Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How We Learn to Love

Okay, so I’ve been tackling romantic love this week. We’ve taken a look at a theory on the different types of loving relationships and individual differences in love styles. Why not take a look at where it all came from? What influences us in our relationships and in our patterns of love?

Childhood Influences

Attachment theory suggests that our attachment patterns with our parents as infants affects our attachment patterns as adults. Basically, children use attachment figures (caregivers, basically) as a source of security that allows them a safe retreat while exploring the world around them. Parental responses lead the child to develop a pattern of attachment that will assist the child in creating an understanding of the world that will guide their feelings, thoughts and expectations in later relationships.

Securely attached children have available parents that respond consistently and promptly to their needs. This allows the child to use the caregiver as a secure base for exploration.
Anxiously attached children have inconsistent or overly protective parents who may switch between appropriate and neglectful responses that make it difficult for the children to feel safe enough to explore. This causes them to become preoccupied with the parent’s availability and monitor their caregivers’ behavior in an attempt to gain the consistent love they need.
Avoidant children have dismissive and neglectful parents that force them to learn to deal with the world on their own – thus they treat the stranger similarly to a stranger.
Disorganised children have scared or scary parents that leads to the child developing a lack of coherent attachment strategies. They can switch between aggression and withdrawal or sometimes freeze up. The suspected reason behind this is that if their parents are dangerous or anxiety-arousing, then the children are put in the dilemma of feeling anxious toward their safe place which places them in an irresolvable paradox of approach-avoidance. (See these articles on Attachment Styles on the Character Therapist’s blog to get more information). These attachment styles also affect how we treat our partners and how we expect to be treated in turn.

Now onto the adults…

A securely attached adult will likely have a positive view of their relationships, their partners, and themselves. They are more confident in relationships and feel comfortable trusting their partners, being open with their feelings, and developing both intimacy and independence. They can approach difficult issues with greater ease as they feel they are broaching the topic from a place of safety.

Those who had an anxious attachment style are more likely to closely monitor their relationships as they find themselves preoccupied with worries and anxieties about whether or not they will get the intimacy they so desperately crave. They find it difficult to believe that their partner loves them, and even when reassured, will find it difficult to believe that their partner will love them tomorrow. They are less trusting and more impulsive in their relationships. They are likely to self-disclose easily, perhaps engaging in too much self-disclosure, and can experience a high degree of jealousy. Regrettably, their needs make them easy to take advantage of – a fact that can leave them more suspicious and anxious in future.

Those with an avoidant attachment style are likely to continue to rely on themselves and are uncomfortable with the idea of relying on someone else. Their desire for high levels on independence can lead them to appear to avoid attachment altogether. They may suspect that their loved one won’t be there for them when push comes to shove. They can be mistrustful and cynical but also independent and self-sufficient. They tend to suppress their feelings and signs of rejection may lead them to distance themselves from their partners. They can survive with far less affection and intimacy and prefer focusing their efforts into their work and social lives. They also tend to reveal less about themselves and be less jealous of their partner’s attentions.

As an adult, those with a disorganised attachment style tend to have quite mixed feelings towards close relationships, desiring that intimacy yet never feeling entirely comfortable with any degree of emotional closeness. Thus they may combine a desire for closeness with a strong need for independence. They might appear to have low levels of self-confidence and may nurture fears of rejection. While they may be more emotionally visible than, say, the avoidance, they may still find it hard to open up to others. They are likely to experience a number of trust issues and often feel they are unworthy.
Of course, remember that attachment styles can change and develop and, more importantly, that these are simply notes on tendencies and not absolute behaviors.

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