Unless you’re a parent, you may be wondering what this has to do with you and your adult relationships. Quite a lot, if you understand the impact of healthy and unhealthy parent-child attachments on the child.
By “attachment,” I’m referring to the emotional bond between two people. “Attachment style” refers to a person’s individual patterns in emotional bonding to another person.
The attachment bond you had with your primary caregiver – most likely your mother – is your model for how a relationship should work for the rest of your life.
For some of us, that attachment bond was loving and nurturing and we find our adult relationships relatively easy. For many of us, we may have some difficulties in our adult relationships, mainly in trust issues, indicating that there were inconsistencies in the response by our primary caregiver when we were younger. And for some of us, our childhood homes were downright neglectful and abusive and our natural tendency in our adult relationships may be to not have a relationship at all.
Because humans are social beings, having close relationships is an essence of life. Without working relationships, we are at risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other unhealthy and risky behaviors that we use to fill a void in our lives created by the needs left unmet in our first loving relationship – that with our parent(s).
The success of this first attachment bond in our lives is what shapes the way our brain works, influencing the way we cope with stress, how we see ourselves, our expectations of others, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships all through our lives.
What the Parent-Child Attachment Predicts for Adult Relationships
Children who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional communications, verbal and nonverbal, grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the emotions of others, according to the HelpGuide.org article, “Attachment and Adult Relationships.” The health of the parent-child attachment determines our ability to:
Very simply, our first attachment greatly influences our success in all relationships – romantic, family, work, friendship, and so on – for the rest of our lives. That’s a huge revelation for many people who wonder why they or their partners have a pattern of difficulty in their relationships that never seems to get resolved.
While abusive parenting obviously causes unhealthy, or insecure, attachment bonds, they also develop from parenting approaches that consistently promote isolation and loneliness. It’s important to note that no parent-child relationship is perfect, but the key is a consistency of nurturing, compassionate, attachment-promoting interactions.
These are the emotional tools needed by both people in an adult relationship, all of which need to be modeled by a person’s first primary attachment figure – his parent:
An insecure attachment produces an adult who has issues with starting and maintaining healthy relationships, indicated by:
It’s important to know that most parents do not deliberately harm their children through neglect and abuse. Most parents want the best for their children and do the best for them with what resources they had at the time. Our parents probably experienced insecure attachments with their own parents.
They may have suffered from depression and poor abilities to cope with stress. They may have been addicted to drugs or alcohol, or were abusive because they didn’t know how else to deal with their own strong emotions. They may have been unavailable due to the need to work, divorce, or death. Perhaps your parents were simply inexperienced in childrearing or following the cultural parenting approaches of that time period.
Or, it may not even be our parents – perhaps you grew up in the foster care system or were in a low-quality daycare situation. It’s important that as we identify that our needs were not met by our own parents, or caregivers, that we come to a point of forgiveness so that we are able to move forward in our relationships, which includes that with our children.
The Effects of Insecure Attachment Don’t Have to be Forever
The bad news is, we may be suffering from the effects of our own insecure attachment with our parents. The good news is, we don’t have to. There is an end in sight if we’re willing to do the intense and often painful work it takes to sort through our emotions, mourn, accept and forgive our parents, and rebuild our adult relationships with new skills replacing our natural tendencies.
The goal is to change not only the way we see relationships, others, and ourselves but also to shift the way we react to stress in our lives and in our relationships. HelpGuide.org names four areas of improvement for adults who seek to lessen the effects from their insecure attachments and wish to learn how to become emotionally attuned to their and others’ emotions, which is the basis of all relationships:
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Last reviewed: 26 Apr 2012