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 Then there are the individuals who are insecurely attached, but as a result, become emotionally withdrawn in relationships.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.
To read more about the research done on attachment theory and interpersonal relationships check out this website.