Childhood Attachment, Internal Working Models & Adult Relationships


In a previous post, I addressed the three types of needs human beings have: basic needs, psychological needs, and self-actualisation needs. The way we fulfil these needs in our adult life depends a great deal on the attachment style we established with our parents. According to Bowlby, we are pre-programmed as a species to form attachments with others. If such relationship can’t be established or is negatively affected in the early years of a baby’s life, there are increased chances of developing cognitive, social, and emotional issues which then prevent us from a healthy development later in life.

Why does this happen? The attachment style developed in our early years shape the quality of every future relationship we may develop or try to establish. This happens because we form internal working models, mental representations of how we and others are supposed to behave based on on the relationship with our primary caregiver. In other words, this is where people learn how to predict, control and manipulate their interactions with others, but also what love is and is supposed to be like.

For instances, if your primary caregiver let you do everything you wanted in order to compensate for the lack of presence and affection from another other parental figure, then you learnt that it is ok to have other people doing whatever you like or want because that means they love you. If your primary caregiver was ambivalent and either smothered you or avoided you on and off, then you learnt that it is ok to be in relationships that mirror that dynamic or that it is ok to give and take away your emotional support without much reasoning. None of these say something about love.

Attachment problems affect people a great deal, and I believe most of us are not fully aware of how our entire lives can be mined simply because we don’t know the root of our relationship problems and how to heal them. Delinquency, aggression, depression, and affectionless psychopathy (no affection or concern for others) are just a few of the many issues that arise in people’s lives as a result of unhealthy bonds in their early childhood. Although Bowlby believed the damage was probably unrepairable, I think it’s possible to mend ourselves as long as we are willing to heal not only ourselves but our family lineage as well.

It’s a tough, hard and lengthy work though. You can’t heal decades of damage in a minute. It takes a lot of inner bonding and inner building. Inner bonding (see Dr Margaret Paul’s workbook) involves a lot of self-work, reflection and meditation. I would say a lot of tears too by the way, because the process is meant to guide you towards self-parenting and that can be hard to grasp when you are a grown up fine lady or gentleman. You will find out you have been imprisoned by codependency and lack of what I like to call unselfish love.

Inner building comes next, and this is something I’m trying to put together for myself. The main idea is that you have to find who you truly are and what gives you joy, health, and wellbeing. This process is about taking the self-love you developed from your inner bonding process and take it to the next level by honouring yourself and your purpose. This is not an easy healing step, since it requires courage to let go of old paradigms, activities and routines that you thought were part of you as an adult but which only made you duller and more detached from your inner child. As a result of such process, you will find out what lifestyle actually works for you and how to get there.

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