Have you ever wondered if there was something “Wrong” with you, with the way you think and the feelings you have?
NEWS FLASH!!! There is nothing WRONG about you, however you are a product of your life experiences. Human beings are complex and the development of our sense of self is directly related to our developmental needs and how we have felt through the course of our lives.
First Encounter: We are all born into this world with a need to feel felt by someone and a natural instinct to connect to others in order to feel safe. The world is a scary place and we as infants are pretty defenseless, so it becomes a matter of life and death to connect to someone who can protect us. In fact, we are born with mirror neurons designed specifically for this encounter! This someone is usually a parent or a caregiver. As an infant, we also have no sense of ourselves as an individual despite the neural network for connecting. According to attachment theory and much scientific study it is evident that we identify ourselves as one and the same as our initial attachment figure, therefore the first encounter is critical. We therefore gain a sense of our self and safety that is dependent on our attachment figures sense of themselves and ability to relay a sense of safety and security to us.
As an infant when we seek to make contact with our mother we make eye contact when we hear her voice, or are fed, we make physical contact when we reach out to her and we call for help when we feel distressed, alone or afraid through crying. A mother responds to a baby’s cry with food, diaper change, cuddles and holding and we as an infant begin to learn that a cry for help is met by the same person, and the same person is there when we turn our gaze or reach out to touch. We begin to feel safe with that person, connected to another and begin to gain an understanding of our existence. This experience sets that foundation for a secure attachment and a stable sense of self and worth.
Next encounters: Now as life happens we continue to learn about ourselves in this world, and we are impacted by the way others; in particular our attachment figures, respond. Of course, these people learned from their attachment figures and so on, so family patterns can help us to understand our own behavior and feelings. It becomes a complicated dynamic when those we attach have to deal with life stress, transitions, emotions, trauma and such. At times, we may feel stressed when our attachment person is stressed, or we may feel unheard when our attachment people are physically absent often, sick, distracted, depressed, or we may feel abandoned when our attachment people are preoccupied with other major life issues, or impacted by their own mental health struggles, addictions, personal crises etc.
Sometimes we experience life as a series of expectations and because we want to be accepted by our family of origin (normal human need) we seek to please our attachment people, and meet what we think are their expectations in order to be certain that we will not be rejected.
Sometimes adults (parents, teachers, role models) who are so proud of a young person, and see emerging talents encourage us to excel, and keep encouraging them to do more. That may leave one feeling like they have to do more, are not ever good enough, or that they have done something wrong when they are not able to excel, or make a mistake. Sometimes it leads them to work harder and keep trying…it might depend on the day, their mood, or what else is going on in their life. However, when a person does not feel good enough, they can develop a sense of fear or abandonment, or an overwhelming need to please others, and fear of judgment or worry about disappointing people and that becomes a consuming problem. Because our brain tries to adapt and see that we get that need to feel felt met, it may come up with ways to meet that need that later become disordered. These can emerge as depression, anxiety, eating disorder addictions and many other difficulties.
Sometimes we experience life as a void and because we need to feel connected and don’t, we try whatever it takes to be noticed and acknowledged by our attachment people. Remember this is a hardwired and natural human instinct, and connection is imperative for safety from birth through all stages of our life.
As a result, our brain comes up with many creative ways to get that need for connection met when we feel at risk of not being connected. Sometimes that results in getting a label of being “oppositional” or “attention seeking” or “dramatic” and really that might be a result of trying to meet a need. Sometimes a person may put up a wall of defense because they feel that the only option to keep safe is to rely on themselves because those they are with do not feel safe, so they isolate, or numb out their feelings. That can lead to problems with depression, or addiction and many other disorders.
The bottom line is, whatever you feel, and whatever coping strategy you have turned to, there is likely a good reason for it, and you are not crazy for feeling and thinking the way you do.
If you want to learn more about how early attachments form personality and how life experiences contribute to self-esteem and strategies for coping with life, just ask! It’s complicated, not anyone’s fault and all part of life encounters.