Children are born with needs and feelings. Infants develop internal models from day one as to how they feel about themselves and how they view other people’s behaviors. Depending upon how they are cared for when they cry or need attention, they develop basic beliefs about themselves as to whether they are lovable or unlovable, and if they deserve punishment, how helpless they believe they are, and if they can really get their needs met by other people. Depending upon the degree of how much they are either attracted to, or want to avoid being with, their caretakers impacts their ability to maintain meaningful relationships later on in their life.
This early belief system about themselves and others is translated into what is called a child’s attachment style. Think about your own personal relationship style with significant others in your life. Do you feel you are worthy of love and attention? Do you believe other people are trustworthy, or are they usually uncaring and ultimately rejecting?
Let’s talk about the different attachment styles.
- SECURE: If you have a secure attachment style, you perceive both yourself and others as positive and have the capacity to form trusting relationships. You are centered within yourself, understand there is a give-and-take in relationships, and have been taught how to screen people as to their trustworthiness before becoming too vulnerable with them.
- PREOCCUPIED: If you have a preoccupied attachment style, you have a negative perception of yourself but a positive view of others. Therefore, you may feel worthless but you seek the approval of others. You also tend to cling to other people to feel safe and secure.
- DISMISSIVE: If you have a dismissive attachment style, you have a positive view of yourself but a negative view of others. You are comfortable with your abilities, see yourself as capable and friendly, but you won’t let anyone into your inner world because that is too dangerous emotionally.
- FEARFUL: If you have a fearful attachment style, you have a negative view of yourself and others. You feel you have nothing to offer, are not good at screening out untrustworthy people in your life, and you keep people at arm’s-length because you can’t trust them not to hurt you.
These ways of relating to people develop during your first years of life. They provide the basis of your expectations of yourself and others when you get older and venture out into the world. You carry with you views about getting your needs met both physically and emotionally, about being comforted when distressed, and about how to be reassured when you are frightened.
Now imagine children being abused within their families like I was. What type of attachment style do you think they develop? Would they be trusting of others? Would they believe they can get their needs met in a healthy way? Or would they be anxious, fearful and generally dismissive of others, and carry around self-hatred? Think about how we as children react when the adults in our families repeatedly abuse us, when they use drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings, when they are chronically depressed but don’t seek treatment, and where violence is commonplace in the home. Hopefully, you can see how this directly affects the child’s attachment style and how it can prevent an abused child from trusting others enough to tell them about the dreadful abuse they are dealing with at home.