I recently had an experience with a beloved who had inexplicably distanced himself from me during a time when I really wanted to feel connection and support. What I wanted from him seemed reasonable and clear to both of us – a little more checking in on a regular basis, making plenty of time to cuddle so I could physically feel held and soothed amidst a stressful time – yet something in him went on high alert and retreated.
It took time for some deep reflection and honest conversation before we got to the root that it was his inner child reacting to a perceived threat that lingered from his childhood. He had a helicopter mom who leaned into him way too much, and just the thought of being needed by me, even if it felt totally reasonable to his adult brain and aligned with what his adult heart wanted to do, created this dynamic of distance between us.
Sometime very early on in each of our stories, all of us humans developed strategies to stay in connection to the ones responsible for caring for us. As infants and young children we’re entirely dependent on our parents or other caregivers for our survival so we will do absolutely anything to allow our most basic instinct to play itself out: stay connected because that is how we stay alive.
So if you had loving and attentive care consistently given to you and grew up in a safe and supportive environment, you may continue to rest into a sense of security in your adult relationships. But if you had inconsistent or insufficient care, if your needs were not well attuned to and love was either withheld from you or heaped upon you without regard for your unique limits and particular needs, chances are you find yourself struggling with uncomfortable dynamics in your adult relationships.
While there’s no shame in the resulting insecurity that finds its way into adult relationships, there is an inherent problem: so many of us are walking through the world in adult bodies, attempting to navigate very adult terrain, yet we haven’t updated our strategies beyond those we learned to employ [incredibly and intelligently] as young ones.
It’s news to many of us that we can actually update to a mature, integrated, well-resourced system of relational skills! You probably update your cell phone’s operating system with far more regularity than you do your internal system, yet it doesn’t have to be that way. It is entirely possible to have fulfilling experiences of abundant intimacy in your relationships and still respect and tend to your unique needs that grew out of your earliest imprints.
The honest truth is there are not quick fixes to the pain and impact of our developmental trauma, but there are simple steps to take toward remedying them. Here are a few places I like to begin:
- Self Reflection and Deep Inquiry: Taking time, ideally with the support of a coach, mentor, therapist or other skilled and supportive ally, to get to understand the nuances of your earliest imprints is an essential first step. Knowing what your tendencies are and the experiences they are rooted in can move you beyond the freeze affect that shame often brings (keeping us stuck in our ways, at a distance when we want to be close, etc) and instead allow for forward motion into an empowered space where taking corrective action not only feels possible but perhaps even exciting
- Body Wisdom and Boundaries: Tapping into the deep well of inherent wisdom within your body, learning the rhythms of your nervous system, the signals for when dysregulation is imminent and your authentic yes/no/maybe to any given scenario are other critical steps along the path. These are learned skills that become second nature over time with devoted practice and a qualified somatic coach or therapist will stay with you as a secure attachment figure supporting you to learn your way. Understanding what gets your off center is as important as the next step, which is learning how to return to center. There are so many practices and resources for this, including nature connection, breath, dialogues and touch to name a few.
- Touch as an Ally: As a whole our culture tends to be quite touch-starved and attuned touch that respects boundaries is seldom taught outside of certain professional healing circles. Bringing this into your personal relating can have a tremendous impact. The ability to ask for, give and receive the specific quality of touch you need in a given moment can transform your relationship, and be a huge gift to your intimate life! You don’t have to be an expert healer to tap the power of your healing hands. You simply need to learn more of the nuance behind touch so you can be intentional and effective in your relating.
Whether I am working with individuals or couples, women or men, no matter their sexual orientation or relationship status, attending to these developmental wounds and their resulting strategies ends up coming into the journey. Whether you came in the door for erectile dysfunction, painful sex or on a mission to access more pleasure, inevitably we will examine this material because it is at the core of your erotic expression and intimate connection.
And time and again, I have the incredible honor of witnessing what happens when someone really gets to the root of their pain, and rather than collapsing into it, intentionally transforms it. We all deserve to feel secure, fully expressed and cared for, in and of ourselves and in our relationships. It really can be this simple [note that simple and easy are not always the same thing!] and it is my wish and my prayer that we all get to heal the olds hurts our inner children carry and have the thriving relationships our adult selves desire.
Here’s to it!
*Photo by Aerozakaz of Love, a beautiful sculpture by Alexander Milov installed at Burning Man