In my courses, and in psychotherapy, I guide people towards forming what we call a Securely Functioning Relationship. If you are working with me I am starting with the assumption that this is one of if not your primary goal!
The benefits of a secure bond include your essential life satisfaction, resiliency, insulation from life threatening diseases, better sleep, better moods, better cognitive functioning and athletic or professional performance.
You will hear me referring to this goal as “the land of the extraordinary.” That is because a securely functioning relationship is truly extraordinary-- in experience, and in the benefits it provides.
The term “securely functioning” comes from the language of Attachment Theory. Attachment Theory is the scientific theory that describes how we behave when we bond to another person.
Our Attachment System is the biological system that is activated when we bond to another person and guides our bonding behavior.
Scientists divide the styles that people adopt to bond into roughly 4 categories. About 50% of the population had a development such that they bond in a “secure style.” The other 50% of the population develop attachment styles such as avoidant, anxious or disorganized.
It is a good idea to understand your attachment style in childhood as this will locate your starting position on your journey. (If you’re not sure, take my Love Thyself Course and I’ll guide you through this!) However, no matter what your childhood style of attachment was, your goal as an adult is to form a securely functioning relationship!
So what do we mean by a secure style or a secure bond?
When you are securely attached, at the core you feel understood by the other person. You feel confident that they will adapt their understanding to your evolving emotional state. In other words, they understand you whether you’re excited, sad, anxious or mad!
This understanding is less verbal and more about a felt sense of being understood. In infancy, where attachment begins, we do not use words or concepts at all to feel understood. Understanding is conveyed through the nonverbal cues of facial expression, touch, rhythm, and the ability to soothe the infant by meeting their most pressing needs.
In adulthood we use words to aid understanding, but do not forget that understanding at its deepest level always includes a non-verbal, felt sense! In other words, if you say you understand someone’s sadness, but they see anger or disgust in your eyes, they will NOT feel understood or safe!
Feeling understood is the basis of emotional safety. This means that your feeling state or your intention will not be misunderstood by the other person. Consequently, you expect that your emotional and physical needs will be interpreted correctly and met.
This experience of being understood yields an inherent ability to regulate your own emotions. This is why people who are raised in a secure bond have excellent emotional regulation skills; in other words, they look centered, calm, and resilient under a wide variety of experiences.
This means that if your caregiver (as a child) or your partner (as an adult) is away, you possess the assumption that that person both cares about you and will return to you in a reasonable amount of time.
Children who have this secure sense of return will react in a very particular way when they are separated and then reunited with their caregiver: these children will welcome their caregivers return, and go to them for comfort!
Children who do not have this expectation, and whom feel overwhelmed by a sense of aloneness or neglect will behave very differently: they ignore or retreat from the caregiver when he or she returns. You can imagine how this cycle results in a very different experience over time: primarily, a loss of connection and a loss of needs being met.
As an infant, this expectation of return is absolutely essential to safety and survival. Because infants cannot care for themselves at all, their lives depend on the likelihood that the caregiver will return in a reasonable, predictable amount of time relative to any need (for hunger, comfort, warmth, etc).
If this process goes well in infancy, you grow up to assume that people you’re bonded to are reliable, comforting and caring. You are working with a basic feeling that the other person holds you in their mind and in their heart, and this assumption allows you to tolerate the inevitable absences or disappointments that occur over time.
Having a secure attachment style means that you expect others to be understanding, safe and secure, and you therefore behave in such a way that provides safety and security to another.
When these feelings, expectations and behaviors come together, a relationship is created in which both partners feel and give qualities of fairness, justice, collaboration, sensitivity and a firm prioritization of the relationship. This is the land of the extraordinary!
The good news is that you can learn to think and behave in this secure terms, and therefore form a secure adult bond which has the potential to rewire your attachment style as an adult!
This does require a fair amount of introspection and effort on your part. If you’re not sure it’s worth it, let’s review the benefits of forming secure bonds!
The benefits in childhood are enormous and underlie ALL development! Fundamentally, a secure bond allows the child to feel secure and calm enough that their nervous system can develop properly.
That’s right, in the absence of this safety and security, the nervous system fails to develop properly. The risk factors associated with this are enormous, ranging from addiction to mood disorders to physical illness.
A secure bond in childhood is linked to:
These effects cascade through your lifetime!
As an adult, the quality of your emotional bonds is the primary predictor of your physical health and life satisfaction.
That’s right, if there is one part of your life that gives you the most power to affect your physical health and emotional happiness, it is your closest emotional relationships.
A lack of quality connection in adults is linked to:
This explains why the quality of connection is so relevant for people in addiction recovery, because addictions are primarily about an inability to self regulate emotional experience--and the ability is derived through and from our attachment relationships.
So we know that we want connection, you now know how we truly Need connection to not only thrive but even to survive. And of course we all know by early life how complex, multidimensional, and often confusing relationships can be.
What we aren’t and should be taught in the normal course of our education is HOW to navigate these complexities. If you would like help learning how to navigate this part of life, this is why I developed my online relationship courses! Each one guides you through a specific piece of your relationship life, starting with understanding your childhood patterns, your dating and partner selection choices, your behavior in a long term bond, and recognizing or healing from toxic relationship patterns.
I am a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties. Download my free eBook "How to Be an Extraordinary Partner" or enroll in one of my online courses today!
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