often, people are aware of their companion’s negligent behavior…”
    WOW I had to get my life after that.

  5. Bravo Denise! Great piece. I often struggle with this concept, especially after I discovered the root of my problem, which was the absence of a father throughout my entire life (passed away when I was 6months old), and my inability at times to even understand how or why I cannot connect with significant others or misunderstand my own feelings in regards to intimacy in relationships. Furthermore, my problems arise from the idea that I was never able to “experience” this initial bond with the opposite sex (my father) and have worked very hard in my adult life to explore ways to learn how to maneuver this course appropriately, self taught. Thanks for sharing truth!!!

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