How Did I Get This Way? Introduction

Sometimes people may ask themselves, how did I become this way, or why did I do that? Maybe these are questions you’ve asked yourself before? Our behavior, though sometimes contradictory and confusing, actually can have a logical and predictable pattern. By understanding the developmental stages that created these patterns we begin to understand what experiences shaped us and helped form our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors – which logically we bring to our relationships as adults.

This first post is an introduction to a 5 part series on developmental stages that help shape who we are and how we interact in our adult relationships. The end result  of these posts is not to put ourselves in a box or point to one developmental milestone and say “yes” that is the problem right there! Rather, understanding our development is about understanding the primary forces that shaped who we are, and most importantly, how we continue to keep those unhealthy patterns in place in each of our relationships today.

There are 4 stages of development that are necessary for each human being to traverse in order to become a healthy, fully functioning adult. These 4 stages are:

  1. Attachment or bonding
  2. Separation or boundaries
  3. Integration
  4. Adulthood

A couple of disclaimers are important here. First, just because I use the term fully functioning adult, doesn’t mean you might not see yourself as having one or more areas of immaturity. All of us, no matter what kind of parental guidance or support we may or may not have had, have some immaturities in our personality. Secondly, the goal is not to point the finger at any one person of your youth as having caused these immaturities. Our primary caretakers, for better or worse, did the best they could.

Attachment or bonding is the first stage of development and pertains to the person’s ability to create a close and intimate relationship with others. The baby forms an attachment with the mother, warms to her smile, imitates her facial expression, and leans on her for soothing and comfort in times of distress. This first development stage is very important in our lifetime, especially as we mature and find ourselves seeking romantic relationship with the opposite sex. The ability to bond with others is the foundation of life and breathes meaning and purpose into all we do.

Separation or boundaries is the second stage of development and pertains to the person’s ability to define themselves separately from others. This is the core of individuality and personal identity. This says what we are and what we are not. The baby begins to think for herself. She starts to have her own opinions, separate from mother, and she starts to assert her wants and needs with little patience for their gratification. The ability to set boundaries retains our sense of who we think we are without feeling guilt or remorse for not living up to someone else’s idea of who we are.

Integration is the third stage of development and pertains to the person’s ability to join together the good and bad in ourselves and others. This is a crucial step in our development as the world does not exist in polar opposites of good and bad people. Rather what we see is that good and bad exist in most things and the ability to tolerate these two emotional extremes means we are better able to deal with our own imperfections as well as others, we are able to be more forgiving when mistakes occur, and we are able to tolerate conflicting feelings towards ourselves and others.

Finally, the last stage of development is called adulthood. This pertains to the person’s ability to relate to others as equals, to understand ones capabilities, and to exert ones will to accomplish tasks in an adult world.

The next post will look more deeply into attachment and bonding and the three primary tasks needed to have close, intimate relationships as adults.

If you think are are struggling with some areas of your life that are causing you hurt in your relationships, it’s best to call licensed Tulsa therapist Tom Philp who can help. Request a counseling appointment time online or call 918.398.7678.

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