I had the pleasure of hearing David Wallin speak last week, and was reminded of his wonderful book “Attachment in Psychotherapy.” His good humor and authenticity make him a tremendously effective and warm presenter. His talk outlined the different processes of attachment which he describes more fully in his book. While our histories and our fears create obstacles to connecting with other people, our deepest need is for the close attachments that provide a secure base and a safe haven. With the certainty of being cared about comes an inner conviction that we are valuable and that we are enough. This sense of self-worth carries us through our lives with a confidence and a competence that frees us to become the best of ourselves.
Researcher Brene Brown gives a wonderful TED talk describing her own process of coming to terms with the vulnerability and uncertainty of life. She has described people in her research who live in a way that is “whole-hearted.” She says they do not think of vulnerability as a good thing or a bad thing, but a necessary thing. She also finds that they have a sense of worth in themselves that allows them to engage with the world in a courageous way, without being stopped by fear or worry.
But how do people achieve this whole-heartedness? How do they find those reliable, structuring attachments that create an internal secure attachment system? What the research is showing us is that this internal security comes from relationships where we are cared for and listened to in an ongoing, authentic, and serious way. Sometimes our parents have the inner resources to provide this attachment, but sometimes they have too many internal struggles to be able to give us what we need early in our lives. Sometimes our marriages can provide it, but often we are unable to create marriages that can work in that way. And, of course, we know that psychotherapy can create a secure attachment system.
We need to value ourselves enough to keep looking for growth, and we need to be courageous about pursuing it where we find it. We may not have caused all of the problems that we deal with in our lives, but it is our responsibility to create the best life we can including dealing with the problems we encounter. It is okay to be frustrated about how unfair things are. It is okay to complain and have a temper tantrum about it. But that does not change what we are dealing with. Finally, we stand up, look around, and realize wringing the most we can out of this life means engaging with it in all its messiness. And finding those relationships that will support us in that battle.