Most people recognize that in an ideal relationship, each partner shows care and attention, treats the other with warmth and understanding. However, not everyone can build such a relationship. And often, instead of warmth and acceptance, they receive indifference or even fear.
Moreover, changing the partner does not give visible improvements. People change, but the type of relationship stays the same. It’s not that you are totally unlucky – the peculiarities of the work of our brain are to blame for everything.
How the brain uses past experience
Our brain is a very energy-consuming organ. The analysis of information takes a lot of time and resources of the body. And in order to reduce energy waste, all new stimuli are processed using past experience.
This feature helped our ancestors think faster and survive in dangerous situations. If yesterday moving bushes were a sign of a predator, today a person will not hesitate for a long time before rushing to his heels.
The connection of new information with previous experience occurs non-stop and works in all areas of life, including communication.
For example, if you asked a stranger a question and he was rude to you, next time you will be wary of approaching new people. If this happened again, you would rather get lost and spend the night on the street than ask a random passerby for directions again.
This rule works at any age, but in childhood, when the brain is extremely plastic and new neural connections are created especially quickly, the experience of communication and affection is of great importance. That’s why psychotherapists so often turn to childhood experiences, which are at the root of many relationship problems.
Childhood attachment carries over to adult relationships
In early childhood, when a child cannot yet independently search for food and defend himself, he especially needs a person who will take care of him. As a rule, it becomes a parent.
If an adult is always there, satisfies all the needs of the child and provides him with a sense of security, a secure type of attachment is formed. If the needs of the child are not satisfied, for example, they leave him alone, do not take him in his arms, do not give him what he needs, he develops a restless type of attachment.
In one experiment studied the reaction of one-year-old children to separation from their parents. The babies were left alone for a while and their behavior was observed. Children were divided into three groups according to the type of attachment:
- Safe (60% of children). Such children were worried when they did not see their parents, but as soon as they returned, they joyfully reacted to their appearance and quickly calmed down.
- restless-resisting (twenty%). Children fell into severe stress, and when their parents returned, they could not calm down for a long time, they clashed with adults, punishing them for their absence.
- Restless avoidant (twenty%). Such children did not seem to notice the absence of their parents. They were distracted by objects in the room and were not particularly happy when the adults returned.
In a different experiment found out that adults also have a type of attachment. Participants were given three simple descriptions and asked to identify which one best suited them:
- I find it easy to get close to others. I feel comfortable if I depend on them, and they depend on me. I’m not worried that someone has become too close to me, and I’m not afraid that he might betray me.
- I feel discomfort from being close to other people. It is difficult for me to trust them completely, it is difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I get nervous when someone gets too close. Often others want me to be closer to them than is comfortable for me.
- It seems to me that people are reluctant to get close to me. I worry all the time that my partner doesn’t really love me or doesn’t want to stay with me anymore. I want total intimacy with my partner, and sometimes that scares people away.
The researchers found that the responses were distributed in much the same way as in children:
- 60% of people had a secure attachment type (answer 1).
- About 20% are restless-avoidant (answer 2).
- About 20% are restless-resisting (answer 3).
This suggests that the childish type of attachment is transferred to adult relationships. A working model—whether it be avoidance of intimacy as a defense mechanism against injury or overdependence on a partner and the fear of losing him—is fixed in the mind of a person and influences his future life.
Of course, each person is individual and does not fully correspond to any particular group. Scientists have deduced two criteria by which one can judge the quality of attachment:
- Attachment related anxiety.
- Attachment related avoidance.
You can check your scores against these criteria in this questionnaire (in English).
The less anxiety and avoidance, the stronger relationships a person will build and more satisfaction from them. High anxiety scores will make him constantly worry about whether his partner loves, be afraid of parting, suspect and be jealous. A high avoidance rating will prevent a person from letting a partner get closer and allowing them to take care of themselves.
However, this does not mean that childhood experience completely determines your relationship.
The experiment showed that the correlation coefficient between the type of attachment to parents and partners is from 0.20 to 0.50 (0 – no connection, 1 – maximum connection). That is, the relationship is either small or medium.
Parents are of course very important, but as you grow up, you interact with a lot of other people, and they also contribute.
You use familiar relationship patterns, even if they are bad.
Your relationships with people are influenced not only by your parents, but also by other significant people: a brother or sister, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor. If you have an emotional closeness with a person, he changes your brain. In neural networks, new connections arise about how to behave, what is expected of you, what will be the consequences of certain actions.
We can say that every significant person changes your personality, creates a new image, which will then be used in communication with completely new people. This concept underlies interpersonal cognitive theories.
When you see a new person, they, consciously or not, are recognized as similar to one of your significant people. You can find matches on any basis: gender, age, figure, manner of communication, smell. Even the way he squints his eyes when he smiles or straightens his hair.
If you have identified him with one of your significant people, a transfer occurs: a set of patterns automatically turns on, how to behave with him, what to expect, how to assign roles in a relationship.
However, despite your inner feelings, a person may not meet expectations at all. Let’s say you recognized your father in a new partner. Subconsciously, you expect him to take care of you and, for example, walk with you on weekends in the park. At the same time, your partner hates walking and is not very caring. This will cause dissonance, provoke quarrels and disappointments.
At the same time, this transfer causes people to suffer for years from decadent relationships. For example, if a close relative or first partner of a person was cruel, indifferent, or helpless, upon meeting a stranger with similar qualities, the person may unconsciously transfer and form an attachment.
Moreover, when interacting with it, a ready-made template of behavior will be automatically applied every time. If it includes, for example, submission and no complaints, you will behave exactly the same with a new acquaintance.
How to retrain your brain and deal with negative patterns
First of all, this requires awareness. To get rid of patterns, you must first find them and track them further throughout life. Here are some tips on how to do it.
- Briefly describe all the significant people in your life and your pattern of behavior with them. Consider if there is any correspondence between them and those who are close to you now. Assess how you behave with these people, whether you like your behavior.
- Ask directly what your loved one expects from you. Perhaps you are unconsciously ascribing to him the expectations you learned while interacting with another important character.
- If people close to you repeat some negative patterns, remember what significant person in your life had a similar behavior. If you find a parallel, you may need the help of a therapist to get rid of unwanted attitudes and form healthy relationships.
Remember, if you’re not happy with a relationship, you can always change it. But it is unlikely that you will be able to change the person with whom you are trying to build them.