How Our Childhood Affects Us in Later Life

Early childhood is a time of discovery. Everything around us is new, and each day is full of exploration and learning. It the time that we begin to make sense of the complex world around us.

As children, we absorb information at a particularly rapid rate. At a young age, it is far easier to learn a foreign language, or to play music by ear, for example, as we are so open to taking in new information. But as children, we also absorb beliefs and patterns of behavior that come about as a result of those around us.

Primarily, our beliefs and behaviors are shaped by our connection to our primary caregivers – in most cases, our parents. Our relationship with our mother and father can instill patterns of behavior deep within us that can affect us all through our lives. These behavioral patterns can be either positive or negative.

The concept of attachment theory was introduced by British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and 60s. To formulate the theory, Bowlby sought information from a variety of fields such as biology, developmental psychology, cognitive science, and evolution to understand the mechanisms behind a child’s ties to its mother.

Secure Attachment

As children, we learn ways of responding to those around us, along with methods of coping and reacting to the situations we find ourselves in. When we are offered love, support, and attention, we will respond positively, forming a secure attachment style.

As young children, our instinct is to examine and explore the world around us, in order to make discoveries about ourselves, our bodies and the environment we live in. Research has proven that a secure bond to our primary caregiver is crucial for our development. When we have a secure, loving connection to this caregiver, we feel safe going out into the world to explore, knowing that Mom or Dad will always be there to keep us safe. Our primary caregiver becomes our safe haven; someone to whom we can always return to and find comfort.

Having a secure connection with our primary caregiver usually leads to children becoming trusting adults who have no difficulty connecting to others and forming meaningful relationships. If a child feels secure at the age of one or two, they will go on to make friends at kindergarten, then at school, all the way through to college and work. They are optimistic, with a positive self-image. Most children with a secure attachment style go on to have successful adult lives, including happy marriages, strong relationships with their children, and a large income.

Anxious Avoidant Attachment

Now let’s imagine we grow up in a home in which our primary caregiver is a strict father. Dad loves us and wants the best for us, but he believes – perhaps due to his own upbringing – that heavy discipline is the best way to raise a strong and resilient child. When we get too loud, or express too much emotion, Dad gets angry and punishes us. As Dad is frightening when he is angry, we quickly learn not to show our emotions in order to avoid antagonizing him.

We come to believe that showing our feelings equates to punishment and, consequently, fear. We quickly learn that it is best to keep our feelings hidden deep inside – both in front of Dad and in other situations, such as in the classroom, or among friends. We see this as a way of protecting ourselves from harm.

Children who have an anxious avoidant attachment style will often carry this same belief throughout their life. They find it difficult to express their feelings and often have trouble forming meaningful relationships. This leads to a negative self-view and lack of self-worth.

Anxious Disorganised Attachment

This attachment style differs from the other two insecure attachment styles (and the single secure attachment style) by acting in a chaotic, disorganised manner when faced with distress.

Let’s say we grow up with parents who are distant and self-absorbed. Sometimes they may even be physically abusive. When placed in such a situation as a child, we become anxious to be around the people we rely on for security and care. This inner conflict completely disorganizes our beliefs about love, safety, and security. Being in such an environment causes us to feel fear, without any resolution (in the form of a show of love). In response, we seek to avoid all social situations and contact with others. We see this as a way of protecting ourselves from harm. We become withdrawn and are starved of love.

Children with an anxious avoidant attachment style often grow up believing themselves unworthy of love. This, in turn, affects their ability to form relationships and express themselves effectively. Their self-worth, as a result, is usually extremely low.

The Long-Term Effects of Our Attachment Styles

As you can see from the above examples, our attachment styles have a great effect on us all the way through our lives. But these effects are far from theoretical. In the 1970s, researchers at Minnesota University began a study through which they were able to predict from the age of three whether or not a child would drop out of high school, as based on their attachment style. Their results were proven to have 77% accuracy.

Another study, conducted at Harvard University in the 1950s, asked its undergraduate subjects how close they felt to their parents. Thirty-five years later, these same subjects were surveyed about their health. Ninety-one percent of those who claimed they had a negative or broken relationship with their primary caregiver were suffering from health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and alcoholism. Conversely, among subjects with a warm and loving relationship with their parents, only 45% reported suffering from health issues.

Although we have the ability, to some degree, to choose who we are and what we want to become, there is no doubt that the experiences of our childhood shape us to an extent. Understanding exactly what our attachment styles are and how they affect us in our experience and perception of the world can go a long way in helping us manage any negative behaviors springing from our attachment style.

Understanding Love Styles – Attachment Styles in Romantic Relationships

As we have learned, there are four distinct styles of attachment when it comes to a child’s relationship with his or her primary caregiver. Our childhood attachment style can have far-reaching implications on the way we react to situations in later life.

One of the greatest facets of life affected by our childhood attachment styles is our ability to love and build romantic relationships.

Perhaps this is what drew you to this book. Maybe you always seem to attract partners with similar characteristics. Or perhaps you continually date people who don’t turn out to be as compatible with you as you first thought.

But have you ever stopped to think about why you are attracted to the people you are?

Falling in love and building relationships involves constant choice, commitment, and work. While love can be extremely rewarding and even exhilarating, it is often far from easy. Connecting with a romantic partner requires us to develop an understanding of the behavior of both our loved one and ourselves.

