What happened to us as children is not as important as how we’ve made sense of it as adults. We can’t change our experiences, but when we’re able to step back and view ourselves and our parents with compassion and insight, we form our “life narrative.”
You can form secure attachments with your spouse and children even if you didn’t have secure attachments with your parents.
Even more hopeful, this attachment healing doesn’t need to come from your relationship with a parent. A safe connection with another trustworthy, attuned adult can change your own attachment trajectory. A teacher, extended family member, pastor, or other person who becomes a safe base can make all the difference.
I know a young man who grew up in a profoundly neglectful home. His family history included generations of addiction and abuse. He followed his parents’ footsteps into the world of drug addiction, and like the generations before him, he landed in jail. This was not uncommon for people in his family and came as no big surprise.
While in jail, he reflected on the one stable relationship in his life: the one he shared with his grandparents on his father’s side. They were a consistent, safe presence and his secure base in a tumultuous world. When life at home became unbearable, he moved in with them. When home got better, he moved back in with his parents. This cycle repeated itself many times.
Now, as an older teen, he knew he didn’t want to follow the path of his parents. He wanted a life like his grandparents’. Although they didn’t have a lot of money, there was plenty of food, the utilities weren’t turned off due to lack of payment, and drugs and alcohol were not part of the daily diet.