You’ve heard about it right?
How you and your partner can have a better, more fulfilling relationship by learning about your attachment styles and how they mesh (or don’t as the case may be.)
But attachment isn’t just for the romantically involved.
Attachment affects our social and emotional wellbeing - our confidence, our ability to get on with others, even our ability to identify a career path.
How can attachment be that important?
Attachment is designed to help us survive.
It helps us relate to our caregivers and by doing so ensures that we remain in proximity to those who are able to feed, protect and soothe us.
Not only that, but our attachment behaviour elicits these caring behaviours in our parents and helps generate a lasting bond that influences our early development.
Infancy and Attachment
Before we are born, we are already absorbing information from our environment. Our mother’s mental state and emotional wellbeing have a big influence on our development - even at this early stage.
Obviously a mother’s physical wellbeing impacts the growing child, but If she is stressed, unsupported or anxious, this will also influence the child’s early environment (through the presence of stress hormones in the blood which pass through the placental wall).
People with a history of insecure attachment will be more vulnerable to mental illness and other problems in later life.
We learn who we are through our early attachments.
We also learn how to relate and what to expect of relationships. If we don’t receive adequate mirroring and attunement in infancy we don’t learn to value ourselves and in some cases, we might never learn who we are at all.
We are not born perfectly formed.
Our nervous system and our brain develop in concert with our primary caregiver (usually, but not always our mother). This relationship allows us to experience the world safely.
As we grow, we learn and explore, getting to know ourselves and our environment. This important experience-dependant development sets up structures and pathways that influence our wellbeing over the lifespan.
But sometimes, things don’t go so well. Our mother is stressed or unwell, anxious or unsupported.
In some cases, parents have a history of trauma that has never been resolved.
These factors will all influence the attachment relationship.
The more we are ignored, forced into unwanted interactions or left to manage our own distress, the more we will lose ourselves.
Babies are exquisitely sensitive to the mood and mental state of our caregivers.
A parent with unresolved trauma may unwittingly transfer the intense affect associated with the trauma through eye contact and facial expression.
This will the leave the child at the mercy of these disorganising states.
They are far too much for the developing nervous system.
The more sensitive the child, the more they are at risk.
Premature infants are especially vulnerable.
Sometimes infants and young children will learn to cope with these states by splitting off from the experience, leading to the use of dissociation as a coping mechanism later on.
Because these experiences often come at a time before we have language, they are not remembered, but remain with us, affecting our sense of ourselves and our ability to relate to others. We will sometimes be left with a felt sense of ourselves as being “unloveable” and with ongoing, chronic and unconscious shame.
Psychotherapy for Attachment Problems
Attachment focused psychotherapy works by providing a reparative experience of relationship.
Our therapist helps us by listening empathically and non-judgementally. As the therapeutic relationship deepens, we slowly come to trust our therapist and eventually feel safe to reveal our most vulnerable (and “shameful”) parts.
An attachment and relationship based therapist will allow us to experience (or re-experience) ourselves as whole or becoming whole. The splitting or dissociation that is part of our experience of self as trauma survivors can gently be brought to consciousness and made available for reflection, thought and verbalisation.
As they come to the surface, these feelings will start to dominate your life less and less. They might never disappear entirely, but they will no longer get in the way of you pursuing an authentic and fulfilling life. As you come to know yourself and experience attunement and validation through the therapeutic relationship, you can discover a more nurturing relationship with yourself.
Through attachment focused therapy, you will be able to tap into a sense of being valued and loved; something that you might not have experienced as a child. An attachment focused therapist can demonstrate this felt sense, encouraging you to feel and embrace it, allowing you to take this sense of being loved and nurtured with you into your everyday life.
Take the steps to heal your life