Why do people treat you the way they do? Why do we attract bad people into our lives? Why does the same thing keep happening where I end up hurt and emotionally winded? Can this fatalism be changed? A lot of this is based on your 'Attachment Style' and YES, this can be changed. Your internal sense of security can change for the better and how others treat you will change as a result.
The theory of psychological 'Attachment' is a way of understanding how we have different levels of internal security based on how we were treated by our care givers when we were small and vulnerable. If a child does not get his or her needs met with some degree of consistency whilst they are developing, the cornerstones of their own development are not laid down in a stable and concrete way. They tend to turn out more or less 'insecure' as a result. This attachment pattern of security or insecurity predicts the kind of life a person will have and how they will relate to others. A person who has a poor/ insecure attachment type will attract unstable and even abusive partners and friends throughout their lives.
The two main attachment types are 'secure' and 'insecure'. You can then categorize the insecure into the following sub-types:
(I will refer to a child as 'he' or 'him' simply for convenience and not a sense of chauvinism; just as I have seen feminist authors refer solely to 'she' or 'her' when they discuss a person in general. I think the convention should be to discuss a general person in the sense of the writer's own gender and thus bypass any further debate, redundancy or waste of words in the writing process, this should be the case unless a specific gender is referred to - BB.)
An infant who hasn't had his needs met will either be clingy (anxious) when he is left alone, or will not particularly care one way or the other (this is where he has given up on trust). Alternatively he may be ambivalent: both clingy and avoidant, so that he frets but when he gets soothing from a care giver this doesn't make him feel better (when he has been soothed before it was coupled with abuse or taken away prematurely so he keeps crying and fretting in case the soothing does get withdrawn from him).Probably the worst type is the disorganised, where the child's fretting and response to being soothed is disorganised, chaotic and random. This reflects the disorganized care giving he has received and the chaotic nature of his general environment. One moment he will be clingy, then rejecting and punishing of the care giver, avoidant, and then clingy again but unable to be soothed. He may also go to random adults as proxy care givers, without even knowing them.This is a sign of a seriously distressed child who has no sense of norms, no sense of a secure place to be in the world.
Conversely a secure child will fret to a 'normal' degree (not too much, not too little) be a little bit clingy when left in new situations, but this clinginess will only occur with regular care givers (especially the primary attachment figure, like Mum or Dad). He won't cavort with strangers unless the regular care giver is around for a period of time giving the 'all clear and safe' signal to the infant. Then the infant will allow himself to be soothed by this proxy care giver (like a play group teacher). This receptiveness to soothing from a trusted source ensures that it will continue to be more or less adequate to meet the needs of the child. The overall aim of being soothed is to help the child feel safe. If a child hurts himself he has no sense of how far the hurt will go or what it means. For example, if he grazes his knee does this mean his leg will fall off or never work again? How is he supposed to know? We take it for granted that we have common sense but an infant/ small child does not have this sense due to a lack of experience in the world. He relies on the care giver or proxy care giver to reassure him and tell him things will be okay. This soothing can then be followed by practical concerns like dressing the wound with an elastoplast. Then off he goes again, bright and cheerful after this minor rupture that has been contained, wiser from the experience and ready to face the big wide world again.
Importantly this is not based on 'perfect parenting'. There is no such thing as perfect parenting. We all make mistakes and we can' t always be there for every need the child has all the time. It's about 'good enough parenting' where we are there for the child fairly consistently, most of the time, and don't take out our feelings or issues on the child to any significant degree. We are basically loving and help to meet the needs of the child. This includes basic needs like food, water, shelter, but also psychological needs (no less important!) such as safety, security, trust, respect, fairness, justice, dignity, integrity and respect. We do not put a child down in his spirit, yet whilst we do address his inappropriate behaviour we talk about the behaviour being inappropriate and not the child himself. We don't favour others unfairly. The same rules apply for all.
Feeling relatively happy and relatively safe:
It's important to look at this as a right and a responsibility to provide and maintain, and not a privilege. If a child is feeling relatively happy and safe he will confidently explore the world and this will help him to develop more as he goes. The cornerstone requirement for this to take place is safety and this gives a sense of inner security. The child unconsciously or semi-consciously reflects on the provision of safety and love and says ' I must therefore be worthy of safety, happiness and love' . It is important to note that a child is fundamentally egocentric. That is, they think they are the centre of the world and everything happens because of them. So if you love them it means that they are lovable and worthy of love. If you abuse them it means they have done something wrong and are worthy of inconsistent safety, love and respect. They feel insecure internally as a result. They do not feel basically Okay.
This is because the inner world is a reflection of the care giving world the child has been born into. The child then takes this reflected inner world of theirs out into the world when they have experiences, from going to school, having friends, all the way up to adulthood and going to work and having relationships. The person, like in a feedback loop, reflects out to the world the kind of internal security and sense of self that he himself has. This sets up a kind of 'confluence'; a sort of attraction and repulsion mechanism, where the person will attract what is congruent with the inner set of self-values and esteem. If he feels unworthy and unlovable he will get more of this, most of the time, from the people he associates and cavorts with.
Thank goodness, for a person who has insecure attachment, that there are other opportunities to attach and bond with other people in his life. If the primary care givers were insufficient in the provision of love and safety there may be a very loving and stable aunty, grandfather, friend, neighbour, friend's parent or school teacher who provides the attachment the child needs. Even if this is rather fleeting it provides a template that the child can draw upon in times of uncertainty, sadness and despair, when they feel unsafe and unworthy.
A person thinks about themselves based on how they were treated by others as they were growing up.
Thank goodness that there is another wildcard in this mix. There is something called the Temperament, where a child brings with him or her a natural tendency to be more or less confident and secure, and this combines with the environmental/ attachment experiences to render an overall sense of self. This explains individual differences, and even how siblings from the same dysfunctional or abusive family turn out to be different.
