We develop into adults through the early caring we receive from our parents or early caregivers. Simultaneously we form attachments to those who meet our basic needs. There are many individual variations in the types and qualities of the attachments we form with our caretakers. Despite these variations, we depend completely on our early relationships to survive, both physically and psychologically.
It takes both time and maturity to develop a stable sense of having a separate self; feeling our independence from our attachment relationships. Our sense of having a separate/autonomous self is important to our psychological growth, but because we continue to need others to sustain our social/emotional needs, this need for independence can be experienced as an emotional conflict. Finding the balance between our need for independence and our dependency on others is an important psychological achievement.
Individual Variations in Styles of Relating
Because there are many individual variations in the quality of our formative relationships each individual finds their unique way of negotiating the tension between their need for independence and their dependency. These uniquely developed patterns of relating determine our relationship styles.
A person who has had a secure relationship in childhood, may find it easier to deal with solving the paradox of these two opposing needs. They are comfortable with both feeling independent and their dependence on others. Whereas someone whose attachment was insecure might have a harder time feeling their own separateness; their experience of the lack of connection could cause them to feel dominated by their need for others. Such a person may seek constant approval from others. Another pattern is that of the person who fluctuates between the two needs; sometimes feeling strong needs for others and at other times having an aversion to closeness.
Styles of Relating Impact our Relationships
We each enter our relationships bearing our individual histories of attachment styles and also with our particular style of dealing with the tension between dependency and autonomy. These established psychological patterns determine our tolerance for emotional closeness as well as the amount of autonomy we require. For relationships to be successful they must be able to adapt to each person's relational style.
Importance of Awareness
If we are not aware of the existence of relational styles nor of the tension between our dependency/autonomy needs, our relationships become battle zones where we fight for our needs. When we are unconscious of the underlying reason we are fighting, one persons need for greater independence may feel rejecting to the other person, whereas another person's dependencies may feel suffocating to the other person. By each person becoming more aware of their relational styles, the relationship can deal more consciously with the individual needs and negotiate a successful resolution.
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