Researchers have determined that everyone has a certain love style, based on their upbringing. A love style is constituted of our behaviors and inclinations with regards to how we respond to our romantic partners. By making sense of the way we love, we can learn how our love styles affect our relationships. Understanding our inclinations and tendencies in relationships can help us to make sense of our own – and our partner’s – behavior and build stronger, long-lasting relationships.

The four attachment styles of love are closely linked to the childhood attachment styles discussed in the previous chapter. Let’s take a closer look:

Secure Love Style

Those of us lucky enough to have a secure love attachment style have a significant advantage when it comes to finding partners and maintaining meaningful, loving relationships. People with a secure love style generally feel able to go to their partner with any issues or problems, allowing for meaningful, productive discussions. A secure love style also means you have great trust in your partner, allowing them the freedom to explore their own interests and pursue their own goals.

This leads to open, loving, and honest relationships in which both partners are equal. It provides an environment in which both parties can thrive, grow, and be happy.

Having a secure love style means we are comfortable having separate interests from our lover but also understanding how to mesh and work together to build a loving and secure partnership with which to go through life.

Maybe you’re thinking this all sounds too good to be true. But it’s important not to confuse a secure love style with perfection. Because, as we know, perfection is something unattainable, especially when it comes to love and relationships.

Navigating Love Styles: Secure vs. Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Styles

Having a secure attachment style does not mean we are immune from conflict, arguments, and bad days. The nature of building a romantic relationship means there will always be disagreements. But where those with a secure attachment style differ is in their ability to work with their partner to problem solve, in order to reach an agreeable resolution to any conflict that may arise. Those with a secure attachment style also have higher emotional intelligence, which leads them to seek solutions, rather than acting rashly, striking out, or attacking their loved one.

Great resilience and self-awareness are typical characteristics of people with a secure love style – traits that assist them in moving past obstacles and conflicts in a mature and loving way. Secures have the capacity to reflect on their emotional states, along with the emotional states of their partner. This allows them to communicate more effectively. As a result, secures perform well in partnerships and are able to respond appropriately to the emotional messages they are sent by their loved one.

Outside of romantic relationships, people with a secure attachment style make excellent colleagues, due to their ability to work well in teams. On average, they have higher incomes than those with insecure attachment styles.

Though we will look more closely at ways of assessing attachment style in the following chapter, if you can answer yes to most or all of these questions, you may exhibit a secure attachment style:

  • Do you feel a strong emotional connection to the loved ones in your life?
  • Are you comfortable with emotional and physical closeness?
  • Are you equally comfortable with independence?
  • Do you feel as though you communicate effectively?
  • Do you have the ability to resolve conflicts when they arise?
  • Do you feel as though the relationships in your life are fairly stable?
  • Do you trust your partner?
  • Do you feel comfortable opening up and being vulnerable around your partner?

Anxious Preoccupied Love Style

For people with an anxious preoccupied love style, love is often a thing relegated to the world of fantasy. They romanticize love and are prone to falling for a fantasy, or unattainable ideal, as this is far easier to manage than the often-challenging reality of maintaining a relationship.

This romantic view of love often leads anxious preoccupied lovers to be attracted to partners who they perceive as “needing saving,” or, conversely, partners they believe can save them. Anxious preoccupied lovers often find themselves seeking an unobtainable fairy-tale ending.

Understanding Love Styles: Anxious Preoccupied and Dismissive Avoidant

People with an anxious preoccupied attachment style often suffer from insecurities and self-doubt, struggling to find a strong sense of their own identity. In relationships, they tend to exhibit clingy, demanding, and obsessive behaviors, overthinking and overanalyzing situations. This can lead to moodiness and unpredictability, making their relationships tumultuous and troubled. Anxious preoccupied lovers may mistake this constant conflict for passion.

Outside romantic relationships, individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style often experience job dissatisfaction and lower income compared to those in secure relationships. If you resonate with the following questions, you may exhibit an anxious preoccupied love style:

  • Do arguments with your partner make you feel extremely anxious and overwhelmed?
  • Do you suffocate your partner for attention when they seek alone time?
  • Do you constantly seek reassurance within your relationship?
  • Does your partner’s absence trigger doubts about their love for you?

The anxious preoccupied love style is closely linked to the anxious ambivalent attachment style, with individuals exhibiting traits of both.

Dismissive Avoidant Love Style

A dismissive avoidant love style is characterized by being distant and detached in relationships. Despite exuding independence and self-sufficiency, people with this attachment style often struggle to share feelings and emotions. They tend to withdraw at the first sign of conflict, avoiding emotional intimacy.

While personal space is crucial in relationships, those with a dismissive avoidant love style frequently seek solitude at the expense of connection with their partner. They may push their partner away, shying away from affection and intimacy to shield themselves from vulnerability and potential hurt.

In times of crisis or conflict, individuals with a dismissive avoidant love style tend to detach themselves emotionally, convincing themselves that they don’t care about what’s happening. However, this facade of independence masks deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy and a fear of vulnerability.

Avoiding displays of affection and maintaining emotional distance, individuals with a dismissive avoidant love style may avoid physical contact like hugs and eye contact, reflecting their reluctance to engage in intimate connections.

Understanding the complexities of attachment styles can offer insight into relationship dynamics and personal behaviors, fostering self-awareness and opportunities for growth and development in love and connections with others.

By John

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