Never Been Close To Your Parents? Here's How It Affects Your Attachment Style
Parent-child relationships are tricky, to say the least—and they can affect people throughout their entire lives.
Even long after people leave their childhood homes, distant or strained relationships with a mom or dad can have lingering effects. A person who has never been close to a parental figure likely has some attachment wounds from childhood, manifesting in a specific attachment style in romantic relationships.
What causes distant parent-child relationships?
There are several reasons someone might not be close to their parents as an adult. Here are just a few examples from licensed clinical psychologist Ayanna Abrams, Psy.D.:
- Unresolved issues from their childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood (especially in cases of abuse or neglect).
- Issues between your parents and your spouse, then feeling stuck in the middle of the two relationships.
- Issues with grandparenting, like differing views on how to raise a child.
- Not living close to each other.
- Having different values and struggling to connect.
All of those issues and more can lead to further estrangement and potentially no contact at all, she explains. But it doesn't always go that far. "Oftentimes, it's less talking, only connecting around holidays or family events, or only connecting around very specific topics that you keep strict parameters around."
The effects of lacking closeness with parents.
A person's attachment style is the way they behave in a relationship, which is based on the way they were cared for as a child. According to Abrams, not feeling secure or close in your relationship with a parent or caregiver can lead to avoidant, anxious, or disorganized attachment style, depending on the reasons behind why you're not close.
Someone with an avoidant attachment style tends to avoid intimacy with others, and it usually forms when a child had caregivers who were largely unavailable. One study, published in the International Journal of Sexual Health found having unavailable parents might even lead to sexual difficulties later in life.
Someone with an anxious attachment style tends to crave intimacy with others, and it usually forms when a child had inconsistent caregivers who were sometimes there for them and sometimes not. "This leaves a child not knowing what to expect and hungry for attention and connection," clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner, Psy.D., recently told mbg.
Finally, someone with a disorganized attachment style both craves intimacy and avoids it, and it tends to form when a child grew up afraid of their caregiver. That's why it's also called fearful-avoidant attachment, and it's been linked to poor coping skills, erratic behavior, and difficult or volatile relationships.
"While your attachment style can change over time, it usually takes years and some deep emotional work to learn how to connect with people differently than what you learned growing up," Abrams explains.
How to heal from a distant relationship and its effects.
"If all parties are willing to do some emotional and relationship work, reconciliation is possible in families, even after long-term estrangements," Abrams says.
It's healthy to want to repair the relationship with your family, she says, but it's important to be clear about the changes you're hoping to create.
"After doing your own reflection of what you want from this relationship and who you want to be in this relationship, you can consider various ways to approach this family member with honesty and with an offering of openness," she says. "If they feel similarly, then it's best for you two to discuss what can be different from the past and what you want for the future of the relationship."
As long as you and your parent or parents are all willing to grow closer, changes can be made. Start with reaching out, having compassion, actively listening, and setting boundaries. "You cannot force someone to change," Abrams says. "You can offer them an opportunity to connect with you according to your needs and see if they can meet you there, and vice versa."
If you're not looking to, or your parent is not willing to, mend the relationship, therapy can be a great way to heal from your childhood wounds and finally form a secure attachment style. Maintaining patience through the healing process and developing consistent, trusting, two-sided relationships will also be helpful.
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