The experience with man who has taken care for us in the early childhood – the mother, the father, another significant relative, determines our well-being and adaptation in the world. Our system of attachment to this person affects the way we interact with others and our intimate partner. Research on the topic shows that our quality of attachment to the mother (or our caretaker figure) in childhood reflects and influences moderately in our social and personal interactions, as well as intimate relationship. Every person’s life has personalities, events, relationships, and activities that provoke us or help us to change or reinforce our attachment style.
The behavioral system that creates the close emotional parent-child relationship and gives a sense of security is the same structure that creates our intimate relationship through maturity. What makes the mother desirable for the child is similar to what we look for as adults in their romantic relationships. Intimate relationship has to satisfy needs of closeness. Also, it needs to give a sense of security when the other is nearby. We are also looking for proximity signals, responsiveness, presence of body contact; experiencing a sense of insecurity when the significant other is not available to us.
The adolescent seeks autonomy, identity, independence, and thus moves away from his parents. During this lifetime, the figure of affection is changing – the adolescent seeks trust and support already in his peers, not in his parents. This transfer and change of affection is an important and difficult process – here the adolescent either affirms patterns of childhood behavior or transforms them into the context of new social challenges. In this period, the first romantic experiences also took place. It is very important to note that adolescence develops its own individual style of attachment. The experience with the parents is the experience that forms the adolescent’s internal operational models – for himself, for his own worth, for the accessibility and security of the significant others, as well as the beliefs and expectations for people and the world.
What are internal operating models?
They arise from our early experiences with attachment figures and are the basis for forming attitudes, beliefs and expectations of creating and interpreting intimate relationship. Internal operating models reflect our perception and understanding of how much we are accepted, liked and loved by others, how much we can count on supporting them in a threatening situation to feel secure and safe.
Intimate relationship – security, anxiety and avoidance
People who perceive and experience the figure of affection as accessible and responsive develop a positive model for others. They expect the significant others to be available when needed and to support them during stressful events or difficulties. The positive model for itself is related to the belief: “I am loved and worthy of love and support.” Positive patterns for themselves and others reflect secure attachment, and negative patterns for themselves and others are associated with insecure attachment. The system of beliefs and attitudes towards self and self-esteem are partly determined by the extent to which our needs of care, security and warmth are met. And if they are not, we react with anxiety or avoidance in the intimate relationship.
We react with anxiety when we worry or doubt that the significant other (our partner) has no ability and willingness to meet our basic needs. We experience exaggerated fears from the assessment of others, our strategies to deal with distress are hyperactive and our need for proximity is excessive.
When we react with avoidance, we feel discomfort from having intimate relationship. Moreover, we deny the need for significant others and do it to deal with the threat (the man that is important to us) for his security and autonomy.