Well here’s two things you don’t want to put together too often – your mother and your love life. Am I right?
Yeah, me either but you would be surprised how much your childhood relationship with your mother affects your connection to your spouse and your kids. This is because we first learn about deep, intimate bonding from how attuned our mother (or primary caregiver) was to us and our needs. Most of us assume, close, intimate connection is no longer as much of a critical need once we grow up to be adults but that’s just not the case.
Deep, intimate bonding is always crucial to our well-being. We need it as kids and we continue to need it as adults.
But what is deep, intimate bonding, how do we get it as kids and how does it affect our adult relationships?
What Bonding or Connection Is
I was listening to an Alanie Morissette podcast the other day and in it she was interviewing Dr. Sue Johnson. Dr. Johnson eloquently explained how everyone needs to feel their core self is seen, heard, accepted and understood. This is what makes us feel connected. As babies, it is most often our relationship with our mothers that affects how bonded or connected we feel. Of course, if someone else was the most prominent caregiver when you were a child, than they were the ones you most developed your primary experience of bonding with. Either way, the one doing the mothering (father, mother, grandmother or other) was the one who either fostered within you a strong sense of connection or a strong sense of disconnection.
Bonding with Babies
As a baby, bonding or connection happens when your physical needs are met, when your cries are promptly responded to and when the person who is taking care of you spends time playing with you, talking to you, teaching you, hugging you and enjoying time with you. But some of us were raised in environments where these things weren’t happening consistently. Even the mothers with the best intentions didn’t provide this to their babies because ‘in those days’, attentiveness to babies was seen as spoiling or coddling which had negative connotations. You were warned you might spoil your child rotten or your child might grow up to be an entitled, snotty brat if you attended to their needs.
Unfortunately, those ideas are still kicking around and I’ve often had them said to me when I was a more attentive mother than someone deemed I should be. Looking back though, the funny thing is, I’ve been so committed to being there for my kid when he needs me but I now see I’ve been as passionately committed to stepping back and letting go when he’s wanted his own independence. I always let him call the shots…even when it was hard on me. Whether he was calling the shots for attention or calling the shots for space and independence. I tried to not make it about me. I made it about his needs and responded accordingly, even when that took a lot of inner work to manage. When he was a baby, his needs for connection were exhausting and overwhelming and when I wasn’t taking care of my emotional needs I was more ineffective at caring for his. When he was a pre-teen, his need for space and independence triggered my need for connection so to be the kind of mom I wanted to be, I needed to work on my feelings of emptiness and not use my relationship with him to fill my emotional voids.
When I was successful at this, it was because I was responsible for my own emotions and I tried my best to not let how I was feeling or what I was needing interfere with how he was feeling or what he needed. I wasn’t perfect. Who is? And I’m sure he has his own mother horror stories to share with his future therapist but I’ve seen firsthand the difference attending to his needs as a baby and child has done. He is a confident person who feels safe in this world. He is far more secure in himself than I ever was at that age. I didn’t know it at the time I was raising him but I’ve come to learn that psychology experts would refer to this as bonding or secure attachment.
Bonding with Children
As children grow older, in addition to us being present and taking care of their physical needs, being a reliable and responsible source to turn to and taking their needs into consideration, they also need someone to help them identify and understand how they are really feeling. When, as a child, no one acknowledges how you feel or understands your emotions, you feel alone and that’s a really scary feeling for a child. It causes the child to feel unsafe, invisible and not truly connected to the people she loves.
How you respond to your child’s emotions is important but it’s really hard to understand how to respond to your child’s emotions when no one taught you how to respond to your own emotions. If you can’t identify your own emotions, how can you help your child identify hers? That’s why in my Intuitive Therapy Program for Mindful Parenting so much of our focus is on you, your emotions, your emotional needs and how to meet your own emotional needs – then we talk about how to transfer those skills to your parenting.
When you learn how to do that for yourself, two things happen:
- You react less from your unmet emotional needs in your relationships
- You understand how to teach your child to do the same
How Adults Bond
Bonding and connection as an adult looks a little differently. As an adult, you don’t need someone to be physically present with you all the time to make you feel bonded. You don’t need them to take care of your physical needs or to identify and communicate your feelings for you. Instead, real bonding and connection happens when you are able to dig past your reactive emotions and identify and communicate your deeper, more vulnerable emotional needs. So many of our relationships lack true intimacy because we’re stuck reacting on surface emotions. We don’t know how to dig deep and see what’s really bothering us and even if we could, we’re too scared or we don’t know how to share what we find.
You can tell you’re feeling disconnected in a relationship when:
- you’re both stuck in angry or numb patterns
- you feel alone and independent even when you’re in a relationship
- you feel tired of trying to figure out how to reach your spouse
- you believe the other person in the relationship is the one with the problems that need to be fixed and until they do nothing will change.
When our deeper, more vulnerable emotions aren’t brought to the surface, identified, acknowledged and accepted, we end up feeling alone and just like it was when we were babies, feeling alone is still a big, scary, unpleasant feeling and one we want desperately to avoid.
Our Mothers and Our Love Lives
Our mothers, or the ones in our childhood who did the most mothering, affect our love lives because where and when we felt disconnected to them will trigger us in our adult relationships. (This most often shows up in our love relationships but not always. I, for instance, had my disconnection triggers show up more often in my best friend relationships.) When we feel disconnected from the people we love we worry that we don’t matter, that we aren’t important, that we will never be wanted and that maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with us.
There is huge pain when there is disconnection in our most valued relationships because it makes us question our own worthiness. Do we belong? Are we good enough to belong? Are we connected or are we alone to face this universe on our own?
Disconnection is scary. In my opinion, it’s scary because it’s not natural. It is the opposite feeling of our spiritual truth. Our spirits and our true selves only understand being deeply connected to Love and everyone and everything. On a spiritual level, A Course in Miracles explains the idea of disconnection as a belief in the tiny mad idea of separation or the belief that we are separated from God and each other. That tiny mad idea caused a world of fear…literally but as A Course in Miracles explains, the idea that we are separated from one another just isn’t true. Separation (and disconnection) is an illusion, a misperception, a tiny mad idea with huge ramifications. But if your mother felt disconnected to herself, the people she loved, to her parents when she was a child, to her own emotions and needs, to her romantic partner or to her family and friends, then you most likely also experienced more disconnection to her than connection. After all, she couldn’t give what she didn’t have to give – even though feeling deeply connected to you was the thing she most wanted and longed for.
How disconnected you feel is affecting your relationships all the time and until you get curious about the deeper, more vulnerable emotions you bring to the dynamics in your love life or parenting, you won’t be able to bridge the distance between yourself and the intimacy you crave.
Because this is faster and easier to do with someone rather than on your own – not because you’re weak or dependent but because you’re a normal human who is more a mystery to herself than not – I offer two programs to help you understand your points of vulnerability and achieve a deeper connection in your relationships: Intuitive Therapy for Mindful Parenting Program and my Intuitive Therapy for Relationships Program. If you would like to feel closer to your authentic self, closer to your partner and closer to your kids, book your first session now and let’s get started.