Do you ever feel like you’re a child stuck in a grown-up body? On the outside maturity is happening all too fast, but inwardly you’re still thirteen. With this in mind, I’ve been fascinated by the ways in which our culture analyzes such relationships – but more on that in a sec.
Glen’s been away quite a bit recently, and he’s off again this week. I’d love to say I’m cool with this: that I’m confident and independent enough to be able to manage. But something weird happens to me when I have to say goodbyes: I wobble and bits of me threaten to break off. When my mum left a few days ago, I felt the same way. It’s ridiculous: I’m a fully-grown woman – but being on my own terrifies me.
It’s not quite that straightforward. When Glen’s around, I’ll often shush him or retreat to be on my own. When I was home at Christmas, I was longing for the sanctuary of my own space. When friends visit, it’s lovely: but there’s relief when you can close the door and get back to ordinary life. However, when that space is enforced, it becomes something different. It was the same when I was a teen: if I didn’t have plans for the whole weekend, I’d feel anxious and on edge. But in my desperation to keep busy, I’d often get overtired and peopled out.
With the passing years, my strategies for managing enforced alone time have not improved. Sometimes I find myself distancing myself from Glen several days before he leaves. When he’s gone I really miss him – yet when he returns, I find this hard to express. My emotions are stuck – I want to welcome him back with open arms, but it takes a few days before I thaw out and trust that he’s back. This isn’t deliberate: it’s like a self-protective measure that switches on to make sure I can manage by myself. But what else is happening?
Attachment theory describes the ways in which humans form relationships and relate to one another. It’s argued that as infants, we need at least one relationship with a primary care-giver if we are to develop normally. As adults and teens, significant interactions include those with our peers, with authority figures such as teachers, sexual and romantic relationships and relationships where we care for others, e.g. the sick, young or elderly.
The theory was extended to adult romantic relationships in the late 1980s by Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver. Four styles of attachment have been identified in adults: secure, anxious, dismissive and fearful.
Secure adults tend to have positive views of themselves, their partners and their relationships. They feel comfortable with intimacy and independence, balancing the two.They are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them.
Anxious adults seek intimacy, approval and responsiveness from their partners and quickly become over- dependent upon them. They tend to be impulsive and over-anxious in relationships: wanting to be completely emotionally intimate, they find others are reluctant to get as close as they would like.
Dismissive adults want to be independent. They view themselves as self-sufficient, and are comfortable without close emotional relationships. They prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on them. Instead, they suppress their feelings, and deal with rejection by distancing themselves from their partners.
Fearful adults have mixed feelings about close relationships, both fearing and wanting emotional closeness. They are uncomfortable getting close to others, find it difficult to trust them and feel that they’re unworthy. They tend to suppress their feelings, worrying that they will get hurt if they allow themselves to get too close to others.
So, when it comes to relationships, it looks like I’m anxious-dismissive-fearful. (!) But whilst I may be an extreme example, I suspect that this is true for us all. None of us form ideal attachments: neither we, nor the people we love are perfect: without meaning to, we do damage as well as good to one another. As humans we have been created to be in relationship. We long for security: but since turning from the Lord, ( The ‘Primary Care-giver’), we fear and long for the intimacy that only He can provide. It’s little wonder that our earthly relationships sometimes fall short.