Week 12. Quality Relationships: Patterns of Relationships Copy

The importance of early life experiences and parenting have become more and more visible over the past few years. The care and love we receive from our parents have a role in shaping who we became as adults, how we relate to others, our neurological, behavioural and emotional development as a whole (Athanasiadou-Lewis, 2019). 

One of the most important contributors to who we are today and the self-love we show to ourselves is the way our parents related to us. Parenting styles can be classified into four according to Baumrind (Hale, 2008). Parenting styles and how it affects the children’s character and issues in the future gives us some clues about the importance of parental warmth, limits and communication.

  • Authoritarian: These types of parents are very strict and disciplinary. They don’t negotiate, and they don’t explain the reasoning behind the rules. They have high expectations and less warmth. Children of authoritarian parents have a tendency to be obedient, they may experience self-esteem issues and can grow up to be aggressive people.  
  • Permissive/indulgent: These types of parents show a sensitive and warm attitude to the child and have very loose limits and discipline. The children have a tendency to develop behavioural problems and self-esteem issues in the future.
  • Disengaged/Uninvolved/Neglectful: These parents don’t force rules, they have loose discipline, and children have the freedom to do what they want. These parents are also distant and not very nurturing. The children have a tendency to develop behavioural problems and self-esteem issues in the future, just like the children of permissive/indulgent parents. 
  • Authoritative: Authoritative parents put emphasis on communication, and are very responsive and warm. They have rules but they explain the reasoning behind them. The children of authoritative parents grow up to be responsible and successful adults. They have a tendency to express their ideas and emotions easily (Levy, 2017). 

As the parenting styles categories show, parental neglect, distant Parenting and emotional unavailability can be harmful to a child in the long run. One of the most important studies on the effects of receiving loving care and contact in childhood is the Romanian Orphanage studies. Thousands of children living in impoverished institutions from a young age were studied to discover the effects of neglect and lack of stimulation. Some of the effects included deficiency in intellect and physical growth (Le Mare & Audet, 2006). 

Growing slower physically than the age group is called Psychosocial Dwarfism, and it can be caused by emotional distress or neglect. Interestingly children and infants suffering from this show immense growth in a short time after locating to a loving and caring environment with emotional nourishment (Le Mare & Audet, 2006). Other studies also conclude impulsiveness, social withdrawal, emotional regulation and coping problems, self-esteem issues, self-punitive tendencies, and lower intellectual functioning as some of the lasting effects of neglect (Athanasiadou-Lewis, 2019). Thus emotional and physical neglect in childhood has immense effects on the development of the brain, personality and mental health throughout life. 

Some people experience trauma in their childhood which affects their potential to relate with others, experience and express feelings and build relationships with others. Trauma interferes with the natural states of development in the following ways: children lose the feelings of safety in their environments and in their “psychosomatic selves”, their potential to empathise decreases, imagination and symbolic thinking are undeveloped, and their ability to love is damaged (Athanasiadou-Lewis, 2019). According to Fairbairn, a trauma in infanthood can cause the child to feel unloved and perceive the love they give to the caregivers as something malice, ruinous and useless (as cited in Athanasiadou-Lewis, 2019). This causes the child to mirror the unresponsive characteristics of the parents which include depressive and self-harming features.  

Attachment theorists show the importance of the relationship between the child and the caregiver in shaping how the person relates to others in the future. According to one of the most well-known scholars in attachment theory Bowlby, social and emotional development is highly impacted by parent-child relationships. Protection of the caregiver creates a mentally secure base for the child to explore the world (as cited in Athanasiadou-Lewis, 2019). The internal working models concept Bowlby developed suggests traumatic attachments (which are caused by neglect, abuse and abandonment) negatively impacts future romantic and peer partnerships, damages emotion regulation and hurts the concept of the self. Thus, the relationship we have with our caregiver is the first relationship we ever had and it sets the standard for the others to come. There are different attachment styles in childhood namely; secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised.

