Some people seem to have it easy in life. They feel at ease with people they haven’t met. They are comfortable with groups. They have no problem being alone. When a relationship ends, they are able to find an inner resilience to pick themselves back up and start again. They just seem at ease with themselves. Not everyone feels that way and for many, the ability to engage with strangers, the willingness to trust others, the ability to give and receive can seem nearly impossible.To be resilient to stress and create intimate relationships with ourselves and others, we need to look all the way back to our early infant years. It was then, at the breast of our mothers that the template of our adult behaviors were born. The manner in which we developed relationships with our most important caregivers, our parents, carry a long legacy throughout our adult lives. The ways in which we received or did not receive attention, affection and have our basic needs met drew out the blueprints of our adult relationship with ourselves and others.
We are all born with an innate drive to survive. As infants, that shows up as finding and holding onto an adult that will take care of us. Unlike most other mammals, we need caregivers to help us for many years before we are capable of surviving on our own. The many spoken and unspoken ways that a caregiver interacts with an infant, primarily non-verbally, as in the amount and quality of physical contact, the tone and inflection of voice, the use of facial gestures, all go a long way in using a healthy social engagement system. This neurobiological communication system that in essence communicates safety to the child, has been well studied by researchers like Stephen Porges, Daniel Siegel and others.
One form of analysis and study of the qualities and characteristics of this bonding is known as Attachment Theory. This work originated with the research of John Bowlby but has many ongoing contributors. Attachment is an instinctive system in the brain that evolved to ensure infant safety and survival. In this analysis, the relationship between mother and infant appears, at least in most Western cultures, to be the primary and most impactful of caregiving relationships. There are four classic attachment styles- Secure, Insecure- Anxious, Insecure Dismissive (aka Avoidant), and Fearful–Avoidant (aka Disorganized). Some researchers have simplified these into three styles. Please note that these all lie on a spectrum, though one style is often dominant.
Recognizing Attachment Styles in Children
A secure child will get distressed when their caregiver leaves them. When the caregiver returns, the child will run towards them. The child is then easily soothed and calmed. The caregiver is emotionally available and regulates the child’s negative and positive emotional states. This infant has a sensitively attuned mother, which supports the infant in feeling safe exploring the environment as well as seeking solace and safety from mother. This is something the child comes to trust – that I have someone to turn to when I feel bad. The child learns that they can depend on others and in turn they are more comfortable with others depending on them.
An insecure anxious child will also get distressed when their caregiver leaves them and may also run to them when they return. However, they aren’t as easily calmed down or soothed. They have lost the trust that their caregiver will return and take care of them. Small children who are insecure anxious may appear to be resentful and angry when their caregiver attempts to soothe them.
An insecure-avoidant (or ambivalent or dismissive) child might not ever be aware of when their caregivers have left. Measurements in heart rate and cortisol levels in these children have shown that they might still be under a great deal of distress. They don’t seem to care when the caregiver returns. This infant has experienced a loss of attachment, or perhaps the mother is not attuned to the infant's needs and expressions, which leads the infant to respond as if efforts at seeking safety or solace will go unmet. One common consequence is inhibited emotional and physical expression. You might think that this is because the caregiver hasn’t been loving and nurturing enough. Research also shows this style can result from when the caregiver has given the child too much attention.
A fearful avoidant (or fearful-disorganized) child will have the most difficult time because their caregiver often frightens the child in some way. This may be a serious dilemma for the child as they experience feeling trapped – the very person they rely on for survival makes them feel unsafe to be around. The caregiver may have been erratic, neglectful or even abusive in emotional or physical ways.
The secure adult will likely tend to be positive about themselves and positive about others that they are in relationships with. As a rule of thumb they don’t tend to be afraid that others won’t like them. They feel comfortable giving and receiving love. Secure adults tend to have few problems with being alone/independent or being intimate with others.
The insecure anxious adult tends to crave intimacy and might be less likely to take things slow in a relationship. Due to fears and insecurity about themselves they might feel anxious and rely heavily on their object of attachment (i.e. new partner) to make them feel whole, safe and secure. They might be overly sensitive to what is happening in a relationship and might blame themselves for any problems.
An insecure avoidant adult might be more likely to end a relationship pre-maturely even when things seem to be going well. They crave independence, often don’t like talking about their feelings, and are not comfortable relying on others. They tend to be more negative in speaking about their partners and value themselves more than they value others.
An insecure disorganized adult can typically express both anxious and avoidant behaviors. They commonly have mixed feeling about intimacy and relationships. They also might have both negative feelings about themselves and their partners.
It is very important to note that the child-rearing behaviors of a parent had their origins as well. Significant evidence exists regarding the fact that he/she is the product of his/her own caregivers as a child themselves. This is a critical way in which generational trauma continues a lineage of behavior that get past down from parent to child over and over again.
The question then begs us to explore, is it possible to repair inadequate attachment for children and adults. This is an important question with a voluminous answer. The simple answer is yes, though the process is not necessarily simple.
Studies show that the brain is wired for change and its neuroplastic qualities are just what are needed for changing decades of neural patterns. For adults, re-wiring a healthy attachment style requires developing a deep sense of safety with another person. Attachment repair is most typically done in a therapeutic setting that includes many incremental steps in creating a safe, supportive and nurturing connection. This can also occur within the context of an intimate relationship, though more often than not, patterns tend remain fixed and triggered by the other partner, stemming from the early infant experiences.
Can tapping assist this process? Absolutely. Being able to learn to self-regulate oneself through tapping is a critical skill. Exploring current relationship difficulties and neutralizing them with tapping will often be the starting point that works its way backwards to the problems origins. Remember that most bonding occurred long before conscious memory as we know it began, so often these ruptures are experienced less as distinct memories and more often as body sensations, often without words.
So if a person does not have distinct memories of these early childhood events, how can one work on them? EFT can be used for example on healing the emotional intensity of stories they were told about their infancy, things their mother/caregiver did or didn’t do as a nurturing parent. Issues that work their way back to infancy can often bring up physical sensations relating to i.e. feeling a deep sense of emptiness in their core or perhaps a feeling of starving for affection.
To work on directly on event that confirm our beliefs about ourselves and others, Matrix Reimprinting can be incredibly helpful. By going to those negative experiences from 0-6 years old you can quickly target the erroneous beliefs that you forms as a result. From our perspective, Matrix Reimprinting allows you to start and foster a healthier attachment within yourself. Even if as a child you felt that you didn’t get the love and understanding you didn’t received from a caregiver you can easily and effectively be the adult for your younger self. By seeing your inner child being loved and cared for by you while in the process of Matrix you can start to mitigate the wounds of poor attachment.
Authors: Alina Frank and Craig Weiner, certified trainers in EFT and Matrix Reimprinting www.EFTtappingtraining.com