Antidotes to Emptiness  

Something to hold on to

Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate wrote a book entitled Hold On To Your Kids, which is written for the purpose of educating parents on the concept and practice of attachment based parenting. Attachment is another word for relationship, to keep things simple, and their major point is that if the relationship does not have a strong bond, then it is hard to parent. But I want to briefly discuss a premise of attachment as it relates to babies and how that applies to adult intimate relationships. I would highly recommend the book to any parent as they obviously go much deeper and really help a parent to see and understand what attachment really is and how it can be broken, damaged, injured, etc.

In their discussion of attachment, the authors bring it all the back to needing something to hold on to. For example, they write, that it is just like when you put a finger into a newborn’s hand and they grab it, you are seeing the baby’s attachment reflex. The authors go on to explain that for a child to attach to a parent in this kind of way or other ways as the child grows older, the adult/parent must offer something for the child to attach to. This could be time with child, a look in the child’s eyes, etc., but often needs to be spontaneous and not necessarily requested by the child in that moment. This gives the child something to attach to, feeling safe, valued, and taken care of in the relationship.

The last sentence in the previous paragraph is the premise I want to focus on for adult intimate relationships. When we enter intimate relationships with others we need to know that we can feel safe, valued, and taken care of. We need to know that if we open up, that person will be there to hold us, both literally and figuratively. If I share my innermost pain or joy, can my partner show up for me and hold that? Can I trust? What builds trust? Well, I think Neufeld and Mate have offered a poignant view that one must offer something in a relationship to gain trust of the other. It is like figuratively putting your finger in your partner’s hand for them to grab. It is spontaneously doing something of value for the other that makes them feel loved without them asking. It is doing, or acting in ways, that offer something for the other to attach to in order to feel safe in the relationship. We are all looking for safety in a relationship. We want to open up and be known but cannot do so unless we believe it is safe.

It is the deterioration of this attachment bond in relationships that brings couples to therapy or ends relationships. It is beginning to not feel safe or even realize one never felt safe in the relationship. This attachment bonding must continue on in relationships forever and is often something to be reminded of when our relationship is suffering. We often get busy with our own lives and forget the other person we need the most, and when both partners do this they begin to work from a place of deprivation. When couples get to this place they begin a stalemate process of “I’m not going first. I’m not doing this for her until she does what I need!” Why do we do this? Because this person is afraid – afraid that if they go first and risk by giving that they will not experience the reciprocation they so desperately need. This couple ends up in a negative feedback loop that keeps them stuck when what they both need is the safe embrace of the other.

How this breakdown looks in relationships sometimes can be tricky to notice. We get into styles of relating to one another that can be likened to dances that we don’t even realize we are dancing. This is why couples counseling can be very beneficial. It is often hard to see not only what we need in the relationship to feel safe, but some of the small things our partner might do that actually make us feel less safe. Having an observer to our relationship can help us to identify how we are stalemating one another and how we can begin to make small steps toward the other. Much of what goes on in relationships is obvious and the rest is subtle. It is hard to see the forest for the trees.

What do you need “offered” to you in your relationship that you can hold on to in order to make you feel secure? What does your partner need? There is a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman that can help people/couples understand some of the ways that really help them to feel loved, valued, thought of, and in the end, safe. We need to know that someone can take care of us when we need them, just like babies – this never changes.

A book recommendation that focuses on attachment in adult intimate relationships: Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Jason is a counsellor, psychotherapist, and life coach in private practice. He is a Certified Canadian Counselor (CCC) with the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association. Jason has a Master of Arts degree in Psychology with a Marriage and Family Therapy Specialization. Jason's training prepared him to work with individuals, couples and families. Jason believes strongly in helping clients to remove the obstacles that get in their way so they may embrace and accept who they are, utilizing their own resources.

For the past 5 years Jason has worked with people struggling with addictions. He has gained new insights and perspectives into this problem and is always learning about this phenomenon. Jason's passion for writing and researching addiction treatment philosophy has led him to a more grounded and humanistic approach to the treatment of addictions.

In his practice, Jason helps his clients change, grow and search. He is still working with addictions but also works with other issues such as anxiety/stress, finding meaning and purpose, depth work and couples therapy. Please see his website for more information. In addition to his private practice, Jason also facilitates groups for court mandated clients in the Relationship Violence Program and the Responsible Drivers Program. Lastly, Jason co-facilitates the Parenting After Separation Course through the Kelowna Family Centre.

For more information on Jason's services, visit his website at www.jasonmccarty.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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