In Part One (click here), I discussed the fact that everyone has the need to feel attached. Or, to put it another way, there’s a basic need to feel like we matter to someone. In fact, this need is biological and is present right from birth, continuing throughout life.
I also wrote about some research that indicates the early attachment styles exhibited by children are shown to be indicative of the same type of attachment style in adult relationships.
A Child with a Problem
There seemed to be three different types of reactions children had in the study. One type did not seem to have a problem when Mama left. By that I mean that she didn’t cry when Mama left, she was able to play on her own, she didn’t need to be soothed by the stranger, and didn’t pay attention to Mama when she came back into the room.
When I talk about this study to my college students, they often mistakenly think the situation I have described is the one that demonstrates the behavior of a child who is securely attached. After all, the child seems to display independent behavior rather than a need for Mama. But, in reality, a child at the age of 12 to 18 months, are still supposed to need their caretaker. A securely-attached child will want to be close to Mama.
When children showed this type of behavior, the researchers labeled them insecurely-attached, avoidant type. Doesn’t sound too good, does it? Here’s an explanation of what has occurred with this type of toddler: An infant is totally dependent on her parents/caregivers. Though no one can be perfect, if a parent is responsive and available much of the time to the child’s needs, she will feel secure and safe. As a result, a secure-attachment is formed.
However, when a parent is unable to be responsive, caring or available (for whatever reasons) a child will shut down. A child doesn’t have too many tools available and can’t discuss her needs with her parents. Yet, unmet needs create pain and eventually that pain becomes too much to bear. So, eventually, she shuts the need down and becomes avoidant.
But there’s a catch…the basic need for attachment remains! Remember it’s a biological need to feel like you matter.
What This Means for Your Relationship
As an adult, this attachment style translates as someone having a commitment problem. Yes, the desire to be attached to someone is there. But if the relationship becomes too close, a fear sets in that makes the person feel as if she will be hurt (as was experienced in childhood). In order to avoid this, the person moves away from the relationship. By creating distance, the fear decreases and the yearning for the attachment becomes more apparent. And once again, the person comes back into the relationship.
And so this dance continues—in and out, in and out… making a commitment and then pulling back.
This, of course, can be very confusing and frustrating to the partner who’s ready to be involved. What can be helpful in this situation is to point out to the one with the commitment problem the reality of what is happening and help her realize that this issue is really stemming from the past. By showing concrete examples of how the present relationship has been a loving and consistent one, it may be enough to help the injured party take a "leap of faith." For others, it may require the assistance of some professional help.
Be assured that by no means does this kind of concern mean certain doom and gloom, though it is a challenge. But by realizing what’s happening and offering a loving, understanding heart to the person who’s been wounded, it will certainly help to heal and move your marriage forward.
Click here for part 1, "Attachment Isn’t Really Bad"
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com