Ever wonder why you are in the relationships you are in? Why you are married or partnered with that person? Why do you have the friends you have? I’ll tell you a little secret, it's not what you think. In this blog, I will share with you what drives you to be in the relationships you are in. I will also share the role of relationships and why they are one of, if not the most important things in our life.
It is essential to understand that being in relationships with others is a matter of life and death. Being connected to others is hard-wired into our brains and nervous system. Starting a relationship is one of our first instincts and objectives when we are born. This first relationship we make sure we have is with our caregiver - ideally, mom. This objective is so powerful that we actually attach to our caregiver as if our life depends on it, because it does. This instinct is referred to as the “attachment drive.” Humans are one of the most dependent species when born. As an infant, if someone doesn’t take on the role of taking care of our every need, we wouldn’t survive. Not only are we the most dependent, but we are also dependent for the longest time. Getting these caregivers to take care of us from the beginning of our lives is essential for survival. The attachment drive ensures that we do whatever is necessary to get these caregivers to care for us.
There are two critical needs that must be fulfilled in these roles. One of the things that must happen for a caregiver to take care of us is they must accept us. Because this is a matter of life and death, there is literally nothing we will not do to get the caregiver to accept us. As children, it is an absolute must to persuade our caregivers and environment to accept us - it is a matter of life and death.
The other need that is critical to survival as humans, is the need to be authentic. The ability to be authentic means you are connected to yourself and are aware of what you are feeling, and you have the ability to express those feelings. Being aware and connected to your biological communication systems (emotions) is crucial to survival. The important thing to understand is that our attachment drive (our need to be accepted by our environments as children) overrides our need to be authentic. In cases where children are in environments where being authentic, and expressing their emotions and needs, threaten their need to be accepted by their environment, they learn to disconnect from themselves.
This scenario looks like disconnecting not only from their emotions and needs but also from their bodies. Being disconnected from oneself means you are disconnected from everything. It can even manifest as a child suppressing pain in the body if their self-expression is enough of a threat to the attachment to the caregiver.
This connection is quite a lot to navigate for a child. It is why the environment a child is born in significantly impacts their life experience. The part of our brain that governs the relationships in our life is formed and molded most significantly by these two variables: the attachment drive & our capacity to be authentic selves. Due to this interplay and its importance to our survival as children, we create different versions of ourselves to meet the conditions of the environment. These versions of ourselves are what I refer to as our adapted selves. Adapted selves are versions we create to ensure acceptance in the environment is met. We figure out who we need to be to fit in and be accepted. These versions of ourselves can look a variety of ways. It can look like “be seen, not heard,” “the peacemaker,” “the performer,” “the good kid,” “the quiet one,” “the smart one,” “the athletic one,” “the problem child,” “the performer,” “take care of everyone else,” and so on. Whatever we create to ensure we “fit in” and are accepted by the environment as kids will inevitably show up later in life in our relationships - because it is part of who we are.
The idea is not to eliminate these aspects of yourself. The goal is to acknowledge and understand that these are part of who you are. Not only are they a part of you, but they served a critical role at a time and ensured you were able to survive.
The important piece going forward is to understand that there is one very different thing about a child and an adult. Children cannot change their environment, adults can. Children have no choice but to adapt to the conditions of the environment to survive - adults do not. Many people that are finding theirrelationships “hard work” are struggling because that “child-like” aspect of themselves is still relating to the environment as something that must accept them or manage to feel safe.
If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel disconnected from yourself, feel like you are bending over backward to make sure everyone else is ok and taking care of, or just feel alone, there is a good chance that one of those adapted versions of yourself you created when you had to as a child, is still driving how you engage in relationships. The first step is to start to focus on reconnecting back to you. Start asking how you feel, what needs you have, and what you want to know and experience in relationships. The only way to truly create connected, meaningful relationships in your life is to cultivate a connected, meaningful relationship with yourself first.
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Yours in Vitality,