Journey from Insecure to Secure Attachment: Part 5 of 5
Life as a securely attached adult
When children are able to trust their parents will recognize and meet their needs, they develop into securely attached children. This frees them from unnecessary worry and gives them the freedom to explore their surroundings and identity. The quality of our childhood experiences determines how our brains develop and function. Secure parents provide consistent and predictable environments for their children and thus, these children’s brains develop optimally.
When children are unable to trust that their parents will recognize and meet their needs, they become insecurely attached. These children live in a constant state of fear and thus, their brains develop sub-optimally. They have a limited capacity to explore, self-soothe in the face of separation, and connect authentically.
As a secure child grows, the parents (who are themselves secure) will reflect the child’s trust, and therefore, the child will learn, “I am safe. I trust myself.” This is how secure children learn to trust themselves and that the world is a safe place to be. During stressful situations, the secure child’s mind instantly recalls an image of the secure parents which allows him/her to self-soothe and prevent the unnecessary activation of survival instincts. The child is better able to remain calm and reason clearly.
As an insecure child grows, the parents (who are also insecure) cannot reflect the child’s trust, and therefore, the child learns, “There is danger everywhere. I need to watch out.” The insecure mind perceives situations as threatening more frequently than they really are and activates the nervous system (preparing to fight or flee) more frequently than it needs to. The insecure child’s mind becomes hypervigilant, focuses its attention externally, and attempts to control his/her environment (including others) in order to modulate the turbulent internal emotions. This strategy is bound to perpetually fail, causing undue stress on the mind and body over the course of the child’s life.
Attachment styles exist on a continuum and no one is 100% secure or insecure. These patterns show up most clearly when there is conflict in intimate relationships. Insecurely attached adults instantly feel threatened and unconsciously react as if it is a life or death situation. They are unable to maintain their logical reasoning ability and less able to work through conflict with a partner. Naturally, insecurely attached adults are more likely to have failed intimate relationships and marriages.
There are several factors that contribute to the development of an insecure attachment style. These are our parents’ unstable marriages, unmet childhood needs due to lack of parents’ physical and emotional presence, and rigid gender roles. Without taking the time to grieve what we didn’t receive in childhood and heal our attachment wounds, we cannot become securely attached. Without attachment security, we may arrive at levels 3 & 4 (belongingness, love, and esteem) on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but we will more easily lose our hold on those things. Most importantly, without attachment security, we cannot expect to create secure intimate relationships or raise securely attached children.
In order to transform my insecure attachment style to a secure attachment style, I had to learn to consistently trust myself. But this is not something we come into the world knowing how to do. We learn to trust ourselves only after it is reflected back to us from our parents. I needed to revisit my childhood, grieve the losses, and trust my parents – albeit momentarily – during the rebirthing therapy process with Mahara so that the trust can be reflected back to me.
The last rebirthing session served as a ceremonial transfer of responsibility from my parents to myself. I freed my parents from having to prove their love to me and freed myself from looking to them for consistent love and support. Now, I am fully responsible for showing myself love and compassion and protecting myself from harm. Everything else from others (parents, family, friends, significant other) is a bonus. This is how I plugged the “hole” in my heart I mentioned in the previous post.
Reparenting and rebirthing is the part of adulting no one told us about. I recently learned that during the nine months of no-contact with my parents, they underwent their own reparenting and healing process with the help of my maternal grandmother. When I wasn’t speaking to them, my mom felt she was being punished for the lack of effort she had made to keep in touch with her mother when she was my age. She discussed this long-standing guilt with her mother and healed her own mother wound. Since then, the two of them have strengthened their relationship. How remarkable it is that the time and space apart gave us all a chance to heal what was aching inside of us.
My parents and I have the best relationship today. It’s an adult-to-adult relationship. We care for each other immensely while honoring and respecting our differences. The same thing applies to the relationship with my brother and myself. No one tries to change or convince the other anymore. It’s warm, comforting, loving, and authentic.
The relationship between my parents and myself is the foundation for all relationships in my life today. With such a strong base, I am inclined to only form relationships in which I can authentically be myself with zero guilt, shame, or pressure. I no longer seek or need approval. With a secure attachment, I can propel more of my energy and efforts towards following my path wherever it may lead and actualizing my innate gifts in the service of humankind.
In undergoing this transformation, I had a few major realizations:
- All parents in all time periods who decide to have and/or raise children do it for this reason: to experience parenthood. All parents receive what they sign up for which is simply the experience of parenthood – however that turns out – good, bad, acceptable, painful, etc.
- The most loving thing parents can do for their children is to set them free from all expectations. When parents haven’t freed themselves from their own parents’ expectations, they also cannot set their children free.
- Everyone is looking out of their own window and telling the story as their mind sees it based on its previously established patterns. Listening and understanding someone else’s version of the story doesn’t make mine any less true or valid. No one has the full story of everything that happened.
Again, I am forever grateful to my parents, but I do not feel indebted in any way. After all, I am the experience they signed up for as parents!
It is clear that I have healed my core wounds and have become “earned-secure,” meaning I acknowledge there were dysfunctional parenting experiences in my childhood, and I am able to describe these memories in an accurate, coherent, and contained manner.
I no longer feel bad for my mom, for the tears she cried, for the pains she endured. I no longer harbor anger against my dad and instead, have compassion for him and his journey. I no longer feel bad for my inner child and younger self, the one who suffered along with her parents in their troubled marriage.
I am able to talk (and write) about all of this with ease. There is no pain or grief there anymore and sometimes it feels as though I am telling someone else’s story. I’m able to openly welcome discussion and other perspectives to deepen my understanding of the situation or these patterns.
The path of healing, starting with awareness, to attachment, and finally to authenticity, is painful and purposeful. It ends the predictable cycle of insecure attachment styles, frees us from generations of insecurity, honors our ancestors, and prepares us to be emotionally safe partners and parents, if we so choose. May you have the courage to break all the patterns in your life that are no longer serving you.