I'm big on attachment. We were biologically designed to attach to others. We make sense of who we are and the outside world through the lens of how we experience attachment. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, defines attachment in this way:
The 4 markers (S's) of healthy attachment according to Dr. Siegel are the following: an individual feels Seen, feels Safe, has the ability to be easily Soothed when in distress and a sense of Security is developed. He explains, "When children feel seen, safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive."
Individuals who are characterized with healthy attachment are able to look at the events of their life and create a coherent narrative which allows them to be fully present and engaged in life, internally and externally. In other words, as Dr. Siegel says, "Presence allows for interpersonal and internal attunement."
This type of relationship formed through secure attachment is the number one factor for our happiness and well-being. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist and director of a 75-year-old Harvard study on adult development, summarizes their findings: "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier."
This study showed that having someone you can safely rely upon helps with nervous system relaxation and reduces emotional pain. The correlation then is that those who feel lonely will most likely see a decline in physical health and die younger.
Waldinger emphasizes depth over breadth of relationship and it is not limited to romantic either. He says that the "quality of your close relationships" matters. Is there depth and honesty? Are you able to fully relax and be vulnerable, letting yourself to be seen for who you are?
If this is the foundation of our happiness and well-being, it is crucial to pay attention to our what our relationships demonstrate about our attachment styles. You may feel disconnected from your own emotional life or the emotional life of others. Or you're anxious and uncertain in your relationships, experiencing inner emotional turmoil. Maybe you find that most of your relationships are not trustworthy, seem shallow to you and you withhold much of yourself.
If this is the case for you, you are not alone. We may have learned that it is not safe to be in relationships. To be seen meant there would be harm. Or we were shamed for wanting closeness and thus could not be soothed. There is nothing inherently wrong with you because you struggle to make and have meaningful relationships of depth and trust. But if it's true that securely attached relationships provide us with happiness and well-being, then please do yourself the honor of learning what it could be like to feel seen, safe, soothed and secure. For many, they begin to discover and taste this type of relationship in the presence of a counselor and find that this experienced security then translates to other relationships. Being seen is available to you and it makes all the difference.