  • Securely attached children seek the comfort of the parent when they are scared and they prefer the caregiver instead of strangers. When separated from parents they get upset and when they are reunited they show happiness. Securely attached children grow up to have lasting relationships with others and they have high self-esteem. Kids with ambivalent attachment are very suspicious about strangers, in a situation where they separate and reunite with the caregiver they don’t feel soothed, and they reject the parent. As adults, they don’t share their hearts easily, and they have suspicions about their partner’s love. 
  • Children with avoidant attachment avoid their parents and they don’t seek comfort from them. They don’t prefer their parents over strangers. In adulthood, they have issues with investing emotions into relationships. They don’t share their emotions and ideas with others. 
  • Disorganised-insecure attachment style can be observed in children confused with the attitudes of their parents. Caregivers providing both comfort and fear is argued to be the reasoning behind this style. Children show avoidant and resistant behaviours towards their parents.  

Another factor contributing to how we relate to others is the relationships our parents have with each other. Children learn by modelling their parents, and dysfunctional and abusive interactions between parents set the standards on how to build a relationship in the future for the child.

The body-oriented psychology approach suggests that traumas and repressed emotions from childhood create muscular tension and build up in the body. In this approach, coping mechanisms we develop in response to our experiences with parents, peers and others which aim to help us adapt can do the opposite. These defensive mechanisms ‘armoring’ the person can be problematic and disrupt our natural energy flow (Herskowitz, 1997). 

There are a number of ways to move on from the traumas of the past and start building trusting, loving relationships. The most important relationship you have to work on is the relationship you have with yourself. Self-acceptance and self-care is the key for your inner child to heal and live life fully. To move on from the negative experiences from childhood and reach full self-acceptance, a person may also need closure or restoration from the relationships with others such as parents or other caregivers. While emotional forgiveness, which refers to releasing the negative feelings against a person can be hard, there are different models of asking for and being forgiven such as: The Enright Forgiveness Process Model and The Worthington REACH Forgiveness Model.

  • The Enright Forgiveness Process Model was developed by Robert D. Enright in 1985 (as cited in Strelan & Covic, 2006). According to Enright, forgiveness can be broken into four different phases: uncovering, decision phase, work phase, and deepening phase.
    • In the first phase, uncovering, one has to identify what is to be forgiven, and address all the specific information by asking some core questions such as ‘What am I feeling?’. In this phase, you identify how you were affected and what were the consequences of the respective act.
    • The second phase is decision. In this phase, the person feels frustrated from all the negative feelings they have been experiencing and accepts that they need to forgive the other person. This acceptance of starting the process of forgiveness leads the way for the third phase; work. 
    • In the third phase, as the feelings of resentment cool off, you can either naturally forgive the person or try to see them, their action and their motives from different perspectives. Seeing the situation from a new light can help you empathise with the person. Another important factor is accepting the fact that you have been hurt and forgiving the person doesn’t mean your suffering is justified or swept under the carpet. In this phase, you can slowly start rebuilding the relationship, if you decide to.
    • In the fourth and last phase deepening, you reflect on how forgiveness helps you to find release from the pain. You may find deeper meanings and interpretations of the forgiving process in this phase (A Conscious Rethink, 2019).
  • The second model mentioned above is the Worthington REACH Forgiveness Model which was developed by Everett Worthington (as cited in Strelan & Covic, 2006). Each letter in the REACH acronym refers to a stage in the model. This approach requires you to go through the model repeatedly. After some tries, you can experience emotional forgiveness and release negative emotions.
    • R refers to the Recall stage. In this stage you try to envision and recall the situation objectively. You don’t add any perceptions, comments or other personal inputs. 
    • The second stage, E, refers to Empathise. As the name suggests, the person tries to empathise with the wrongdoer in this stage. 
    • The third stage is called Altruistic gift, which is the A in REACH. In this stage, you try to forgive the person with pure intentions coming from unselfish motives. For this, you can try to recall a situation where someone else forgave you and a situation where you forgave someone and focus on how both of these experiences brought relief and release. 
    • The fourth stage is C for Commit. In the prior stage you set the intentions to forgive someone, and you commit to this intention by telling someone, writing it down or other ways you can come up with. 
    • In the last stage, the H refers to Hold onto forgiveness. This stage reflects a long-time commitment to forgiveness. Even though you forgave the person, you might experience certain feelings from time to time. The model advises that forgiveness is a decision. You can control it, you can choose not to take back the forgiveness you gave (A Conscious Rethink, 2019). 

