Do you feel good with your loved ones and in other important relationships? If your answer is yes, then hooray! Then you probably often feel happy, because relationships are crucial for our quality of life.
Our relationships shape our brain. In particular, our relationship with our most important caregiver as infants – usually mother – is essential for the development of the brain. It is not only a wellness factor that we have had pleasant moments with mother. It is what shapes our identity and ability to create healthy relationships later in life.
Our newborn brain was not just ready to receive all possible impressions and develop on its own. Our immature nervous system was developed in close dance with our most important caregiver. For convenience, I'll call it 'mother' here.
Mother's presence cannot be underestimated!
If mother was loving, present, and relevant in her response to us, then we are more likely to rest in ourselves and be able to be relevant and present in our relationships as adults. If, on the other hand, the mother was insecure, anxious or capricious in relation to her child, we take a fundamental mistrust with us into adulthood. Or if mother saw us as a bundle of tasks she had to take care of, and failed to see us as a unique, vulnerable human being, the chances are high that we will become instrumental in our relationships with others – it will be harder to feel others with his heart, and we are told that we are not present.
It is these dynamics that attachment theory deals with. It tells us that our early attachment patterns shape our nervous system, and the power of the will cannot really come into play, even if as adults we want some other ways to be with our loved ones.
If only I could turn back time!
You may know that, after being with your child, you regret that you did not manage to inquire further into what he told. Or that you - again - expressed your concern and she got irritated and shut down.
In front of the boss, colleagues and friends, we can also punk ourselves when we have said and done something that keeps us in a pattern that we want to get out of. Relationships suffer when we fail to be kindly and authentically present, express what is important to us, listen with presence, and take responsibility for our own feelings and needs.
But it's all easier said than done - I'm the first to confirm that!
Just as mother had a nervous system, the development of which she herself had no control over, so our nervous system also runs away with us. To trust that if we really if we decide to react differently next time, it will probably be better, usually leads to disappointment. The same of course applies to our partner. Have you experienced that promises that things will probably be different in the future have helped you?
Run new cables!
It IS possible to create new neural pathways and change our conditioned reflexes in relationships. It just doesn't come from a steely will.
The way goes through understanding why the pattern we want to get rid of was once a really good choice. When I contact my younger self and let understanding and empathy wash over her and the conditions she lived under at the time, it's like a circuit is closed. And I can claim the freedom I deposited back then in order not to risk being ostracized, laughed at, or a burden to mother.
The beauty of this kind of inner work is that it gives meaning and relief from day one, even though it can also feel like a mountain to climb.
There are many good books to read on the subject. I suggest Sarah Peyton: Your Resonant Self from Norton, 2017. It's helpful to have support to get started on your task of the new nerve cords you want to pull. I regularly hold courses on the same subject, see e.g. Befriend your Brain and Be Free.