Personally speaking, I also think there is such a thing as the soul which brings with it its own legacy. People naturally have a brightness of spirit, and this brings its own set of gifts and strengths.
There is also a way to make up for insecure attachment, and this has been called 'Acquired Attachment'. This is when you go out and get what you need, on a wing and a prayer, with the hope that there is such a thing as respect, and love and safety out there in the world, even if you haven't really seen it before. This is often presented in therapy. And this is why the absolute foundation and cornerstone of any therapy must be trust, consistency, respect and care. The therapist therein becomes a proxy for an attachment figure, allowing the patient to feel and internalise a sense of security and self worth. Sometimes this will be tough love as well, where the therapist will have ground rules and boundaries and if a person crosses these boundaries they may receive an ultimatum such as 'if you continue to do this we will have to terminate therapy' (for example if the patient threatens the therapist). This will help the person, again, internalise boundaries that he can apply to himself in a form of self-regulation as well as to his own relationships. It also lets the therapist off the hook, where he or she does not have to tolerate abuse from the patient. What would we be modelling, indeed, if we did tolerate it?
Therefore, if there are abusive people in your life now, even though this is not your fault (a person is responsible for their own behaviour and not anyone else's) you are indeed still attracting it. Shock, horror and gasp!
The kind of person you attract into your life, for the most part, will reflect back what is within your own sense of self and within your soul. So if you want to change the kind of friendships and relationships you have, or indeed the kind of nature you bring out from the people already in your life, you will need to address issues that you have within yourself. This is due to the nature of attraction and repulsion, confluence and congruence. We all carry around with us a kind of film projector and assemble the features of our reality as we go. There are millions and billions of bits of information in the world around us at any particular time and we simply cannot attend to all of them. Thus we selectively abstract the features that are congruent with our own mood and mind states, that which is congruent with our sense of self. Think of being a confident and happy and secure person and how you would respond to a person with abusive tendencies. The only way you would stay in that friendship or relationship, or tolerate the behaviour rather than curtail and contain such tendencies in the other person, is if you had an internal insecurity, a sense of unworthiness.
The 'shit sticks', so to speak.
This is very personal, and by nature usually very offensive, but I make no apologies for the truth. It is what it is and can be utilised to empower us to make better decisions, to make personal changes in order to change our lives and the world as a whole.The rest is up to you.
If you have noticed such a tendency within you to attract undesirable sorts, or to bring out the worst in the people already in your life, then there is something abrasive or something that feels unworthy and insecure within you. The abrasiveness, moreover, is probably a defense mechanism for the sense of insecurity beneath it. A person with an anger and aggression problem, for example is, is typically making up for a sense of insecurity. They may carry with them a deep hurt feeling of unlovable, powerless, unworthy and inadequate. So they take pre-emptive strikes at others in an attempt to stop the feeling from coming up within them ever again (a hostile attribution bias). They cannot tolerate the feeling state because they are psychologically insecure (in their sense of self) and more importantly lack the self-soothing emotional and behaviour regulation skills that many others take for granted (for those who are secure). This is because they did not receive adequate soothing when they felt bad as children. They may, instead, have been made to feel stupid and weak for feeling upset, hurt and vulnerable. Hence, they feel bad about feeling bad. Double Bad. This has happened to quite a lot of men as they grew up as boys in a 'hegemonic masculinity' framework - having to be strong and sensible at all times. Therefore, they have not had soothing modelled to them, and as a result they lack the ability to self-sooth. Because of this they avoid emotions, intimacy and vulnerability. They may not even take any kind of risk because they lack the confidence to hold themselves whilst they do this. Of course this applies to girls and women just as it does to boys and men.
John Lennon was kind of right when he said 'all we need is love'. Essentially if a person feels loved and has had this modelled to them from care givers and care giver proxies, consistently or even semi-consistently, they have a sense of how to look after themselves. The can open the blinds and curtains to let the sun in when its safe and sunny, and they can lock the doors and ask people to leave when it feels unsafe. When they themselves are besieged by heavy heart feelings they can make themselves feel better by being loving, kind and compassionate to themselves. And whaddayaknow? They feel better because of it.
If we take responsibility for our own internal security and attachment we can essentially stop the inter-generational nature of abuse and insecurity that perpetuates itself, unto itself, in an abysmally never-ending cycle.
Also, as we start to heal in this way, we get a sense of momentum and this rocks! We start to attract loving, nurturing, respectful and self-respecting, compassionate people into our lives. And when we have randomness show up in the form of unloving and disrespectful people, we can pretty much tell them how to treat us properly (by having and asserting personal boundaries due to our sense of self awareness that we bother to assert due to self compassion) or otherwise we can tell the person where to go if they don't love and respect us.
Most importantly, when this is all sorted out, when we have the cornerstone laid down for inner security, we can then go out into the world and universe and boldly go where no man or woman has ever gone before. We can start living on a different level, based on fun, curiosity, health, exploration, creativity and we can blossom into the essence of who we really are. We can live like its the best day of our lives every day, where our senses are all open and enriched, where our lives are meaningful and our relationships are supportive and fulfilling. We can do what we were destined to do in our lives. We can do anything. We can evolve into our full potential, using our former selves as stepping stones upon the way. We transform.
This is the journey into healing for the insecurely attached person. The insecure man or woman can develop a sense of inner security and they themselves can model to others how to treat them and even how to treat themselves. You start to lead by example. This is a wonderful thing as you start to get a chain reaction and critical mass in the world. We go from insecure, hurting and hateful, to secure, self-respecting, responsible and loving.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So let's start now. YOU - start to do what you need to do to heal and gain personal security. It all starts here.
April 17th 2010