Attachment and Intimacy

mom holding her baby on her lap.Trust issues…where do they come from?  Yes, it’s certainly possible that family and intimate relationship experiences can cause heart-break and mistrust.  For instance, enduring your parents’ divorce, seeing your mother as unfaithful or your father as a “rolling stone,” and you yourself, being cheated on by a long-time spouse or partner – all of these experiences can cause us to keep up an emotional guard in relationships, doubt the fidelity and genuineness of others, or avoid attachment and intimacy altogether.  But what about those of us who do not have such profound and obvious experiences?  Where does the inability to trust come from if we’re never modeled or ‘taught’ to be wary of others?

Attachment Theory provides a possible explanation to these queries.  This theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans, which is determined as early as infancy.  The most important principle of Attachment Theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development.  Attachment is the affectionate tie between two people and this bond becomes internally representative of how young children will form relationships in adulthood.  Author and researcher John Bowlby (1975) posited that “the initial relationship between self and others serves as a blueprint for all future relationships.”

The attachment bond can be broken in many ways, with the most obvious being physical and sexual abuse; however, physical and emotional neglect can also be detrimental to future relationships.  For instance, a child frequently left crying, wet, or hungry, or who is not comforted when in physical pain, must learn to comfort or soothe himself, and possibly, develop an inability to trust those whom they love the most.  Another example is an infant child who smiles at his or her mother, or reaches for a hug, but does not receive reciprocation may develop a lack of empathy for others and have difficulty forming lasting relationships in their later life.  They may lack genuine affection with others, be inconsiderate of others’ needs, or be suspicious of a partners’ affection.

The core of one’s relational problems may be his or her attachment style and history.  Therefore, in some cases, what may seem like a need for couples counseling may actually be more of an issue for individual counseling.  The deeply-seated and suppressed needs can be met, emotional damage can be healed, and relationships can become lasting.