These models show some tools you can use in your journey to let go of emotions from the past. However, there are situations where a person is no longer alive. If the person you want to connect to is estranged, writing a heartfelt letter to express your emotions and thoughts can be a powerful healing tool. Getting help from mental health professionals can help you move on from trauma and increase your mental well-being. 

While our childhood affects how we are in relationships we have the power to heal and work on ourselves. When it comes to healing the current and building the future of one’s relationships with significant others, you can work on expressing your emotions and thoughts in a healthy way. Breaking the cycle of dysfunctional relationships and patterns adapted from childhood requires an active effort. Instead of hiding and repressing your feelings, or expressing love in dysfunctional patterns, communicating affection in a healthy way in which you feel the most comfortable can help you build supportive and functioning relationships. Author Gary Chapman identified five languages of love that can help you in your journey to find your voice in a loving relationship: words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, quality time, acts of service (Chapman, 1992). 

  • Words of affirmation refers to the people who have a tendency towards communicating love with verbal content, written or oral. You can express this language by sending little notes or texts and being outspoken about your love and support for your partner. While communicating this language, you can try to be supportive, understanding and appreciative. 
  • Physical touch refers to the people who prefer showing and receiving affection in a physical form such as cuddling or kissing. Being physically close can invoke feelings of comfort and connection. You can be mindful and intentional about showing physical affection and try to do it frequently in various forms to communicate this language. 
  • Gifts refers to a tendency to value “visual symbols of love”, receiving and giving thoughtful gifts will make a person feel loved. If you want to communicate this language you can try to make small and thoughtful gestures often. This language is not about giving and receiving expensive things, it is about the intentions behind it. 
  • Quality time refers to the people who need their partner to take the time for the relationship. Spending time together for them involves being in the moment together. You can try to give your undivided attention and do your best to arrange one-on-one times. 
  • Acts of services refers to the things you do to help your partner in daily life. It can be helping them when they are sick or offering sunscreen on a sunny day. These people prefer actions rather than words. You can try to do chores with your partner to communicate this language (Julie Nguyen, 2020). 

References

A Conscious Rethink. (2019, August 22). How to forgive someone: 2 science-based models of forgiveness. Retrieved February 06, 2021, from https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/10906/how-to-forgive-someone/

Athanasiadou-Lewis, C. (2019). A Relational Perspective on Psychological Trauma: The Ghost of the Unspent Love. In Psychological Trauma. IntechOpen.

Chapman, G. (1992). The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.

Hale, R. (2008). Baumrind’s parenting styles and their relationship to the parent developmental theory.

Herskowitz, M. (1997). Emotional armoring: An introduction to psychiatric orgone therapy (Vol. 36). LIT Verlag Münster.

Julie Nguyen (2020, October 24). Why everyone’s talking about love languages these days & how to find yours. Retrieved February 06, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-5-love-languages-explained

Le Mare, L., & Audet, K. (2006). A longitudinal study of the physical growth and health of postinstitutionalized Romanian adoptees. Paediatrics & child health11(2), 85-91.

Levy, T. (2017, May 26). Four styles of adult attachment. Retrieved February 06, 2021, from https://www.evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com/styles-adult-attachment/

Strelan, P., & Covic, T. (2006). A review of forgiveness process models and a coping framework to guide future research. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology25(10), 1059-1085.

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