Thursday, January 16, 2014

Love and Attachment

From the moment a person is born they are making connections, falling in love, creating attachments. Ideally, skin to skin contact and breast feeding should be done as soon as the infant is born. This is because from the second a person takes their first breath they are testing the new world they're in and learning whether or not the environment is to be trusted. Due to circumstances my biological parents couldn't control the first five months of my life I didn't have a consistent home. When I was about five months old I was adopted by my aunt and uncle who have raised me as their daughter ever since. 

Growing up I had a huge fear of being alone. I remember being 4 and still feeling as though every time my parents left they would never return which I now know developmentally should dissipate between 2.5-3yrs. I have (too many) vivid, traumatic memories of the times I thought I was abandoned as a child. I would have complete meltdowns if my parents were 10 mins late to pick me up- believing wholeheartedly they had left me because I wasn't good enough. 5-6 years old! This constant fear of abandonment combined with a preschooler's egocentric mentality created a belief system within myself- if I wasn't good all of the time everyone would leave me. Twenty years later I'm still battling this belief. 

My second semester of graduate school I took pediatric health assessment. We had to conduct a 10 min presentation about different developmental stages. The assignment was to explain how the developmental stage affected children from infancy to early adulthood. I chose attachment and bonding because I had recently had a difficult break up and wanted to understand why I created such intense attachments to individuals. I learned a lot about myself just by understanding how my brain worked. The most crucial time for attachment and bonding to occur is the first 6 months of an infant's life. Aha! The first 5 months of my existence were inconsistent. I would spend some weeks with one relative, another set of weeks with another. This inconsistency the first 5 months of my life still affects me to this day. 

When relationships don't work out or I'm rejected it shatters my world to a certain extent. At around age 10 I came to the conclusion that I was adopted because I wasn't good enough to keep. I didn't even want to be loved by my biological parents I just internalized their rejection, and used it as another example as to how unlovable I was. When I was 13 family members decided it was time I knew my biological mother actually planned to have an abortion when she was pregnant with me. Oh. Cool. Melodramatic tween Tania internalized this further. 

Since I was 6 my number one goals was to get married and have a family. Ask anyone- I was going to have 6 babies (because that's how old I was when I was asked) and live happily ever after with my big family. At 6 years old I was fantasizing about having my own family full of people who were going to love me. Attachment and bonding is no joke. Ineffective bonding leads to ineffective attachment which leads to ineffective love. Last week I had a patient who's mother was abusive and just… so full of hate and anger. When the baby was touched he would let out these angry, frustrated screams. Screams a baby who has seldom been held makes. I held him and talked him through his tantrum until he relaxed. 1 month old and angry at the world. 

When I teach my parents about attachment and bonding I teach them from a place of experience. A teen mom asked me the other day, "My daughter doesn't ever want to be alone, she wants to be held all the time." I explained to her that infants are supposed to be held until they naturally don't want to be held anymore. By holding an infant all the time it doesn't "spoil" a child, it creates a confident child because that child knows they are loved and cared for and can therefore trust their environment. Children naturally pull away from their mothers to explore the world. When it's time to explore (for example school) the children with stronger attachments are better at the transition because they are confident their parents are always going to be there for them. Where as well into grade school I panicked if I didn't see a family member waiting for me at the end of the school day.

I'm 26 years old and rejection still feels like a personal attack. Cognitively I know better. It feels like I'm constantly getting rejected but it's because I'm constantly going after the same type of man. 

So if you learn nothing else today remember to hug your kids a lot because if you don't they'll have really dysfunctional relationships. 

That was a joke. 


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