The way we attach to our partners depends on our social brain network

Relationships are the hot topic for this week as both Western and Chinese Valentine’s Days are in the same week.  Many couples celebrated these two Valentine’s Days in their special ways despite the pandemic.  Some people might find their partners very dedicated to surprise them with gifts and flowers.  Some other people might find their partners quite detached and ignored these two days totally.  For someone who was starting to date a person who might be a potential partners, one might find this person affectionate and warm or distant and avoiding.  These differences in a person’s reactions to others’ approach are wired in the network in our social brain.  It is related to our experiences with our major care takers in our childhood.  How is the network in our social brain get wired?

According to John Bowlby, a British psychologist famous for the development of the Attachment Theory, our early interactions with our primary care taker create our attachment schemas in our brain.  These schemas are implicit memories of our experiences of safety and danger with our care takers.  If our early repeated interactions with our primary care taker are safe and consistent, a secure attachment schema is formed.  We tend to seek proximity with others with sense of security and be more able to regulate our emotions.  In fact, a securely attached child has an internalized loving and caring mother as a source of comfort and will feel safe to explore one’s environment and develop healthy interpersonal relationships.  If your partner has a secure attachment style, he or she will probably be very consistent in her loving and caring behaviors towards you.  You may also observe him or her to be able to regulate his or her emotions quite well.

If one’s primary care taker is dismissing and rejecting in one’s childhood, it is common for this person to develop avoidant attachment schema in his or her social brain.  This person seems to have no expectation of one’s care taker will provide source of security and love to them.  In adulthood, he or she may tend to avoid intimate relationship or be a very detached and distant partner.  In another instance, a person may be anxious in his or her relationship with one’s partner.  He or she may worry a lot about one’s partner being unfaithful.  His or her sense of insecurity in the relationship is related to one’s intense fear of being abandoned.  A partner with this anxious attachment schema is the one who had a care taker being inconsistent in their care and love.  The care taker of this person might also be inadequate in regulating one’s emotions.  This made the child feeling stressed when being with him or her with distress. 

Sometimes, a partner might demonstrate behaviors including secure, avoidant, and anxious attachment schemas.  This type of partner is very unstable and may engage in self-harming behaviors when experiencing emotional disturbances.  The primary care taker of this person might have unresolved traumas themselves, causing them to be very inconsistent and unpredictable.  This is the disorganized attachment schema developed in a person with very unstable and disorganized care taker.

Despite that our childhood experience shaped our social brain and affected our attachment styles,  it is possible for us to reshape our social brain if we have avoidant, anxious or disorganized attachment schemas.  Psychotherapy or secure attachment with a stable and loving partner in adulthood may increase the chance for one to rewire one’s brain and enjoy a loving and supportive intimate relationship.  In fact, people with different attachment styles all deserve to have fruitful and meaningful relationships. 

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