The Link Between Love & Attachment
One of the things that pulled me towards becoming a psychologist was my deep fascination with how we, as people, love. How we love as children, as parents, as partners and friends and so on. My interest also extended to what happens to this love when life throws in a few curve-balls; so how easily could this love be damaged? Or could there be a certain type of love that wasn’t very good or ‘healthy’ for us?
What I have come to learn over the last 17 years since I began my ‘psychological journey’ was that what I had often referred to as ‘love’ actually had a different name – it wasn’t love, it was human connection – Attachment, and attachment may breed love.
The founder of Attachment Theory was John Bowlby and he defined attachment as a “deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.”
According to this theory, we all have our own attachment styles that are usually the result of our childhood. Yup, there it is! The psychologist making that ‘Oh SO expected reference to your childhood!’ (Insert eye-roll here). It may seem annoying that a psychologist might enquire about your childhood – but here is the ever-so elusive WHY we ‘like’ to go there…
How we were raised by our parents/caregivers when we were young, and more specifically how our parents related to us, how we connected with our parents and them to us, would contribute to the formation of our individual attachment style. Or you may call it our individual ‘love style’.
What we are able to learn, through these relationships, is about how our parents related to us in various situations. Were we encouraged or discouraged to be independent/dependent? What did we learn – via experience – about being able to receive or give affection/love and support? Were we encouraged, dissuaded or forced? How consistent and reliable were our parents and how predictable were their responses?
An investigation into how we were loved as children can help us to understand our approach to love and relationships as adults as it helps give insight into how we approach connection, closeness, intimacy and romance.
Now, I wish that I could say that the rest is easy-peasy but I would be lying. We are incredibly complex creatures, us humans. As such, I’m going to keep it simple - There are 4 basic attachment styles which can help give you an over-arching understanding of how this all plays out ‘in real life’:
Those with secure attachment styles tend to find relationships that are grounded with commitment, connection and intimacy. These are the ones who experienced parenting that was good-enough (not perfect, as that just isn’t realistic, but good-enough). So, they learnt that it was safe to depend on others and they were taught to endure frustration without their world collapsing.
Those with insecure-avoidant attachment styles may have had a parent who was far too enmeshed in their lives. Essentially a parent who didn’t allow for any personal or emotional space and the person felt overwhelmed or consumed. They tend to avoid letting people get too close for fear that they will experience being consumed again – so they push people away. Conversely, this category may also have a parent who is highly dismissive and disregarding of their feelings which would in turn teach them that they need to shut down from their feelings which would, in turn, make it rather difficult to connect with others.
Those with insecure-anxious attachment styles tend to have had parents who were unreliable and/or inconsistent. One day the parents might be present, loving and attentive and the next day they would be totally unpredictable, unavailable and unsupportive. What results from an early relationship like this, is a sense of insecurity and that one doesn’t feel confident enough within himself to venture out into the world. As such, the ability to trust is quite compromised as well as his ability to self-regulate and manage his own emotions – this is the result of never having been provided with an effective model for doing so. As such, in an adult relationship this person can be quite clingy and demanding.
Those with a disorganised attachment styles have a very confusing, and at times even scary early life. Parents are intensely unreliable so that it may verge on abusive. This includes parents with severe mental illnesses such as severe untreated depression. If the child was at times frightened by the person who should have been taking care of them, love, as learnt during this experience, may become confused with abuse, neglect or severe abandonment. These types often end up in abusive dynamics in later adult relationships without consciously knowing how they got there.
Ok, so this all sounds a little overwhelming and depressing… BUT here’s the thing, these attachment patterns aren’t set in stone. They can be improved upon and even healed by having healthy long-term relationships with friends, spouses, lovers and yes, even your therapists. So while there may have been some form of ‘damage’ or a disruption that happened early on in life, there is always, always an opportunity for repair and healing – and it is precisely this that I love most about my job and why I choose to work with clients of all ages and stages. We are all just human beings searching for a good connection, for a nurturing attachment and love.
If you would like to learn more about your own attachment style or work on your relationships, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more about me at www.jhb-psychology.co.za