Why People Do What They Do
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
I remember in 8th grade my school guidance counselor asked me what I was interested in as a career so that she could help me select courses for high school. I told her I was interested in learning why people do what they do which began my path through the field of psychology, education, and social service, and becoming curious about the impact of early childhood experiences and attachment security. Although I have not discovered the one answer to the question of why people do what they do, I believe it is greatly impacted by early experiences.
Early life experiences form our map of ourselves and the world
We rely on our attachment figures for
· Protection (safety)
· Support (feeling seen, heard, understood)
· Emotion Regulation (soothing, comfort)
As children we look to caregivers to provide the essentials of safety, support, and emotional regulation. We rely on them, literally, for our survival. And, because no one is perfect and the world can be complicated, we adapt to the sense of safety or threat that is our reality as a child. This adaptation forms our attachment style and affects our comfort with intimacy and closeness (do we like being close and intimate, are we resourced by being near our attachment figure?) and our feelings and anxiety about our attachment figure’s love and attentiveness (are they reliable, attuned, nurturing?).
Our early caregiving experiences form our first blueprints for relationship and our beliefs about the world and ourselves. Can we count on others for support and nurturance? Are we basically good and worthy of care and comfort? Can our needs be met by others? Do we feel comforted by others or do we comfort ourselves because the world and other people are unpredictable and/or unsafe?
When we experience stress, our attachment system is activated and our natural impulse is to gain a sense of security and a safe haven from the threat. Depending on our earlier experiences, this sense of safety and security comes in different forms depending on the attachment style we have developed: : : Securely attached individuals feel most secure when they are in the proximity of a calming, secure base figure- this can be their partner, caregiver, friend. They have learned that their attachment figures are sources of safety and security. Most often, they view the world as basically a good place, that they are worth caring for, and that others are willing to meet their needs. : Insecurely attached individuals react in different ways depending on their histories. Avoidantly attached individuals have learned to not rely on help from other figures and often self-regulate and avoid contact. They often see others as a source of discomfort or overwhelm. During threat, these individuals tend to distance themselves from others and attempt to cope on their own. They often appear self-reliant and independent. : Anxiously attached individuals tend to seek proximity and may fearfully cling because they learned that support is unreliable and they fear abandonment. They have not internalized the ability to self-soothe because early interactions with caregivers were inconsistent and confusing. These individuals may constantly monitor their environment for signs of possible rejection and loss of support and feel the need for constant contact and connection to others when they are overwhelmed.
Disorganized attached individuals sometimes appear avoidant and sometimes ambivalent, and other times secure. Their reactions to separation or stress are unpredictable and often confused. They sometimes seek out support and sometimes push support away or withdraw from others. These individuals seem to not know what they want or how to get it. They often view themselves as unworthy of care and comfort and others as sources of threat.
Fortunately, we are adaptable, our brains are constantly updating, and our adult partner(s) can help us heal & further develop Earned Secure Attachment. It is possible to integrate our past life experiences, learn from them and recognize how the past affects our current relationships, and to begin to practice and use healthier relational skills in a current relationship. It all begins with recognizing the patterns in ourselves and beginning to use healthier options for our own sake and for the benefit of our relationships.
Secure-Functioning relationships are based on behaviors, principles, and values that are grounded in sensitivity, fairness, justice, and true mutuality.
· Based on attraction, not fear.
· “Good for me and good for you”.
· Skilled at shifting one another’s nervous system states (from flight/flight/freeze/collapse to safety & social engagement).
· Protection of the relationship in public and private.
· Reduce or eliminate threats and quick repair of relational ruptures and misattunements.
· Ability to “play”. Can handle conflict without fear of dysregulation.