The bonding emotions, needs, and behaviors wired into our brains are the result of our slow (we're talking millions of years slow) realization that sticking close to people who will respond to, cherish, and support us is the best survival mechanism of all. And bonding strategies are remarkably the same in infants and adults.
From birth to old age, we seek and struggle to maintain close emotional and physical connection with special others. This closeness gives us a safe haven where we can find comfort and achieve emotional and physiological balance. It's a secure base from which to go confidently out into the world to learn and explore.
We know we are stronger when others have our back. When we lose the precious sense of connection with a loved one, we hurt. In our loneliness, we rage, cry, plead, sulk, and try to turn away—not to care.
Feeling truly alone, abandoned, and rejected, is traumatic no matter how old you are. But, as soon as we recover this closeness we laugh, smile, gaze at our lover, reach for them, and feel wholly new. It's the same narrative arc every time—the same script.
When we are most confident that others will be open, tune into us, and respond to us, we tend to reach for them when we are in need. If we feel safe, it's much easier to identify, confront, and express our emotions in a way that is intelligible to the people close to us.
When we are uncertain as to how our loved ones will respond to our vulnerability, we often try to force them to respond by becoming aggressive and/or then trying to ignore our need for acknowledgment by shutting down, or distancing ourselves from them.
Along with my great colleague and friend Dr. Ed Tronick, who has been studying infant/mother bonding for decades, I've made a short video that demonstrates the similarities in the responses of infants and adults to sudden disconnection from a loved one.
This feeling of disconnection can be caused by something as subtle as silence. If we stop getting connection signals, we feel cut off from that source of strength and safety. Going silent is a defense mechanism often used when relationships go off track. But, in fact, this shutdown—this silence—usually makes things worse. A relationship is a dance; If all of a sudden you find your partner standing still, it's only natural for you to be taken aback.
Take a look and see what I mean.