Want to love like you’ve never been hurt before?
What does it even mean to love like you’ve never been hurt before?
I want you to imagine a new born baby.
Can you imagine her? Her innocence? Her potential? Her divinity? Her perfection? Her preciousness?
Now see if you can notice what this image evokes in you?
Protectiveness? Joy? Gratitude? Pride? Awe? Affection? Softness? Love?
What the science of love tells us is that the desire to connect on an intimate level with another being is the most basic motivating force known to man. Love is not just a mysterious force, IT IS A SURVIVAL IMPERATIVE! We need touch and closeness to others in order to survive.
We are created in relationship.
We grow in relationship.
We are birthed in relationship.
We survive in relationship.
We can thrive in relationship.
The quality and consistency of care and attention that baby, then toddler, then child, then teenager receives from her primary caregivers when she cries is what will create her template for relating with others in intimate relationships for the rest of her life.
Let’s imagine two very different scenarios.
This little baby cries, indicating a need and her primary caregiver is consistently responsive and mostly responds with care and attention. The caregiver is attuned to meeting the need, ie. hunger, boredom, toileting, fear, tiredness, etc. This attunement continues on into toddlerhood and childhood and the teenage years. For instance, at 15 years she breaks up with her first love, her heart is broken, she can’t sleep and is just irritable all the time. Her primary care giver is able to see the distress signals, identify what she needs, ie. a hug, a big cry, consoling and support in making sense of her feelings. She feels heard, is able to express and talk about her big feelings, has a plan for going to school the next day and is able to sleep soundly that night.
What do you think she will learn about herself?
What do you think she will learn about important others?
This little baby cries, indicating a need and her primary caregiver is inconsistent, or unresponsive or sometimes responds with care and at other times responds with indifference or with irritation or even sometimes with fear. The caregiver can’t work out the need that underlies the cry, or is afraid of the need, or doesn’t think the baby should have the need she’s having. The caregiver sometimes gets angry, sometimes gives up, sometimes yells at the baby, sometimes meets a perceived need and overrides the need the baby is having. This misattunement continues on into toddlerhood, childhood and the teenage years. For instance, at 15 years she breaks up with her first love, her heart is broken, she can’t sleep and is irritable all the time. Her primary caregiver knows about the break up but doesn’t think it was a good match anyway and attempts to punish the irritability, threatening her to spend the night in her room with no phone or internet if she doesn’t stop snapping at everyone. She sits sullenly and silently on the couch refusing to engage with anyone else in the family, then heads to her room early where she stays up till all hours on social media with her friends. The following night she tries self-harming for the first time.
What do you think she will learn about herself?
What do you think she will learn about important others?
The quality of the response given to the attachment needs of a child by their primary caregiver really is the difference between surviving and thriving. Each baby is still in relationship; however, one relationship is secure and one is not. And this makes a big difference when you’re an adult as to whether you can give and receive love like you’ve never been hurt before. In which scenario above would the child survive, and in which scenario above would the child thrive?
Those that researched John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory; Mary Ainsworth and Mary Maine, asserted that there are four primary ‘attachment styles’, or ways that we typically respond in relationship with an important loved one, which develop according to the pattern of interactions experienced in our early years between child and caregiver. These attachment styles (which I’ll talk more about in future articles), are based on two underlying “working models” – our ‘working model-of-self’ and our ‘working model-of-other’.
Your ‘Working Model-of-Self’ refers to how worthy or unworthy you feel about being loved. In the examples I gave above, the baby in scenario one is likely to develop a ‘working model-of-self‘ that assumes she is worthy of receiving love, time, focus and presence from others when life gets a bit tough. She is likely to believe that she is loveable and that relationships are a rich source of comfort in life. She would find it relatively easy to walk away from others early in a relationship who don’t treat her well and recognise that she deserves better, or whilst very difficult, may also choose to leave a long-term relationship if she felt betrayed in some way because she values herself and her own well-being. As an adult she would maintain that sense of support instilled in her from her primary caregivers that she is valued and cherished and deserves to be treated with respect and care. She would respect a fairly full range of emotions and needs within herself as these varying states were consistently welcomed and integrated as a young child.
The baby in scenario two on the other hand, is likely to develop a ‘model-of-self’ that assumes she is unworthy of receiving love, time, focus and presence from others when life gets a bit tough. She is likely to feel unlovable and wonder why relationships can feel like a roller coaster of ups and downs. She might stay in relationships that are not so good for her and override her own needs for comfort or support assuming there’s something about herself that is not ok, rather than seeing that the relationship may not be serving her. As an adult she may appear as though she has things together, but underneath may really suffer from self-doubt, anxiety and even harsh self-criticism.
Your ‘Working Model-of-Other’ refers to your expectation of whether or not others will be emotionally available to you. The baby in scenario one above is likely to experience others as trustworthy, available and capable of meeting her needs in relationship. When she cries or reaches out, others generally come and are able to soothe her. As she grows up she is likely to seek authenticity in an intimate partner and again find intimate relating a worthwhile experience of giving and taking. When having a hard time, she would be able to reach out easily to trusted others because of an established sense of others as trustworthy and capable of offering their time and presence. This ability to reach out and share her vulnerability with trusted others is at the heart of good quality relationships.
The baby in scenario two above, on the other hand, is likely to develop a ‘model-of-others’ where she experiences others as unavailable, untrustworthy, controlling and even possibly threatening. As she grows up she is likely to experience intimate relating as difficult and heartbreaking, and find herself playing out familiar patterns with a range of different partners. She may find that sharing her emotions with others is either difficult to do as she doesn’t expect others will respect her vulnerability, or she may overshare with anyone who will listen in a search to finally be heard and soothed, or she may even tell every aspect of her distress in a stream of monologue because of the fear that the other person won’t be able to soothe her if she slows down and lets them speak.
