Attachment theory and psychoanalysis
Research on attachment theory suggests that early interactions with caregivers can dramatically affect your beliefs about yourself, your expectations of others, the way you process information, cope with stress and regulate your emotions as an adult. For example, children of sensitive mothers – the cooing, soothing type – develop secure attachment, learn to accept and express negative feelings, lean on others for help, and trust their own ability to deal with stress.
By contrast, children of unresponsive or insensitive caregivers form insecure attachment. They become anxious and easily distressed by the smallest sign of separation from their attachment figure. Harsh or dismissive mothers produce avoidant infants, who suppress their emotions and deal with stress alone. Finally, children with abusive caregivers become disorganised; they switch between avoidant and anxious coping, engage in odd behaviours and, like Cora, they often self-harm.Anxious, avoidant and disorganised attachment styles develop as responses to inadequate caregiving: a case of ‘making the best of a bad situation’. But the repeated interactions with deficient early attachment figures can become neutrally encoded and then subconsciously activated later in life, especially in stressful and intimate situations. That’s how your childhood attachment patterns can solidify into a corrosive part of your personality, distorting how you see and experience the world, and how you interact with other people. The psychologist Mario Mikulincer of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel is one of the pioneers of modern attachment theory, studying precisely such cascading effects. In a number of experiments spanning two decades, he has found that, as adults, anxious people have low self-esteem and are easily overwhelmed by negative emotions. They also tend to exaggerate threats and doubt their ability to deal with them. Driven by a desperate need for safety, such people seek to ‘merge’ with their partners and they can become suspicious, jealous or angry towards them, often without objective cause.
- Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, Cradled by therapy