The importance of our intimate attachments and connections to others cannot be minimized. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, studied attachments for his whole life. His opinion was that our intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which our lives revolve.
His research, as well as that of his students Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main, showed that attachment patterns begin when we are infants. They can continue throughout life – unless problematic attachment styles are healed by emotion coaching. There are three main attachment styles, two of which may cause difficulties in relationships, as explained in this 6.5 minute video by Alain de Botton.
Our attachments, emotional ties and experiences with our carers and partners, influence our development during toddlerhood, adolescence, mature adulthood and into our old age. But we are not stuck with the impacts of our conditioning forever. We can work on changing our reactions and ways of being in our intimate attachments. Doing this work is an opportunity to grow and evolve into becoming secure lovers and friends, so we develop through the five stages of intimacy.
Social cues and neuroscience
Humans are social animals. As social animals we are “programmed” to monitor our physical and emotional environment for safety and connection. We are wired for love. This means we are constantly judging how available and responsive to us are our close and intimate attachments. We do this all the time, mostly unconsciously, by monitoring social cues like body language, eye contact, smiles, frowns, tone of voice, speed and loudness of speech and so on. These non-verbal cues are signals of safety (connection) or threat (disconnection, disinterest) with others.
Most of what happens in our relationships occurs below our awareness. These unconscious cues drive our instantaneous and habitual responses based on what we “expect” will happen. This does not mean we are trapped by our past experiences. Current research in neuroscience and brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to change and grow in response to experience), demonstrates that healthy and fulfilling experiences in any relationships (friends, partners, counsellors) can “rewire” the brain. In fact, every experience we have is constantly rewiring our brains, for the better or worse.
Neuroplasticity and intimate attachments
Neuroscience has shown us that the emotional parts of our brain are constantly scanning our environment, and the people with whom we interact, to check for emotional safety. This is a good thing – we need it for our survival. Our emotional brains do the best job possible to keep us safe and to ensure that our carers (when we are babies) and our partners and friends (when we are adults) are responsive to us. Our old, unconscious patterns of negative expectations and reactivity can gradually be replaced by current experiences of positive attachment, so that our brain responds in new ways in relationships.
This is good news! This means that working on ourselves and developing new habits like self-soothing, calming ourselves down, relaxing our body, noticing how we feel, and then deciding what to do and how to communicate and relate to our partners makes a big difference. Doing this can assist our partners, friends and family to respond to us in more positive ways. It means that we can have much more influence on how our intimate attachments play out. By being actively engaged in rewiring our brains and developing new experiences, we gain more self-esteem and personal empowerment along the way.
The image below shows how we can self-soothe with the senses.
You deserve the best trained relationship coaches if you’re planning to invest time and money in your relationship. If you’re not ready to book an appointment, call us on 0421 961 687 to book a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to discuss how we may be able to assist you.