We are each born helpless, with only a frail immature body, a mother, and a bit of earth as home. If we survive, someone must take care of us.
The nature of that care creates future expectations - relational brain maps - that have a shocking impact on the rest of our lives. These early experiences create assumptions that shape the emotional tone of our future relationships, both romantic and otherwise.
Babies carefully attend to facial expressions and tone of voice - key communicators of emotion - because they are hard-wired to become attached to parents and caregivers. Babies each have their own temperament and preferences. Emotional responsiveness from those on whom they depend, including the mirroring of facial expressions, is very good for them.
A child's urge to be emotionally connected to his or her caregiver is usually ferocious. This is why even abused children want to be with their parents. This is also why babies in orphanages do quite poorly, even when physically well cared for. Babies can literally die from being emotionally neglected.
Emotional exchanges between babies and their caregivers let babies know whether they are resented, accepted, welcomed, or cherished. These early visceral exchanges are usually repeated over many years; they create expectations about how new people will feel about us. Sometimes these expectations are deeply unsettling.
Research on attachment shows that parental responses to our early needs commonly evoke one of four relational patterns: secure, cool (anxious and avoidant), clingy (anxious and ambivalent),and disorganized attachments. These emotional patterns often last our whole lives, unless we break the pattern.
Sadly, if we felt anxious with our parents, we are likely to feel insecure forever - unless we figure out what has happened to us. Even when we don't notice our disappointment or fears, studies show our bodies still register distress. Relationships with early caregivers create brain maps - internal working models - which reliably guide our perceptions, emotions, thoughts and expectations in our relationships.
Our early experiences easily become self-fulfilling prophesies in new relationships – without any awareness of our role in the matter. Truly understanding what we have experienced in our family offers us the best chance of behaving and feeling differently.
So think about the people who cared for you when you were young. Consider their emotional availability and responsiveness to you. Reflect on your early relationships with a special emphasis on the quality and nature of your emotional connections.
WIth a new perspective that values the emotional unconscious, reconsider your early relationships in terms of your current attachment style. As you remember what it was like to be attached to the people in your family, some new, startling emotions or ideas may come to you. Be aware of your past feelings and pay attention to your discoveries.