Us humans collect “emotional baggage” during various life experiences. Some of us have been hurt or neglected in early relationships with our parent(s), and these can have a detrimental impact on how you view relationships in general if you have had a difficult upbringing. You have formed different relationships with each of your parent regardless of whether or not they were present in your life when growing up. John Bolby’s original ideas on early relationships have been applied to adult relationships too. Heller and Levine (2012) wrote a book about attachment styles are relations.
If you had parents who were emotionally responsive to you as a child, who took care of your needs and provided emotional and physical safety, your view on relationships is quite relaxed. This called the secure attachment style or adaptation. In a relationship, it is easy for you to trust that the other people are there for you and arguments do not derail you or distress too much you.
If your parents at times provided a secure haven for you and where present with you, but then at times found it difficult to look after your emotional needs. For example, you shared great holidays with your parents and on a day to day basis, your parent(s) were often too busy and emotionally unavailable to you. This is called the ambivalent attachment style or adaptation. As an adult, you may be anxious in relationships and worried that you are rejected or in some ways left behind. You may focus on looking after the needs of the other, so that you wouldn’t be neglected. You may easily interpret any sign as rejection. It is important for you to become aware of this and slow down, observe and wait to see if your observations are accurate. You may also be interested in reading “What will they think of me” 7 Tips for overcoming the pay of social anxiety.
Children of parents who are not emotionally available to their children (avoidant attachment style or adaptation) can become dismissive in relationships, because they have learnt that no matter what I do, others won’t hear me or come to me or help me. You may be very self-sufficient and it is hard for you to let people in your world. You long for a relationship, but it feels too emotionally risky. When you are in a relationship, you may feel trapped if the other person is asking you to show attention to them. If this rings a bell for you, you may be also interested in reading this post I recently wrote about “When being fiercely independent leaves you feeling alone and isolated”.
If you are often attracted to a person who is very independent and emotionally unable, Levine suggests that one should not confuse the anxiety you may feel in a relationship as excitement and dismiss secure attachment styles as boring.
The fourth attachment style is the rarest, but very relevant to toxic relationships, as many individuals who end up in toxic relationships come from difficult family dynamic backgrounds. If you grew up in an environment where you were scared a lot of the time and there were not many supportive adult figures to look after you, you may have developed a more disorganised attachment style or adaptation as a child. As an adult, you may be really frightened in a relationship ending up either clinging on to your partner or openly rejecting them. Your relationships may feel like they are exhausting and hard work most of the time.
The chances are that a relationship becomes toxic if both partners have grown in family environments where there was a lot of anxiety and fear due to, for example, abuse of any kind and these relationship models are replayed unconsciously in adult relationships.
When you prepare for a relationship, get to know who you really are and what kind of experiences have affected your views on relationships, it is more likely that you will attract someone who is compatible with you.