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When Attachment is Missing

Are you in a relationship with a person who doesn’t seen to be fully connected or is emotionally unavailable?  This issue is more common than you think and is exhibited by a person who has a difficult time being vulnerable, letting others get close or sharing deep and personal feelings.  Some people just do not feel safe, secure, and protected in their significant relationships.  Others never experienced a sense of belonging, connectedness, or love from their family and felt a need to stay distant and detached to avoid hurt or sadness.  When we lack nurturing and support growing up we have a hard time trusting and relying on others.

The prominent researcher Harry Harlow many years ago illustrated this point very well when he studied orphaned infant monkeys and their need for attachment. He found that the infants attached better to a fabricated surrogate mother monkey that was covered by cloth rather than a wire monkey even when food was only available from the wire surrogate monkey. He concluded that emotional comfort and attachment has greater value than food and the soft and comfortable object creates for a more consistent connection.  This concept applies to people too.  We tend to attach to a person who is comforting, supportive, and loving over a cold, distant, and prickly person.  If children never fully attach to their parents then they may have a difficult time connecting to others as an adult.  Being in a relationship with someone who is unable to fully attach and be connected can be frustrating and disappointing.

So what can you do if you’re married to an individual who grew up with a “wire monkey” parent?  Can that person learn to develop meaningful connection?  Some non-connectors don’t even realize the problem exists. They have immersed themselves in work or other activities that don’t require a deep, emotional connection.  The good news is that people can change and learn ways to be connected, attached, and engaged in relationships.  Counseling may be the quickest and most effective way to achieve this goal.  Simplistically, attachment comes from emotional awareness, sensitivity, and expression.  Working on self-disclosure and sharing openly with others can increase the level of vulnerability and connection.  Working through mistrust and negative emotions from the past may be part of the change process as well.  Ultimately, attachment takes time and effort through intimate and deep conversations along with emotional sharing.  As I’ve discussed before, emotions connect people.  When this happens, successful relationships will follow.

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