Adoptees and Attachment

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Do you find it challenging to be in relationships? Do you tend to stay distant and have troubles with closeness? Or do you often doubt your partner’s love and need reassurance?

There is a reason and explanation for it.

As adoptees, we were separated from our primary attachment figure, our birth mother, at an age when we still completely depended on her for survival. This disruption is often experienced as highly distressing, overwhelming and traumatizing. What’s more, this early separation has an impact on how we relate to others and form relationship as adults today.

From an evolutionary perspective, we come into this world wired to seek connections and form attachments with others because this will help us survive. According to Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment (1960s), babies initially form attachment to one primary caregiver, which will act as a prototype for all future relationships. Therefore, if there is a disruption at that early stage of development, it can have severe developmental consequences.

As adoptees, we may develop an ‘anxious ambivalent’, ’avoidant’ or ‘disorganized’ attachment style. All those insecure attachment styles originate from a fear of being rejected and hurt even though, in our deepest core, we do crave for connection and attachment with others.

The ‘anxious-ambivalent’ style describes people that need constant reassurance, often feel suspicious and distrustful, and can behave in a clingy and desperate way.

‘The avoidant’ will find it challenging to completely open up to their partner and be vulnerable. They might avoid becoming too close to someone and will often feel controlled and suffocating in relationships. The ‘disorganized’ style is often a combination of both.

Before learning to move towards a more secure attachment style, I used to be extremely ‘avoidant’ and found it challenging to be in romantic relationships. Most of the time, I remained distant, emotionally unavailable and cold to my partners’ pleas for more closeness. I now understand that my attachment style was a survival mechanism that I had learnt early on in my life, and I didn’t realize until later that this behaviour didn’t serve me any longer. On the opposite, it prevented me from feeling love, from reaching a deeper connection in relationships, and from feeling happy. Most of the time, I would leave my partner always believing that I would be able to get attached more to my next partner. This wasn’t the case until I started working on myself. Through therapy and self-development work, I slowly learnt to be connected to my body, to feel my emotions, and to open up my heart to others.

So, here is the good news: it is possible to change! Being in happy relationships can be learnt! And most importantly, there is hope!

What is important to know is that because the disruption and wounding happened in a relationship, it needs to be repaired in a relationship as well. We never learn or grow more than when in connection with others.

One way of beginning to change is finding a family member, partner or friend that has a secure attachment style, that is, someone who is comfortable with being close to others, has a positive view of themselves and others, and is both secure in their independence and close relationships.

And sometimes, it is through the safe and secure relationship with a therapist that you can learn to create a more secure attachment. Always check with yourself what works for you!

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