To Love and Be Loved
A Very Brief History of Attachment Theory and its’ relationship to the False Self
The British psychoanalyst John Bowlby sought to understand the anxiety and distress children experienced when separated from their primary caregivers. Bowlby shared the psychoanalytic view that early experiences in childhood are important for influencing development and behavior later in life. The developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth furthered Bowlby’s work with her groundbreaking “Strange Situation” study that is now widely used to explain relationship difficulties. These attachment styles are widely known and used in psychology to describe the relationship between the primary caregiver and child. As we grow older we can improve upon our relationships through the help of a therapist or a corrective relationship with someone in our personal life. The four attachment types found for children are secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious-ambivalent, and disorganized. In adults it is quite similar but is labeled as secure, fearful-avoidant, preoccupied(enmeshed), and dismissing-avoidant.
Not many people, when asked who their first love was, answer with my parents or primary caregiver, they automatically think of their first romantic relationship. This is to be expected as love in this context is assumed to be of the romantic kind. We don’t think about our parents being our first love even though technically they are. They are our first attachment object, our first connection to the world, and the prime example of what to do and not do in and out of relationships. It’s amazing how we don’t seem to credit this first relationship as having more of an impact on our attachments, on all the different kinds of love we will feel.
The ancient Greeks have a word for each type of love we will experience in our life..
Love in Ancient Greek
Storge: unconditional, familial love….
Philia: intimate, authentic friendship. …
Ludus: playful, flirtatious love.…
Eros: romantic, passionate love….
Pragma: committed, companionate love….
Agápe: empathetic, universal love…
The Order in Which we Love
Our primary caregiver(s) lay down the roadmap for our emotional life. We are shaped by the love they give and the love they cannot give. It forms the way we view ourselves, others, the world, and how we feel and react to intimacy. We take this out into the world with us into our social life; first we make friends, then we start to flirt and be playful with the people we’re attracted to, as we get older this turns into romantic relationships, with time our relationships become more committed, and throughout all this time we learn to be empathic and community oriented. But, what happens when we view ourselves as bad, shameful, unwanted? We’re continuing our attachment style into our other relationships. If we did not grow up with a secure attachment figure we’ll try to fit into other people’s idea of what is right and acceptable, causing our unhealthy false selves to come forward. When this gets out of hand our internal world is full of unconscious and subconscious turmoil that results in depression and anxiety.
Where Things Go Awry
Things don’t always go as planned. We plan on being the best parent, the best partner, the best friend but something gets in the way. Sometimes it’s our own depression, our own trauma, any number of things that stops us from being gentle, nurturing, compassionate. We yell, we call people names, we don’t apologize, we can be cruel to the people closest to us, sometimes our rage takes over. You vowed never to be your mom or dad but here you are enacting the same behaviors they did when you were little. Mental health issues and trauma are very often repeated through the generations. It takes effort to not be like your parents and when I say effort, I mean intentional inner work that deals with the intergenerational trauma. The result of not caring for our emotional selves, trying to fit into someone else’s ideal creates tension within our internal world. This is where our unhealthy false selves take over to protect us and where the line between mental illness and wealth is drawn.
Freud’s original theory on depression as cited in Berzoff, Flanagan, & Hertz (2011) is centered on a patient’s hatred and self-reproach that is turned inwards because the anger one feels towards the object of their love and survival is unacceptable to them at an unconscious level. In order to survive you need to stay close to the love object; for warmth, comfort, and nutrients. Freud believed that the depressed person is unaware of their feelings, and that the love object is too essential to the safety of the self to be given up. Since these feelings cannot be expressed verbally or otherwise, they are then turned inwards and projected onto oneself, causing self-depletion and self-hatred, and leaving the internal world barren. Not being able to put words to your emotions causes those emotions to be internalized. Children are especially unable to give language to what they have lost when a caregiver is abusive or unreliable in meeting their needs for comfort and nurturance.
Implications for You
How can you say nice things, treat yourself well, or respect yourself when you are told you are unacceptable through words and actions. You learn to hide your true nature to create a false self that is more acceptable to the ones around you, leaving behind your true happiness. The only way to end intergenerational trauma is to acknowledge it, name those bad feelings, feel all the things that you denied yourself in the past, and do it in the presence of a warm, caring, safe environment and person. This is therapy, the place where you can regress without ramifications in the outside world. You can feel all those terrible things without the loss, you can hate your therapist like you hated your parents and still be loved.
Since no one is perfect and we’re all doing our best to be good to the people in our lives,
it’s important to remember that to be a good parent you don’t need to be perfect. Just like you don’t have to be the perfect partner or friend. You just have to be good enough, you try to do your best while staying true to yourself, and you continue to learn to do better. You learn how to care for yourself in order to care for others.
Love isn’t a word many people use when talking about concepts and theories in psychology but what we do as therapists is entrenched in love. We care for our clients, they impact our lives in deep and meaningful ways even if they have no idea. There are times where it is therapeutic to share how moved we are, but our job is to help you make sense of your story and metabolize the feelings that come up in order for you to move forward.
Natalie Czaplicki, M.S.Ed. & M.Phil.Ed
Berzoff, J., Flanagan, L. M., & Hertz, P. (Eds.). (2011). Inside out and outside in: psychodynamic clinical theory and psychopathology in contemporary multicultural contexts. (3rd ed.). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.