The Cycle of Emotional Attachment
There is a cycle of emotional attachment with others which is essential for the fulfillment of your innate need for belonging. The cycle begins at birth with your need to be cared for and valued by people with whom you have significant relationships. Your emotional attachment to significant caregivers meets your primary need for safety by establishing a secure base. When you have a secure base, you experience and believe that you have a reliable system of emotional support in your life. This belief is reinforced when a significant person tunes into your emotional expressions and responds to your need for emotional connection and support. The secure base established in these key relationships supports the constructive growth of your emotional stability. As a child, you rely on the emotional stability of your parents or guardians to calm your negative emotions while you develop your own ability to soothe yourself. In that way you learn how it feels to be loved. The cycle of emotional attachment continues as you learn to love others. You first do this with conditions; you love them if they treat you in certain ways. An example of conditional love is when a boy loves his dad only when his dad gives him what he wants. Your love for some people may still be about they meet your needs or what they do for you.
Individuals whose experience of love is based solely on what they receive, fear rejection and are lonely. Their insecure attachment leads them to seek continual affirmation of their value from others or to avoid emotional connections with others to protect themselves from rejection. This interferes with both the giving and receiving parts of the cycle of attachment, and the need for belonging goes unfulfilled. I’m often asked by clients and friends what they should do if they’ve developed an insecure attachment style and they want better relationships. Many have noticed that their attachment style tends to land them in relationships with others who demonstrate insecure attachment to them. Highly secure individuals seldom land themselves in romantic relationships with insecure individuals because they only desire the good feelings of the successful full cycle of emotional attachment. They are secure enough to walk away from relationships that don’t offer that. If your experience with secure relationships is very limited, you may find it challenging to identify to what extent security and fulfillment are available to you in a given relationship. This was my challenge, too.
How to Overcome the Impact of Past Insecure Relationships
My late wife suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. The impact of BPD on a relationship can be summed up by a book on the subject titled, “I Hate You—Don’t Leave Me.” Individuals with BPD manifest the Fearful-Avoidant style of attachment to the extreme. I developed a Dismissive-Avoidant attachment style to shield myself from the shrapnel of her self-destruction. I absolutely loved my wife and did my best to care for her, but the reality was that secure attachment eluded us. (Refer to my previous article for definitions.)
Improving your Cycle of Attachment
The cycle of attachment is a process of continuous psychological and spiritual growth. You still love some people conditionally as you learn to love others unconditionally. Your love becomes more desirable to others, and they love you back in their own way. As you cycle back to receiving love, you become more secure. As a Life After Loss Coach, I work with many clients who yearn to love and be loved. Some worry they can’t have this cycle of attachment through a secure base in romantic love again. Some feel too broken and insecure from trauma or fear that nobody could love them like their departed spouse once did. Many have resisted dating because it’s too upsetting to consider the uncertainty—yet they crave what all humans do: the secure cycle of attachment. I found it difficult to know how “ready” I was to date again after a rough marriage that culminated in widowhood. Then I found that I would have no indication of readiness without taking action. I discovered that emotional insecurity isn’t like a sprained ankle that gets better as you rest it. Instead I learned that I had to begin establishing relationships to begin learning and relearning how to develop secure attachment. As I created friendships with women and dated, it became evident that objective input from others who understood and experienced emotional security and secure attachment was very beneficial. One of my most resilient clients shares her dating joys and concerns with multiple women in her family and with her coach. As she identifies insecure attachment in the men, she explores it for repair opportunities, and then walks away when it’s not right. She couldn’t do this if she wasn’t secure, and she couldn’t be secure if she didn’t do this.