The impact of attachment styles on relationships

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The first years of life are vital for one’s physical and emotional development. In order for a child to grow into a healthy and happy adult, emotional nurture is as important as the food they are given. The main care giver is responsible for the emotional nurturing of the child and, based on one’s relationship with their main care giver, people develop different types of attachment. Secure attachment and insecure attachment (anxious avoidant and anxious ambivalent) are the main types. While a securely attached child will develop into an adult who can enter, enjoy and sustain healthy relationships, insecurely attached children will grow into anxious adults who will struggle to enter and to keep happy relationships.

Here’s how the attachment style impacts us and the relationship we develop as adults:

Secure attachment

As a child, they tend to explore the environment independently and they see the parents as a secure base they can always return to. As adults, they are able to develop secure connections with their romantic partners and experience more satisfaction than the insecurely attached people. They will often be happier, offering the other partner the freedom they need and taking that for themselves. They will be able to ask for help from their partner when in difficulty and offer support to others when asked. The relationships they have tend to be equal, mature and honest. There is a general degree of independence that both partners enjoy without fearing dishonesty or abandonment. Finally, there is no need for control or for compensatory fantasies. None of the partners has to comply with the other partner’s expectation in order to feel loved and wanted. The partners are themselves and love each other for who they are, not for the needs their presence might satisfy in the other.

Insecure avoidant attachment

Due to a physically or psychologically absent care giver, who didn’t respond properly to a child’s needs or who repeatedly ignored his/her cries, the child developed an insecure avoidant attachment style. That means that, as adults, they will refuse to entertain strong feelings for anyone because they might be hurt again. They have trust issues and a fear of commitment. They are the people who will have many short-term relationships, who have a cynical attitude towards love and who will leave the relationship as soon as it starts to look serious. They are unresponsive to their partner’s needs and they often prefer to break the relationship rather than be there for their other half. It feels like a huge emotional pressure to give or receive love because, deep down, they are still the children who had been hurt when they needed love and responsiveness the most.

Insecure ambivalent attachment

While their parents were relatively present during a child’s first years, they showed no consistency in responding to the child’s needs. The child grew into a confused adult who needs to scream for attention and feels like they never get all the love they need. They are the people who enter often rocky relationships where they ask for permanent reassurance, worry a lot about being left and would do anything to keep their partner. Their fear of abandonment can sometimes make them prisoners of unhealthy relationships, where they might tolerate abusive behaviours just because, in their opinion, having someone who is not suitable for them is better than being lonely.
They can’t see the other person for who they are and often their partner’s image is pure fantasy. Behind this confused state of mind there is an angry and scared child who hasn’t been cared for properly, who keeps trying to repair the damage the care giver did by not seeing him/her, not listening to him/her and, most importantly, not loving him/her for what he/she was.

While there is no such thing as a pure attachment style, most adults tend to adopt one of these types. Relationships are the playground where people can grow, develop and bloom, and the attachment style we have can make that process pleasant, difficult or even impossible. If you or someone you know is having a rocky relationship and always ends up with ‘the wrong person’, it might be because of their attachment style. Individual therapy, as well as couple or family therapy, can help people identify their attachment style and support them in healing the inner child who has been mistreated. Nurturing your inner child means giving yourself the chance to a happier relationship, a more meaningful life and a better model for your children, if you have or decide to have them. A better tomorrow for yourself and your loved ones can start today, so feel free to get in touch if you need any support.

Old wounds and new relationships

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just-the-two-of-us-1240146-1599x908Falling in love and entering a relationship are some of the most beautiful experiences a human being can have. However, forming a couple can be a bumpy road once the waves of dopamine and serotonin begin to settle…

For some people a committed relationship is a reason to experience stability, security and long-term happiness while for others the reality is far from that. To this second category it all feels like a movie they’ve seen before – great start, bad ending! One of the reasons why many people fail to develop a healthy attachment to someone else and build a lasting relationship is the chain of personal relationships they went through, a chain that can go as far back as early childhood.

In an ideal world, every baby would have a good enough parent to offer them all the love, care and security they need. Later on, people would find partners that understand, support and love them for what they are. In an ideal world people could still make relationship mistakes, but also learn from them in order to make better choices in the future. However, we live in a world far from the ideal where some of us never find that special one. Why? Because previous relationships can shape our understanding of and behaviour in current ones. Here’s a short intro into the dynamic of past and present relationships:

Parental relationships and old wounds

We start learning about relationships as soon as we are born. The way parents/tutors/carers attend to our needs, as well as the attention and the time they pay to us are extremely important in our development as relational beings. When we are babies everything that comes (or doesn’t come) from our parental figures matters. For example, a parent who is physically or emotionally absent can foster unpleasant emotions in their child, from making them feel anxious or insecure to feeling unworthy, unloved and abandoned. Although the child might be too young to consciously label their emotional experiences, they often end up developing a pattern of relationships that will be repeated in other significant human interactions, such as in a romantic couple. Old relationships model the future ones. Hence, they may look for partners who never treat them as a priority, who make them feel worthless and unimportant. Sometimes the person can experience such feelings even if their partner is present and loving, the reason being that they developed a certain pattern based on their primal relationship with their parents. The only model of relationship they know is a faulty one and they will try to repeat it every single time, even if they know and dread the outcome.

It’s important to note that old wounds, like the ones from early childhood, can impact us for a very long time. Without the right understanding and support, they can deprive us of the opportunity to enter and experience authentic happiness in a couple relationship.

Previous couple experiences

In Western societies, most of people don’t end up marrying their first love and living happily ever after. Usually, they have more than one love relationship and learn about the romantic couple as they go. On their way they can face betrayal, absences, cheating, miscommunication and even abuse. Such events have the potential to make them more suspicious when meeting new partners and can seriously affect the interactions with them. For example, someone can feel so hurt by being cheated on that they will start suspecting all men/women to be cheaters. On top of the trust issue they developed, they might unconsciously try to punish the current partner for something the previous one did. Unresolved business comes with us into new relationships and it has the potential to make everyone unhappy.

A mix of causes

Sometimes, a mix of primal and more recent wounds can make us pursue the wrong people or end up in the wrong relationships. Let’s say someone had the experience of an abusive parent. In many cases, this might unconsciously determine them to feel attracted only to people who could easily fit the shoes of the abuser they have known since infancy. In such cases, it is no surprise that after they leave an abusive relationship they start a very similar one. There are also cases when they don’t necessary enter a relationship with an abuser, but they might unconsciously try to provoke their partners to be abusive because they learned that in a love relationship – such as parent-child – violence is an acceptable form of expression between two people who love each other.

There are many other ways in which we are affected by previous experiences and it is a long journey to understanding what a happy, healthy relationship is. The process includes unlearning and re-learning thoughts, feelings and behaviours as well as healing past wounds that stop us from being authentic and romantically happy. Therapy can help identify maladaptive relational patterns, understand their roots and their impact in one’s life, make peace with the past, move on and get ready for a healthy relationship.

If you feel like you need support with all or any of these aspects, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Love is a blessing and we believe everyone deserves to find love and be happy with the ones they love.