A regular reader mentioned something in a comment recently about the wish to build the family he never had (thank you Robert). I totally understand the pull to create the family you may have never had so I thought I would take his comment and run with it. 🙂
With many thanks to a therapist that I was dealing with a year ago who had a keen interest in the field of attachment, he was able to explain to me how a baby is biologically required to attach to its mother to survive. In a healthy situation, the baby will attach to its mother and then in time, attach to its father and other family members. As that child matures, its ability to create healthy attachments is set. That child will be able to healthier relationships with people because of this process that started on the day he or she was born.
A biological mother and father is only an example. Adoptive parents, babies carried by a surrogate mother, premature infants, babies taken from their mother and placed with a loving family member and other examples of our starts to life are no different. That baby needs to attach and that needs to happen as soon as possible. It is not so much about who provides this to an infant. It is far more about the process and that the baby has someone to attach to in a healthy way.
When this process does not happen in a positive way, that infant grows in to a child that is still searching for that attachment. This can go one for the rest of that person’s life. Until that need is met, we are biologically programmed to search for it.
In my case, I did not have even the beginnings of a true family until I was almost 30. The trouble there was that I was still hanging on to all these negative relationships with my biological family. It is hard to create a good life when you still hang on to hurtful/harmful people.
As I got closer to my 40’s, I started “cutting the cord” with my biological family and completed this process only 2 years ago. It took me a long time to stop hanging on because I was just so desperate to have them love me and treat me well. It just didn’t happen and I needed to accept that it never will. That sounds easy but I am sure you all know it truly is not.
I was also very guilty of hanging on tightly to anyone who did enter my life even if they did not bother to return that feeling. It left me feeling very uncared for and totally depleted.
I wrote a blog last week about letting go of people who do not return your efforts and this blog piggybacks on that same idea. I am just adding the biological twist of attachment theory in to the mix. Hopefully this will help some of us understand better why we have attached so tightly on to people who were not all that good for us and forgive ourselves for that. We were just trying to get our needs met.
So then. How do we go about filling this need now that we are adults? Most importantly, how do we fill that need in a HEALTHY way?
I suggest being led if at all possible by our hearts and our heads. If you meet this amazing person and you think they are the “bees knees”, it is easy to just jump head first in to that friendship/relationship but I think it is important to stop for a moment every so often and look at that person again. Do they care for you as much as you care for them? If they don’t, it does not mean they are bad people or that you can’t be friends, but this knowledge can help you decide whether or not you should reign yourself in a bit.
Does this person…
- return your phone calls, emails or text messages?
- seem genuinely interested in your life?
- keep plans?
- be honest with you?
- be there when you need them?
- allow you to support them as well?
- give and take?
If the answer is no more often than yes, you may need to pull back a bit and not invest yourself so deeply. Try to remind yourself that if someone does not return your feelings, there is nothing wrong with them or with you. This match just isn’t compatible. Try not to take it personally.
What about when you do find that person (and hopefully in time, more than one) who you can truly call a good friend? This can be a stranger but it can also be people who are in your life due to marriage, where you work, or other situations. If you are really fortunate, these people can be added to your “must have” list of persons who you truly care for and they truly care for you.
I think it is important to note though that even these relationships can change over time. They can change, you can change, you may or may not still have such a close bond but this is okay. Other relationship ebb and flow like this as well which is one reason not to only have one special person in your life.
I am very blessed to have several very good friends that I have added in to my “circle” over the years. My friends also have other good friends outside of me. I think that is important and healthy. It helps us avoid putting a ton of pressure on to one person and it also helps prevent total devastation if something happens to that one person. So start with one person and work towards more. This is one area in life where more is great!
In marriage I believe this is important as well. Not to have more spouses… lets not go there eh? 😉
In marriage it is normal and healthy to both have interests and friendships outside of each others. Some married people like to be together a lot more (time wise) than others but it is really important no matter how much time that you spend together, to also have some of your own things going on. Even if it is only once a week. Anyone who does not want this for you pulls up a big red flag in my mind.
In time, we build what we need in our lives. It takes time but it also takes some effort. We can never truly replace that lack of attachment early in life but we can cover it over with an adequate amount of healthy relationships and this makes it all hurt just a little less.