Many Symptoms of Mental Illness Come From Our Attachment Style

From Attachment Theory, the Secure Base, and Its Implications On Our Adult Selves (Part 1 / ?):

I ponder whether or not the formation of our self esteem and ego is an almost perfect extension of how we attached to our caregivers. In most modern models of attachment, one of the dimensions is our view of ourselves. But I posit it goes further than that — it isn’t whether or not you like or don’t like yourself, it is whether you are securely attached to yourself as a secure base from which to form connections to others.

That many symptoms of various mental illnesses such as perpetual emptiness, a consistent lack of identity, terror of abandonment, disillusionment, and more, may sometimes be able to be traced back to attachment theory — of never being able to mirror a loving caregiver to establish your own secure base. A child’s identity is formed at a young age, and is more or less learned through interactions with caregivers and the environment. It makes sense that a disruption of this identity formation period can lead to a weak sense of self and chronic emptiness and disconnect with the self as an adult.

A child’s growing self esteem is a cyclical relationship with their environment growing up. Every behavior of theirs elicits a response from a caregiver, which impacts the growing sense of self, and so on and so forth. Ideally, if a caregiver is consistently responsive, warm, and caring, a baby begins to build up an internal model of the self, a “looking glass self”, that the self is someone worthy of warmth, care, and love. And it is through this consistent push and pull, reinforcement of values and behaviors and internal beliefs, that a growing child’s self esteem is molded — that their identity is molded from. And this is a self esteem and ego that may be so steadfast it remains far into adulthood — at least its foundation does.

On the other hand, a neglectful, abusive, hurtful, distant, or inconsistent caregiver sends a completely different message to a (helpless) child. The child learns that they are not worthy of love and care, and that reaching out will only backfire. They may develop a sense of self that is hurt and self defeating, or a sense of self that is fiercely self isolating and fearful of vulnerability, or a self that lashes out just to survive. And all of this may occur at such a young age, at such an unconscious level, that left unexamined simply live onto adulthood without any conscious recognition.

However, every interaction at a young age is a lesson that is internalized. Just as one example; a caregiver lashes out at one year old you for crying, you learn that your hurt will not be recognized and that expressing yourself will be punished. It’s akin to a form of conditioning — if a baby’s cries is met with anger, creating fear and anxiety, then a baby will not cry out for an adult anymore. They associate reaching out with pain and violence. These lessons, if they are never unlearned, can easily carry well into adulthood.

From Healing the Fear of Abandonment:

The fear of abandonment is a wound that a lot of people have had or still have. It likely came from your parents or whoever was a big influence in your childhood. While it can be due to physical abandonment, it doesn’t always mean that it is. It could also be that they were not there for you in other ways such as mentally or emotionally.

Because of this behavior, you probably now try to find people in your adulthood to fill the void and heal this wound, which is an unhealthy behavior. There may also be some codependency or low self esteem that is causing you to attract unhealthy relationships. If that person also abandons you, it will only increase your fear of abandonment.

So how do we heal the fear of abandonment and stop it from allowing unhealthy relationships into our lives? We’ve all heard time and time again — stop abandoning yourself. If you have a healthy relationship with yourself, you will be able to give yourself all of the things an unhealthy person is seeking in a relationship to fill them up, such as people to validate them, love them unconditionally, soothe them, and never give up on them.

The person who has a fear of abandonment is looking for someone on the outside to give all those things to them, because they don’t give it to themselves. You must be able to validate yourself, know you are enough, soothe yourself, and never give up on yourself. It’s important to know how to stop looking outside of yourself for those things and be able to find it within.

If you are going out into the world, unhealthy, looking for people to give all of those things to you because you can’t give it to yourself, you are already going into an unhealthy relationship. Because of this, the chance of abandonment is super high because you are relying on somebody else for happiness and validation.

In a healthy relationship, people do these things for you, but not all the time. Of course you will have friends who motivate and validate you. Will you still call your parents when you are an adult to help soothe you during a rough situation? Yes, of course! Those things happen and that’s what relationships are for, but those are healthy relationships where family and friends do these things for you when you need it the most. However, If you need this validation from others constantly, that’s a codependent and unhealthy relationship.

So how do we actually get past the fear of abandonment and fix the issue? Self parenting is so important, so is loving yourself and knowing how to soothe yourself. You must learn to be your own parent and give yourself all the things you weren’t given while you were growing up, and stop seeking it in other people.

When you can do those things for yourself, your standards begin to increase and you will expect that in a partner or friend. You will no longer attract nor accept unhealthy people into your life. The foundation of what is going on inside will already be laid out so you will know how to take care of yourself if and when someone leaves your life, you will be sad but not destroyed. You’ll already know how to take care of yourself, and won’t allow this to cause big devastation that you can’t move on

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