Have you heard the phrase, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? In attachment theory, this means that you are the apple and the tree is your parents. You can’t help but inherit your parent’s genes but also you inherit a set of behaviors they have as a way of mimicking who they are through observation and mirroring.
How you learn: Children are sponges, particularly in the first two years of life they are soaking up everything from their environment and they are dependent upon their parents for everything. In the first two years of life, 80% of their brain and nervous system are developed. This is why the first two years are imperative for a child to bond or attach with their parents. It is considered a critical developmental period when so much is happening. In many ways, the conditions must be good for the child to feel safe, secure, and learn that they can trust their parents and therefore trust the world. This may be good or bad news to you depending on the quality of your relationship with your parents. Regardless, it is important to understand your roots. Once you understand how you learned to love you can be less defensive and more accepting.
John Bowlby the founder of Attachment Theory determined that the first two years of an infant’s life were crucial in setting the tone for all subsequent relationships.
Dr. Bowlby postulated that children learn who to trust and how to calm down based on having a secure or insecure attachment to their parents. For a secure relationship to develop, parents must be attentive, responsive, and consistent. If a child’s parents show consistent loving behaviors their child learns that they will be nurtured and loved. If the parents are not attentive, are preoccupied or inconsistent a child develops an insecure attachment style which will lead to insecure adult attachments.
There are four attachment styles:
- insecure-ambivalent or anxious,
While no one wants to consider themselves ‘insecure’, being insecure is more common than you might think. The two main insecure types are either anxious or avoidant. The disorganized child is most often the victim of abuse in the home, which is, fortunately, less common. All three of the last types are ‘insecure.’ The insecure person has a highly sensitive nervous system. They also tend to think of things in emotional or negative ways.
the all-important mother
A child is most likely to mimic the attachment style of their mothers. If a mother has an anxious or ambivalent style the child is 80% more likely to have the same attachment style, the other 20 percent seems to be genetically-driven in terms of temperament.
Your attachment style is not going to be something that someone else can see. Think of people like tea, you only see who they are when you put them in hot water, it’s because it’s during hot water when people feel under threat or stress. And during these times people are more likely to show you what they really need.
If you are struggling in your relationships, it might be easy to blame your parents. These patterns also continue for many generations, it’s called Epigenetics. According to attachment theory, these patterns are passed on through multiple generations. So better to blame your grandparents, particularly if they are deceased. All joking aside, the tendency to repeat those things we observe is easy to do.
To no fault of your own, you may have an insecure style. What this means is you may have trouble trusting that anyone will be there for you or will be consistent.
Is it possible however to learn new behaviors? The answer is YES, Dr. Bowlby concluded that while a person may be wounded in their early relationships, they can also be healed as an adult, it’s called Earned Attachment. This means that you earn a secure attachment style later in life.
Healing rarely happens without another person. You don’t go off and learn how to be better in relationships and heal old wounds spending more time by yourself. Instead, what is necessary is a good partner who can correct or change your perception of relationships. If you are with a partner who is attentive and consistent, over time, your body and your mind learn to relax. With a new secure base, you learn to trust, to calm down and to rewire your brain, hence you become secure.
two ways to become Secure
You can become secure in one of two ways. One way is to be in a loving relationship that helps you relax, calm down and to get your needs met. A second way is in a good therapeutic relationship where you learn the skills and then apply them to yourself.
In order to become SECURE, it will take effort and time to change. You must learn how to relax your nervous system and to think in less reactive and more rational ways. You can learn to meditate and to change the way you think. If you learned to be over or under expressive, you can improve your communication skills. Be kind and gentle with yourself, work to accept who you are, but also push yourself to do things differently. Growth takes time but is also worth the effort.
Find a therapist who has knowledge of Attachment theory. Generally, a therapist familiar with this theory can help you to understand your style and also understand what you need to do in order to become more secure. They can help challenge your ideas of what a healthy relationship is if you never had good role models or don’t know what a good relationship looks like up close.
It doesn’t matter what tree you fell from. You can change your attachment style and become secure.