So what causes us human creatures to want to seek out love over and over again until we find the “right fit”? The concept is really quite simple. From the very beginning of our lives, we are programmed to love love and flourish when we are cared for. Consider nature vs. nurture the concept that both our biology and background/upbringing go into how we develop as people, how our personality develops, and how we form attachments to others (however unhealthy or healthy these attachments may be). Yes, even as tiny children, infants even, fresh from the womb, we are taught that we must be dependent on another; at the level of an infant-our survival is based upon this dependency. During infancy, the other is our mother and father, but as we age, the nurturing we receive affects how we break off and create our own romantic or platonic relationships.
Psychologist and researcher Eric Ericson, who was a pioneer of studying attachment styles and how we are affected across the lifespan, proposed if infants are cared for in a consistently nurturing manner, they are able to develop a very important concept: trust. If the infant is inconsistently or cared for in an ill manner, a sense of distrust is learned. Imagine the havoc that is wreaked on the tiny connections that are occurring in the brain when distrust is learned at such an early age. Now I’m a firm believer that all learned behaviors can just as well be unlearned but that takes time, patience, and therapy. Use this time to examine your own relationships that you had while growing up, paying particular attention to your parents whether that may be your biological mother and father, an adopted parent, or your aunt, sister, stepfather, grandparent, whatever-you get where I’m going with this…
Think to yourself whether or not you felt your needs were consistently met. Now I’m not asking you to rate your imperfect mother and or father figure on every single little need being met, but were the necessities taken care of? Housing, warmth, food, and above all else, love? In acknowledging that your mother and or father were not superman and superwoman, if you answer yes to the aforementioned question, then chances are you have a fairly secure sense of attachment and trust in others. What does a secure sense of attachment look like? Having trust in your partner when they are out of your sight. Having a strong sense of object permanence where you understand that just because your significant other is not at home does not mean that he or she does not love you. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but if your partner has never given you any reason to indicate that he or she has been unfaithful then it may be time to examine your sense of attachment. Individuals that have secure attachment styles tend to have a healthy level of self-esteem and the ability to maintain lasting relationships with others.
As we age, various factors (this is when the nurture aspect comes into play) influence our ability to trust others and form bonds. Some of these letdowns are completely independent from our families and how we are raised. These letdowns can be characterized as more social in nature; almost part of the developmental process of growing up. Whether you felt socially isolated in middle school, or you didn’t make the varsity team in high school, didn’t get that great job you interviewed for after graduate school, all of these experiences help shape our views on how the world works. As we become older however, [my hope is] our thinking becomes more sophisticated and we are able to not take these kinds of life let downs personally. Realistically speaking however, it can be difficult for people to recover wholeheartedly from some of the tragedies that life throws at us. Enter the quest for love and you’ve got the potential for some majorly skewed worldviews to be developed.
In going back to the spirit of attachments that are developed in early childhood, I believe the people that we are romantically attracted to when we are in our young adulthood years fill some sort of void that our parental units were lacking. Maybe you had an emotionally absent father, so naturally you may be attracted to a man that is the polar opposite, the man that leans towards being emotionally abusive and instead of fleeing, you stay. You stay because at least your experiencing some sort of emotional connection albeit it being abusive. Perhaps your mother inconsistently affirmed you emotionally. You may lean towards the man that worships the ground you walk on yet you’re able to remain emotionally disconnected only using him for the affirmation that he is able to provide you that interestingly enough, your momma wasn’t. Voids and personal attachment styles. We all have them. Some people were over-loved, over-nurtured, and over-cared for while others were basically left to fend for themselves, to raise themselves in a world that was not fit for a child. What are your voids? What is your own emotional preference and attachment style?
For more information and self-exploration, take a peek at this article that goes more in depth on the different kinds of attachment styles:
Think about the relationships that you have experienced thus far (or the lack of them) and make a list of the common messages, both verbal and nonverbal, you received while growing up. By common verbal messages, I mean those little words or wisdom, proverbs, and sayings that the people that raised you used with you and essentially you internalized. Inner messages. Once again, we’ve all received them. In my years of counseling I’ve heard quite the variety. From an unhappy mother telling her offspring that they’d never amount to anything to a father telling his young daughter that she could be the next female president if she so desired, they all vary from one life to another. By nonverbal messages, I’m referring to the level of importance that your family and significant others have regarded you with. Maybe your mother never went to any of your sporting events because she thought they were a waste of time and told you that. Maybe your significant other is always an hour late meeting you, has been unfaithful multiple times, and or makes little verbal digs at you. How do you think that ultimately translates to you? Maybe that you are not important and do not deserve respect which is just absolutely NOT TRUE. Everyone is worthy of respect, care, and consideration and if you are in a relationship where there is abuse going on, it’s time to seek out a therapist.
If you have some negative self talk going on in your head or can think of the negative, nonverbal messages you have received thus far in life, identify them. Write them down on a piece of paper and consider the impact that they have had on your life thus far. Come up with reasons why those negative messages are untrue and write them down. When you’re done, rip them up! Burn them if you so desire and have a special ceremony to rid yourself of any skewed message you’ve ever received. If you’re wanting to rewire some of those attachment styles, it’s time to clean the slate, and by slate, I mean your MIND! The most valuable thing that you have to offer someone. Think about these things—voids, attachment styles, and messages. Take a brief mental trip to the past to examine the aforementioned psyche setbacks and then bring yourself back to the present and focus on making positive changes. Live in the here and now and work towards becoming the healthiest, most self-evolved person that you can be.
Wishing you happiness and health today and everyday,