Iím Still Alive So It Must Be Working:
An Exploration of Developmental Adaptive Styles
As infants, children, and adolescents, we were dependent on our caregivers for survival. In this dependent state, what did we learn? How did we adapt (physically, mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually) to life in our family of origin?
What did we learn, as dependent children, about how best to protect our "attachment relationships", (i.e., our relationships with those responsible for our care)? And what did we learn, as dependent children, about how to best protect ourselves within our family of origin? How did we learn to hold ourselves physically? What did we learn (implicitly) about how to feel, think, and behave?
What did we learn about connection (to ourselves, to others, to the universe)? Did we learn that it was safe? Were we given a sense that we belong . . . that we are a part of something? Did we learn to be in touch with our bodies and our emotions or did we learn to cut ourselves off from them? Did we learn how to be in consistent connection with ourselves and with others or did we learn that it was too overwhelming to do so?
What did we learn about becoming aware of our needs and expressing them? Did we learn that it was safe to both have needs and express them or did we implicitly learn that it was dangerous to do so? What did we learn about reaching out to others for nurturing and nourishment? Did we learn that our needs would be met or did we implicitly learn that our needs would be ignored or denied? And, if we learned that these needs would be ignored or denied, did we learn to simply adapt to the perceived scarcity in our environment?
What did we learn about trust and interdependence? Did we learn to have an inherent trust in ourselves? Did we learn that it is safe to "let down" or did we learn to fear doing so? Did we learn to trust others or did we implicitly learn that trusting others was inherently dangerous? What did we learn about interdependence? Is that safe or were we implicitly taught to rely solely on ourselves and not allow even a healthy interdependence?
Did we learn how to say "no" and set limits? Did we learn how to speak our minds without guilt or fear? Did we learn how to be autonomous within an intimate relationship or did we implicitly learn that speaking our minds is dangerous and that we must give up our autonomy in order to be in an intimate relationship?
Did we learn how to self-regulate? Did we learn how to stay grounded and centered even in times of stress? Were we taught how to balance our needs with the needs of others? Were we taught how to boldly assert ourselves when necessary? Did we learn how to manage and contain our own emotional energy or stress-induced energy (without contracting)?
The reality is that most of us did not learn what we needed to learn to fully function as a mature adult in the physical world. And we did not learn what we needed to learn to fully function in a healthy and dynamic intimate relationship.
Instead, we learned to adapt. In the process of adapting though, we diminished our capacity for living life to the fullest and for being fully present "in the moment". And we diminished our capacity for maintaining and sustaining healthy, fulfilling, and dynamic intimate relationships which combine a loving heart with a vital sexuality.
Suppose we adapted by losing touch with our bodies and our emotions. Suppose we learned that being in connection with another was overwhelming distressing. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving, sexually-vital, intimate relationship.
Suppose we adapted by being un-attuned to our own needs for nurturance and nourishment. Suppose we learned to not express our needs - that it was dangerous to express our needs. Or suppose we learned that our needs would be ignored or denied. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. The reason is that we likely will be excessively fixated on getting our needs for nurturance and nourishment met.
Suppose we adapted by not "letting down". Suppose we learned that we need to stay "in control" in order to feel safe - that trusting others, and interdependence, was dangerous. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. This is the case, in part, because this type of relationship requires the capacity to "surrender" (i.e., the capacity to relinquish control).
Suppose we adapted by finding strategic and secret ways to avoid domination and control by others. Suppose we learned to be inauthentic and that setting boundaries was dangerous. It would be difficult to maintain and sustain a loving and sexually-vital, intimate relationship. This is the case, in part, because we would likely view intimate relationships as traps that would rob us of our freedom and independence.
These adaptations might have been appropriate, useful, and even necessary when we were dependent on a specific other for our survival. As adults though, those same adaptive patterns have become mal-adaptive at best. At worst, they have become literally life-threatening (on a number of levels).
They have led to physical constriction patterns that affect our physical health. These constriction patterns can lead to organ and gland dysfunction. They can also lead to physical pain, injury, and unnecessary surgeries. These physical constriction patterns have their mental and emotional corollaries.
The way we think is rigid and thus restricted. There is a deadening of our mental processes. We are unable to take in new information and re-adapt with resiliency to what is occurring in the present moment. This rigidity substantially reduces our capacity for sustaining a dynamic intimate relationship with another.
There is a deadening of our emotional life as well, which leaves us, at best, unable to experience our emotions with greater clarity, breadth, and depth. At worst, it may leave us "clinically depressed". Either way, this deadening of our emotional life is not conducive to sustaining a dynamic and loving intimate relationship (with ourselves or with others).
In some cases, we may be present to our emotions on some level, but we "mentalize" those emotions. Much like a scientist, we observe our emotions from afar, but we donít let them "affect" us. Emotional encounters with another, even positive ones, become for us "interesting" or "intriguing" instead of emotionally impactful. This "mentalizing" of our emotions distances us from ourselves and from others and is, therefore, not conducive to sustaining a dynamic and loving intimate relationship.
These adaptive patterns also diminish our sense of aliveness; our potency as adults; and our capacity for connection to ourselves, to others, and to the flow of life itself.
Much of this learning was implicit, rather than explicit. That means that this learning is encoded in our subconscious mind - at the bodily level - rather than in our conscious mind. Therefore, as adults, we remain unaware that these patterns of adaptation even exist. As a result:
- Our capacities (as adults) to function as mature, integrated human beings, are thereby diminished.
- Our capacities (as adults) to both recognize and get our basic core needs satisfied, are thereby diminished.
- Our functional capacities in certain key areas (such as bonding, boundary setting, grounding, centering, self-assertion, management of energy, and social balance) are thereby diminished.
- Our capacities for having, maintaining, and sustaining intimate relationships are thereby diminished.