Are you feeling frustrated or unsatisfied in your current relationship? If the answer is yes, you may be caught up in old patterns of behavior that aren’t working. You can change these patterns and feel empowered to make different choices about your relationship. We need to feel connected to others, but things always get complicated. This is because we make unconscious choices based on what we learned from our families about how to behave in relationships, and what to expect from others – this is our Attachment Map. How we’re nurtured and cared for by our parent/s sets a map in our brain that answers these basic questions: 1. Am I loveable? 2. Can I trust that I’ll get what I need from others? 3. Can I trust myself.
Our ideas of love may be established early in life but they CAN BE CHANGED! The following is an example of an individual I’m working with (names and identifying information have been changed for confidentiality) who came in feeling hopeless about his love life.
Brian, a 46 year old man, had several relationships that ended badly. Talking about his current relationships and the early ones with his family, helped us identify where he felt stuck. Brian was surprised to find that there was a common theme to the women that he got involved with. Exploring Brian’s childhood provided important clues. Briefly, Brian grew up with a depressed mother who treated him as her companion. Although he felt important because of her special attention and adoration, he also resented her constant demands. He recalls escaping to his friend’s houses , consumed by the guilt she evoked in him for leaving her. Going back to the earlier 3 questions, here is a brief summary of Brian’s attachment map:
AM I LOVEABLE? Originally Brian said his mother loved him unconditionally. Further exploration highlighted how his mother’s love depended upon Brian’s taking care of her. As a result he sought out women who needed and adored him, as long as he was compliantly focusing on their needs. When Brian began making demands of the woman he was with, the relationship would eventually blow up.
CAN I TRUST OTHERS TO MEET MY NEEDS? Brian realized two things; that he was unaware of any needs beyond his desire to be adored. Also that he had little awareness of what he wanted from others until he reached a point of anger, and then his needs came out as angry demands. Brian learned to identify what he wanted from his partner, which allowed him to ask for what he needed without anger, and trust that they would be met. Brian realized that the adoration he wanted from women came at a high price.
CAN I TRUST MYSELF? Because Brian had to focus on his mother’s needs, he had never learned to trust his own thoughts and feelings. Consequently Brian relied on others to tell him what he needed. This led to feeling confused and angry. With time Brian began to trust his own instincts, and to make confident choices about all aspects of his life.
Early Attachment patterns can be altered once we can identify them and make more conscious choices.