So, are we doomed in love relationships if we didn’t get scenario one kind of care as a young person?
No, we are not!! Phew!!
Our brains are wired for the kind of love that the baby in scenario one received. What researchers are discovering is that with conscious attention, a supportive environment, consistent experiences of care from self and others, we can rewire our brains back to their original template.
And a word of caution here…this reflection is less about looking for someone to blame and more about understanding the places we struggle in our current relationships. Our past holds clues as to how we responded to the interactions with loved ones we had when we were younger, which are held in our implicit memory (unconscious) and influence our perceptions and behaviours today.
So, what are the two keys to greater relationship security? How can we turn this boat around?
Well now that you know about model-of-self and model-of-other and how these lead to building our relationship blueprint which leads to relationship security or insecurity, it’s important to know that we can also learn more about:
- what we are doing currently in relationship that prevents secure relating, and,
- what we are not yet doing currently in relationship that grows security.
- In this way we can learn to move toward greater security in all of our love relationships.
Psychologists call this process, “Earned Security”. We are each primed for secure attachment. We are born wired to love and be loved, to have a positive relationship with Self and others. When given the right circumstances we can build relationship security and we can thrive.
The right circumstances include these two basic keys, or pathways, to security, and they intertwine:
- We must look outwards and develop a relationship with at least one emotionally available attachment figure, ie. a family member, good friend, trusted therapist, supportive lover, beloved pet, spiritual guide, neighbour, teacher, coach. This is a person you feel you can turn to in times of distress and who is supportive of your attempts to expand your personal horizons. The more you experience feeling accepted and protected, the more that you will believe that you are worthy of love and that capable others can be available to truly love and comfort you. The important point here is to find someone that your instincts trust. Someone who is not perfect, but is consistent, reasonably available, interested in you and your growth, caring, empathic, playful, confidential, trustworthy and importantly, who can ‘be with’ you in your big emotions and help you make sense of them. We must seek and develop at least one secure relationship with another person who has your back and will support the growth of your internal ‘model-of-other’.
- We must directly nurture a part of ourselves that makes us more aware of our experiences and responds to those experiences in a more accepting and compassionate way. Learning to ‘be with’ ourselves when we may not have received this from others, is a process of growing our own ability to self-regulate, so that when we can’t reach out to others we have some way of settling ourself. It also involves mindfulness and the ability to notice our patterns, behaviours and body sensations without judgement but more with a sense of supportive curiosity. It is about being able to welcome all parts of ourselves with kindness and compassion. And sometimes it’s about reconnecting with that little baby or child within that may still be stuck back in that old place of trying to get those needs met, asking what she needs and finding ways to meet those needs in the here and now. Cultivating this kind of self-contact and nurture will support the growth of your internal ‘model-of-self’.
That’s it!! Sound simple? There’re only two things to do right?
Sometimes, however, when we are stressed out, feeling alone and in pain, those two things may feel impossible and need some guidance. That’s why I have spent the last decade studying the field of Attachment and Trauma. That’s why at the core of every service I offer the aim is to build your relationship with supportive others and your relationship with Self. The most important thing to know is that you CAN heal from trauma and attachment disruption.
I offer accredited training courses to help you connect with other professionals on a similar journey. To help build a tribe of counselling professionals who are committed, just like you, to understanding how to develop more secure relationships in their lives and those of their clients.
I also offer individual Supervision sessions, to guide you to connect within, to offer a safe space to share your experiences, to remind you of the resources you have within, to learn self-compassion, to help make sense of past and current relating and to give you space to grieve the quality of love you may never have received.
This work is about loving yourself like you’ve never been loved before, whilst seeking like-minded and caring tribe that support you, so that you can heal the hurt that gets in the way of giving and receiving the love you so immensely desire and deserve.
This is my greatest wish for you, and for everyone in this world; to love and be loved the way we were designed to love, so that we can live in a world where we feel safe to be in our bodies and safe to be with others.
About Monique Rutherford
Monique (she/her/hers) lives on Bundjalung land and is a trained and experienced Somatic Psychotherapist and Founder of Somatic Attachment Focused Expressive Therapy® (SAFE-T®). She is dedicated to personal growth and healing, increasing states of loving awareness, enhancing compassion for self and others, and deeper states of connection with nature. Monique offers accredited Training in SAFE-T® and Sandplay Therapy for Counselling Professionals, as well as Professional Supervision for Counsellors & Psychotherapists.
Monique has experience working and living in an Aboriginal community as a classroom Teacher, with children at-risk in schools as a Behaviour Support Advisory Teacher, with children and families affected by sexual abuse as a Child Protection Child & Family Therapist, as a specialist Counsellor in the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, as a Counsellor with families experiencing Separation & Divorce, as a statewide Clinical Consultant to schools as a Suicide Postvention Specialist and as a statewide Post Adoption Counsellor. Currently, through the School of SAFE-T®, she works as a Trainer and Supervisor of Counselling Professionals.
Monique has undergraduate training in Education and Psychology and hold two Masters Degrees majoring in Behaviour Management and Guidance & Counselling. I am a Professional Member of the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and have post-graduate qualifications in Somatic Experiencing, Dynamic Attachment Repatterning Experience (DARe), Emotion Focused Therapy for Couples, Circle of Security Parenting and Circle of Security Core Sensitivities, Family Constellations, Voice Dialogue, Expressive Therapies and Sandplay Therapy.
To work with Monique or to learn more about her accredited training programs please visit her website www.moniquepangari.com.