I never understood how attachment theories worked nor how they affected me personally. I just knew how I felt inside and felt this deep longing to belong somewhere in this world but no matter what I achieved or who cared for me, I still felt that ache just as strong as the day before. It was a deeply lonely feeling as though I was separate from every single other person around me. I’ve heard others describe it as “being alone in a crowded room”.
About a year ago I had a conversation with a doctor who has taken a keen interest in attachment issues. He explained to me that a child attaching to its mother is not just a good thing, it is a biological need that MUST be met. It is not a want or a wish, it is a need.
In healthy infant development, the baby will attach to mom first for food and comfort. The father is usually the next attachment and then gradually over time after the age of about 6 months, that infant will gradually begin to expand his or her circle. If mom and dad have given the child everything they need, this attachment to others is a very natural process. Auntie Kate to visits the most regularly may be the first outside attachment perhaps Grandma and Grandpa are next. It will usually just be whomever the child sees the most often and has positive interactions with.
The trouble for neglected infants is that when the mother and/or father do not adequately bond with or care for their baby, that infant will still have that biological need. Generally neglected infants do not have good support systems either. There might not be an Auntie Kate or a set of grandparents that either live close enough or perhaps care enough to be there on a very regular basis. Even if these people do try and do care, that infant is still going without. He or she needs mom for certain and in the best circumstances, dad too.
To explain the gravity of this situation… if this was to happen in the wild? The infant would die. In some ways this is also true for human beings.
If you watch this short video, it shows how a good and connected parent affects the child and then this same parent refuses to engage at all. Watch the difference in the child.
So what happens as these babies turn in to preschoolers, become school age, turn in to teenagers, and then become adults??? That unmet need is still there and it will never leave unless that need is met somehow. Some people will say they do not care what happens to their parents and that may be absolutely true but they will still hold that biologically unmet need within themselves.
Quite often these people seek out acceptance to a much greater degree than those with healthy upbringings. “Looking for love in all the wrong places” as the song goes. We can grow up, get in to deep relationships too young and sadly even accept abusive relationships easier than most people would because that need for a bond is so overwhelming.
I recall my thoughts after my first marriage crashed and burned… I realized that I had not chosen well or been picky enough. I had my children when I was not yet old enough or fully equipped to handle them (I was married and in my 20’s but I really wasn’t equipped). I just wanted to be married and have children because I was desperate for a connection of my own. Sadly this rarely ends well so I got a divorce then swung to the other extreme where I need NO ONE for ANYTHING and totally shut myself off from anyone outside of my own children. That doesn’t end well either just in case you are thinking of trying it. 😉
So here I am at 46 years old and I know many others just like me who are even in their 60’s and yet they still wish for a unconsciously look for a mother to take care of them. We attach to others too quickly. We can force bonds which can often freak other people out. We can be seen as needy, sometimes even childish or many other varieties of “messed up”.
Please do not blame yourself if you see yourself in this situation. Your needs were not met and you are behaving as your mind feels that you need to in order to get that need met. It is not acceptable to continue this behaviour long term but do not berate yourself for needing something you couldn’t get.
I am not a professional on this in any way so I can’t give a laundry list of suggestions but perhaps even just being aware of your reactions and accepting them for what they are, an unmet need, could be helpful.
In my own life I am still in mourning for the things I never had but I am also getting healthier and being sure that my boundaries are as appropriate as possible.
A spouse is a spouse.
A therapist is a therapist.
A friend is a friend.
A sister or sister-in-law is a sister.
Those are the lines and attempting to put these people in a mothering or fatherly position holds our progress back. We will be once again seeking and not finding what we need and this can be devastating even if you are not totally aware of what you are doing.
The only true healing comes from beginning to give ourselves what we need. Starting to mother and/or father ourselves. Accept that there is that little girl or little boy in there that really needs to be shown true parental love. I will admit that I am still at the point where I feel like this just sucks and I shouldn’t have to be my own parent after everything else I’ve had to do for myself… but I know cognitively that this is where I need to go and I have started in some ways.
I just found this post and think it might be helpful to say to ourselves. Either this or something like it but we need to start to nurture that inner child.