We are born into relationship. Before we are born, we are connected and reliant on connection and attachment. We experience from the womb before we are even aware of it. Our mother’s experiences lay the groundwork for our first interactions with the outside world.


We rely on our initial connections for survival. As we age, we branch out and create our own support systems. If we are in a healthy environment where we are supported and allowed to test our limitations, we should become more independent yet able to thrive in community with others.

Our lives are made up of varying systems of connection but each includes us living in community with others. A psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner supported the Ecological and Systems Approach when considering connections and development. Cavanaugh and Kail (2010) explain this approach when they write, “…human development is inseparable from the environmental contexts in which a person develops…all aspects of development are interconnected…so that no aspect of development can be isolated from others and understood independently.” (p.15)

When examining our support systems from the lens of the Ecological and Systems Approach, they are described as occurring in four levels. These are: the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. Each system is connected to other aspects of our lives. The relationships we have with those we grow up with and around will affect our thoughts and perception over the lifespan. These close familial connections will shape how we see ourselves in this world. This is why it is essential to love and support those we live and grow with.

Attachment, Relationships & How We Love

We learn about attachment through these initial familial and microsystem influences. If they make us feel that it’s not safe to connect then this will be how we approach our associates and friends when we enter school which will affect how we are when we date or have children. Healthy attachments are essential. Sussman (2010) found that, “…securely attached subjects reported trusting family relationships and stable love relationships.” When we feel that we are secure in our closest connections, this helps us to create healthier love attachments. When we are afraid and unsure of people and relationships, we can experience the opposite.

Sussman (2010) found that “…Anxious-ambivalent subjects… reported dependence on and a desire for commitment in relationships.” (p.36) While those in this group were wanting and needing of love because they were unsure or hesitant, this leads to dependence and desire, two traits that lead to feeling that something is missing which can lead to relationship issues, including abuse, dependent or codependent behavior. Codependent relationships can stunt growth and inhibit the individual, leading to dissatisfaction of both parties.

ATTENTION & DEPENDENCE

Because of this dependence on desire for commitment, Sussman (2010) found that anxious-ambivalent lovers were, “…relatively likely to idealize romantic partners, and tended to take an extreme approach to love (obsessive preoccupation, emotional dependence, idealization, need for attention of lover)…” (p.36) Because of the anxiety associated with the attachment, the need to maintain connection could leave this person unwilling to recognize when things have changed or when they’re being mistreated.

As an anxious-ambivalent lover, the need for the lover’s attention could precede everything because the desire for commitment is so strong. Pleasing the partner could become extremely important in this type of relationship because the individual is trying to show this other person that they are worth loving. This could lead to self-neglect and lowered self-esteem. Sussman (2010) also found that this group was, “…least likely to be interested in friendship relationships or to love someone from a similar background.” (p.36) Can you think of anyone who displays these traits? Do you behave this way in relationship with others?

Because the anxious-ambivalent person is so focused on commitment, friendship could leave them frustrated. Having to share the other person’s attention and affection is upsetting. Choosing someone from a different background could be a result of looking for something unlike what’s been experienced. In an attempt to escape from similar situations that caused pain, this person could be seeking safety in relationships with people they feel should be different from them, hoping that they will treat them differently than what they’ve experienced. Can you think of ways this is displayed in society and relationship choices?

Difficult life situations can make it hard for us to connect with others. The loss of loved ones at a young age can make friendships and seeking a mate troublesome. Fear of loss could be an issue. Those who have experienced a lot of trouble with attachment may avoid dating. Sussman (2010) found that, “Avoidant subjects reported childhood separation and mistrust of people, low intensity of love experiences and fewer love experiences.” (p.36) The issue is not what happened to this person as a child but the enduring pain of these experiences makes the individual feel that it is not safe to connect which will cause them to fear doing so. This can cause generational damage if not addressed. Have you experienced issues with building bonds because of past experiences? What helped you?


Because the anxious-ambivalent person is so focused on commitment, friendship could leave them frustrated. Having to share the other person’s attention and affection is upsetting. Choosing someone from a different background could be a result of looking for something unlike what’s been experienced. In an attempt to escape from similar situations that caused pain, this person could be seeking safety in relationships with people they feel should be different from them, hoping that they will treat them differently than what they’ve experienced. Can you think of ways this is displayed in society and relationship choices?

Difficult life situations can make it hard for us to connect with others. The loss of loved ones at a young age can make friendships and seeking a mate troublesome. Fear of loss could be an issue. Those who have experienced a lot of trouble with attachment may avoid dating. Sussman (2010) found that, “Avoidant subjects reported childhood separation and mistrust of people, low intensity of love experiences and fewer love experiences.” (p.36) The issue is not what happened to this person as a child but the enduring pain of these experiences makes the individual feel that it is not safe to connect which will cause them to fear doing so. This can cause generational damage if not addressed. Have you experienced issues with building bonds because of past experiences? What helped you?

Conclusion

Self-awareness and considering how a relationship feels and how we feel when we are with a person will help while developing or ending connection. Exploring how we attach to others at a young age would be helpful in creating healthier relationships in adulthood. Starting in the home, helping families to establish healthy attachment styles while addressing mental health and illness could lead to major changes in dating and sexual habits of adults. Healing starts with each of us.

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References

Cavanaugh, J. C. with Kail, R. V. (2010) Human Development: A Lifespan View,

5th Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth.

Sussman, S. (2010). Love Addiction: Definition, Etiology, Treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 17(1), 31–45. doi:10.1080/10720161003604095

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