How to Stop Beating Yourself Up

Written by parishioner Flora Torra: “Being” a Parent Matters

Recently I came upon the old saying about being a Human Being and not a Human Doing. I immediately thought of parenting in today’s world. And how we are inundated daily with better and more effective ways to parent. We are bombarded with the information to raise happy, smart, disciplined, talented, and well-balanced children, that will grow up to be successful and healthy adults. Not much pressure there!

So, I’ve decided to do a series that will assist You in getting a better handle on this phenomenon - this is about the A's of Attachment and Attunement. It's all about the A's, I used to say.

It’s all about attachment and attunement in the beginning of life. You see, more than most mammals, we are totally dependent on our parents or caregivers and our brain is still dramatically developing in the first 12 months of life. The following is a highly simplified summary of attachment styles and attunement for the sake of understanding how this happens in our lives, and how we can repair and grow into more secure and connected beings.

The infant is totally dependent and its needs are met primarily through their mother/primary caregiver. This relationship develops a pattern over time - child has a need, and it is met; sometimes consistently and sometimes, not. The child senses the mother’s nervous system and learns to soothe after he or she has been soothed consistently. So, during this time a style or pattern is developed. Diane Poole Heller, an attachment and trauma expert on child and adult relationships calls it an Adaptive style - I say a 'pattern' develops. It’s how the very first relationship is built. And remember this is the original relationship that a child has — it kind of sets the mold. It is described as an Attachment style in psychological terms.

When everything goes fairly well and the baby learns to soothe, feel safe and is connected to the parent; and later, can move away on his/her own and experience the world with a sense of safety and a sense of self (this is important! knowing boundaries and emotional regulation, we call this a Secure attachment.

When the child grows up with highly inconsistent patterns; sometimes their needs are met, and other times they are not - there are many things that can cause this to happen - such as an illness, hospital stays or unavoidable events in life. This adaptive style is called Ambivalent or Anxious and the child can become anxious or unsure, not knowing what to expect and adapts by seeking more connection.

When the child’s needs are not met and there’s not a response or warmth or connection - for whatever reason - the child will tend to avoid contact or does not initiate a connection with those close to them. This style is referred to as Avoidant.

Each attachment style is the way the child adapts to her/his primary caregiver. These patterns follow us to adulthood; unless we learn with others how to be in a different way in relationships. How to be in balance or harmony with ourselves while being in relationship with another. Recall the way you made friends as a child and how you maintained those friendships.

The good news is that - we all have the innate ability to be secure in our pattern of relating to others. Part of this process is in understanding our own style and the style of others; perhaps the style of our partners and our children. For example, part of the ambivalent style is their need for reassurance and consistency; so, we may provide more routines or rituals with our child around “feeling safe” and loved.