Relationship problems?

Your attachment style from childhood may be to blame

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Have you ever wondered why your love life is characterized by repetitive patterns? Have you ever questioned why you always end up in the same situations, even with different partners? Is it because you get too clingy or sometimes too jealous? Or do you always seem to be putting more effort into the relationship than your partner? Perhaps you want to feel that connection with someone, but as soon as things get serious and emotionally intimate, you immediately back off — every time.اضافة اعلان

If you have noticed a pattern of unhealthy and emotionally draining behaviors in your love life, you might be surprised to learn that the cause could be an attachment style you developed in early childhood. To heal these negative tendencies, it might be useful to dig deep into the way you attach to others in intimate relationships.

You might be thinking: “So? What does my relationship to my caregiver as an infant have to do with my current adult relationships?” Well, it may actually have everything to do with it. According to John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, an infant’s relationship with their parents during their childhood will influence their intimate, social, and work relationships in the future.

With time, children internalize their initial attachment bond and use it as a prototype to later form relationships as adults. This relationship prototype is known as the internal working model, and Bowlby’s broader theory is known as Attachment Theory.

Attachment Theory was first proposed in the 1950s when Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth observed that the way caregivers meet the needs of infants seems to strongly correlate with the attachment strategy that the infants eventually develop into their adult years.

The story behind your success, or failure
According to Dr Rasha Al-Tamimi, a psychotherapist and relationship and family consultant at Mind Clinic in Amman, attachment styles are developed through parenting. Different attachment styles may also be transmitted across generations.

“There is a sort of intergenerational continuity between adults’ attachment styles and their children adopting their parents’ parenting styles,” she explained. Thus, attachment styles are likely to be passed on through generations within a family.

Your attachment style does not account for every aspect of your relationships, but it likely explains a great deal of why some of your close relationships have succeeded or failed in the ways they have, why you are drawn to the people you are attracted to, and the nature of the problems that occur in your relationships over and over again.

“Our experiences throughout our childhoods are important, and may have a big impact on our behaviors and development in our adult lives,” said Dr Laith Abbadi, a psychiatrist and child and adolescent specialist at Mind Clinic. “This is because when parents teach their children to always trust that they will be there for them, the children will most likely exhibit less fear than those who were not brought up to believe this.”

“By doing this, parents build up their children’s self-esteem and their ability to trust others, which will have a positive effect on their future relationships,” Abbadi said.

Bowlby’s theory describes four different attachment styles: secure, anxious/preoccupied, avoidant/dismissive, and disorganized/fearful-avoidant. Here is a breakdown of what all these labels mean.

Secure attachment 
As children, those with a secure mode of attachment are able to separate from their parents when necessary. However, they do seek comfort from their parents when stressed or fearful, and prefer them over strangers. When they interact with their parents, they tend to experience positive emotions.

As these individuals grow into adults, they enjoy trusting and long-lasting relationships. They have high self-esteem and are able to share their feelings with partners and friends, comfortably seeking social support as necessary.

People with a secure attachment style find it easy and comfortable to display interest and affection. Their relationships are built on sincerity, honesty, and emotional connection. Adults with secure attachment are comfortable being alone and do not rely on the approval of others, because they tend to have healthy levels of self-confidence and a positive view of themselves. They make good romantic partners, family members, and friends. They are able to accept rejection and move on even when facing painful situations. Finally, they find it easy to be loyal and compromise or sacrifice when necessary since they do not have issues trusting others.

Anxious/preoccupied attachment 
Children with an anxious attachment style are typically cautious around strangers. They tend to experience extreme distress when their parents leave, and fail to find comfort when their parents return.

Adults with an anxious attachment style usually refer to their partners as their “better half”. They are often nervous and stressed about their relationships. The thought of being alone or living without their partner causes them a great deal of anxiety. However, they often resist developing close relationships out of a strong fear of abandonment. They tend to become devastated when any relationship they are in comes to an end.

Because they usually have low self-confidence and a negative self-image, those who have anxious attachment need constant affection and reassurance from their partners to assuage their anxiety. They look for approval, support, and responsiveness from their partners and they highly value their relationships, but are worried that their partners are not as invested as they are. Oftentimes, adults with an anxious attachment style fall into toxic or abusive relationships.

Avoidant/dismissive attachment 
As children, those with an avoidant attachment style can even avoid their parents, showing little preference for them over strangers. They generally do not go to their parents when in need of comfort.

Adults with an avoidant attachment style are very independent and self-sufficient. They see themselves as “lone-wolves” and are commitment-phobes. They usually have high self-esteem and a positive view of themselves and often believe that they do not need to be in a relationship to feel complete. As a result, they tend to have problems developing intimacy.

They always have an exit strategy for every relationship so that they do not feel suffocated or boxed in by a partner. The avoidant type usually tries not to rely on others, or to allow others to rely on them. They do not generally seek approval or support through social bonds. Instead, they avoid emotional connections and suppress their feelings when faced with emotional situations, unwilling to share their deeper selves with others.

Disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment 
The disorganized type tends to distrust caregivers during childhood and behave with inconsistency towards them.

Adults with a disorganized attachment style often exhibit ambiguous and unstable behaviors in their relationships. For them, their partner and the relationship are a source of both fear and desire. Because of a lack of emotional regulation and their fear of getting hurt through intimacy and commitment, they distrust and emotionally lash out at anyone who tries to get close to them. They have low self-confidence and find it very difficult to trust others.

Where do you stand?
Now that you have an idea about what each of the four adult attachment styles, you can probably figure out which one fits you best.

Note that it is very normal to recognize different elements of the various attachment styles in your history of personal relationships. Your attachment style may change as you grow older and experience major life events or even as you form new relationships with different partners.

According to Abbadi, we may not be able to change the attachment style that we have developed, but we can change our thinking and our mentality by doing the following:

First, pinpoint a problem that may come out of your attachment style and make a decision to change. Then, work to actually implement that change in your behavior in a way that will positively affect your life. This is where psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy may also come in handy, giving you tools to make these changes.

“Almost everyone is susceptible to experiencing issues that affect their lives and relationships due to the type of attachment style they have developed,” Abbadi said.

Do not hesitate to consult a mental health professional to help you take steps to change your way of thinking and behaviors. The time you invest in working on yourself will pay off in your life and relationships.

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