MENTAL HEALTH COLUMN

Childhood attachments are building blocks for healthy relationships

Dr Eddie Murphy

Reporter:

Dr Eddie Murphy

Childhood attachments are building blocks for healthy relationships

A secure attachment formed in early childhood sets us up for health adult relationships

How we relate to each other and to the world is strongly based on attachments formed as children.

Recent exposures of some crèches show that profit motive is a risk. Attachments are reduced when children are seen as economic units. Until we truly value child care workers and reward them appropriately more of these exposés will happen.

Pioneers

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth identified that infants are primed to develop attachments with their primary care givers in the first years of life. The infant develops a relationship with at least one parent for successful social and emotional development, and for learning how to regulate their feelings.

Adult Attachment

Often in therapy work we focus on how clients can attain deeper connection, meaning, and passion in adult relationships by working to heal early attachment wounds.

Heal not Cure

Many people who experience mental health difficulties ask me if depression / anxiety can be cured, While I have sympathy with this view it’s such a reductive way to look at human nature, it makes us think our mental health is akin to a light switch, either on or off.

If we think in terms of healing not curing then we are more open to possibilities.

Hardwired to Heal

We are all hardwired to heal, we have an innate ability to overcome the effects of trauma. We have the capacity in relationships to develop trust and closeness and end destructive repeat patterns.

Relationship Pattern types:

1. Secure Attachment.

Capable of sending and receiving healthy expressions of intimacy, of drawing appropriate and reasonable boundaries. Feeling secure being alone as well as with a companion. Have positive views of relationships and personal interactions. Discuss issues to solve problems, rather than to attack a person. High resilience, capable of grieving, learning, and moving on.

2. Anxious-Preoccupied. Inclined to feel more nervous and insecure about relationships, in particular romantic relationships. Stressors based on real or imagined happenings manifest as neediness, possessiveness, jealousy, control, mood swings, oversensitivity, obsessiveness. Reluctant to trust, tending to negatively interpret others’ intentions, words, and actions. Require constant validation to feel secure and accepted. Drama oriented. Some feel more comfortable in stormy relationships than calm and peaceful ones. Dislike being alone. History of emotionally turbulent relationships.

3. Dismissive-Avoidant.

Highly self-directed and self-sufficient. Independent behaviourally and emotionally. Avoids true intimacy that could leave them vulnerable or subject to emotional obligations. Desires freedom “no-one puts a collar on me.” Pushes away those who get too close. Other priorities in life often supersede a romantic relationship, such as work, social life, personal projects, travel. The partner is frequently excluded, or holds only a marginal presence. Some prefer to be single than to settle down. In relationships, they still prize autonomy. May have many acquaintances, but few truly close relationships.

4. Fearful-Avoidant

Often associated with highly challenging life experiences such as grief, abandonment and abuse. Desire but simultaneously resist intimacy. Much inner conflict. Struggle with having confidence in and relying on others. Suspicious of others’ intentions, words, and actions. Push people away and have few genuinely close relationships.

I hope this exploration of adult attachment types helps . A willingness to grow, and perhaps seek professional help are crucial to healthy adult relationships.

By Clinical Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy. Available for talks to schools and groups. Call 087 1302899