How Did I Get This Way? Attachment or Bonding

This is the second of a five part series on development and how its shapes our adult relationships. The first article gives an overview of the entire series and if you have not read the first one you might want to go back and start there.

To say that people need people sounds a bit sentimental. But along with the biological drives such as breathing, eating and sex, one of the strongest drives we have is the drive to be in relationship. Overlooked by some of the earliest psychologists, the attachment drive propels us towards one another with a strong force that not only shapes our world, but is shaped by our world. But what is it about the attachment relationship that shapes our understanding of ourselves, others, and how we cope with the world? There are three characteristics that come out of the attachment relationship that have a profound effect on our adult world: the ability to be real and authentic with others, the ability to lean on and trust others, and the ability to be soothed by others in times of need, which in turn allows us to soother ourselves.

True Self. One of the first things we learn in life is that we are somebody that can be responded to when we are most ourselves. Learning to be authentic, or our true self, is learning how to open up and share our experiences with others and know that they will respond with warmth and compassion. When we first learn this at our mother’s knee, we become an adult who knows what we feel and think and what we want. Furthermore, we can receive love from others and feel we are deserving of it. The giving and receiving of love can only happen by someone who is a real or authentic self.

So what happens if someone does not develop this capability? They create what is called a false self. This may be someone who feels they always have to be someone others want them to be. They may think they have to respond or answer questions in a certain way in order to please others. Ultimately, they are someone who is constantly working at not showing their true self; never knowing who they are or what they want.

Trusting Other. Once we have learned to be our true selves in relationships, then we can learn to trust others. The ability to lean on and trust others is a developmental gift that lasts a lifetime. For later in life as adults, we need to trust others to get anything accomplished. In business, or in our personal life, trusting others sets the foundation for a close relationship as well as the ability to lean on others in times of distress.

If an individual does not learn how to trust others then he or she tends to withdraw or avoid relationships. Those who don’t trust others tend to create a life of self-sufficiency, where they tend to be excessively self-reliant. This does not mean they cannot be social, but when push comes to shove, they tend to pull back the relationship reins when they feel they are getting to close to others.

Drawing on the Soothing of Others. Finally, once we have accomplished how to be our true selves and how to trust others, then we can begin to draw upon the soothing of others. This ability begins by having our mother and father soothe us when we are upset. Eventually we can internalize their soothing and begin soothing ourselves when we are upset. Having the ability to draw upon the “internal” soothing memory of others creates a stronger, more resilient sense of self.

So what happens if we don’t learn to draw upon the soothing of others’? When this happens someone may become dependent on others to “always” be there for them. They may need someone constantly around so that they can be soothed when upset. They may be excessively busy or try to distract themselves so they don’t focus on the upsetting events in their lives, or they shun their emotions and become “overly cognitive” where everything becomes an intellectual exercise or problem to be solved.

The capability to be our true self, lean on and trust other, and to draw upon the soothing of others, plays a vital and important role in our adult relationships. In our marriages, there is not a day that goes by without utilizing one of these three abilities. If a spouse does not appear to be competent in one of these, it does not mean they can’t learn, but you may need to call a Tulsa licensed professional counselor to help them learn. To take the first step toward a healthier relationship call us at 918-398-7678 or request a counseling appointment online.


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