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Attachment Disorders and Intimate Relationships

Last week in one of the Psychology courses I teach, we talked about Freud, who introduced the theory of "attachment" (bonding that occurs between infant and caregiver/parent). On that topic, I shared with the class that I have a rather profound interest in the area of Attachment Disorders, an area of developmental psychology furthered by the works of Bowlby and other classic scientists, as it relates to adult behaviors in romantic relationships.

In my interest, as both a student of psychology and a romance writer, I have discovered the works of Robert J. Sternberg, my favorite theorist who has written much about the dynamics of romantic relationships. I have most of his books and read articles--enough that I've built a library from which I think a dissertation topic will emerge soon...to further his work in some meaningful way.

Anyway, in the class I was teaching, there were passionate questions asked by students as to why we repeat the same mistakes in life--often choosing the wrong romantic partner, who has the dysfunctional traits of the partner just left behind.

My response, supported by much research, is that humans tend to recreate the chaos or unresolved issues of earlier years so that we can once and for all HEAL a relationship problem with a mate that will wash away the wounds of the child we once were, who struggled for bonding with a caregiver, who wished for unconditional love and acceptance. It's very psychological.

I recommended a book to those women in my class who shared their stories. It's Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood, 1985. A true classic.

Here's an excepert from the book, which describes Women Who Love Too Much:

WOMEN WHO LOVE TOO MUCH...

1. You come from a dysfunctional home in which emotional needs were not met.
2. Having received little real nurturing yourself, you try to fill this unmet need vicariously by becoming a caregiver, especially to others who appear, in some way, needy.
3. Because you were never able to change your parent(s) into the warm, loving caretaker(s) you longed for, you respond deeply to the familiar type of emotionally unavailable men whom you can again try to change through your love.
4. Terrified of abandonment, you will do anything to keep a relationship from dissolving.
5. Almost nothing is too much trouble, takes too much time, or is too expensive if it will "help" the man you are involved with.
6. Accustomed to lack of love in personal relationships, you are willing to wait, hope, and try harder to please.
7. You are willing to take far more than 50 percent of the responsibility, guilt, and blame in any relationship.
8. Your self-esteem is critically low, and deep inside you you do not believe you deserve to be happy. Rather, you believe you must earn the right to enjoy life.
9. You have a desperate need to control your men and your relationships, having experienced little security in childhood. You mask your efforts to control people and situations as "being helpful".
10. In a relationship, you are much more in touch with your dream of how it could be than with the reality of your situation.
11. You are addicted to men and emotional pain.
12. You may be predisposed emotionally and often biochemically to becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, or certain foods.
13. By being drawn to people with problems that need fixing, or by being enmeshed in situations that are chaotic, uncertain, and emotionally painful you avoid focusing on your responsibility to yourself.
14. You may have a tendency towards episodes of depression, which you try to forestall through the excitement provided by an unstable relationship.
15. You are not attracted to men who are kind, stable, reliable and interested in you. You find such "nice" men boring. (Source: Norwood, R., 1985, Women Who Love Too Much)

I hope the book brings meaning to those who find themselves in a codependent relationship.

As my work on intimacy and relationship continues, I'll write more about some of this.

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