Our childhood experiences, family environment, and relationships with our primary care givers can have a big impact on how we connect with, become attached to, and love others. Were your parents kind to each other? Or was there constant fighting? Did mom or dad tend to run away and leave when the going got tough? Or did they stay and work out their differences?
The beliefs, behavior, and attitude of your parents towards one another probably had a big effect on you, whether you realized it or not.
That’s what this blog post is all about.
Recently I watched the new Netflix series Bridgerton. I was only looking for a not-so-serious distraction after my work day; but within a few episodes, I became surprised and intrigued by the familiar plotline – a story which hit a bit too close to home.
The main character, Daphne, is a beautiful, well-mannered young debutante – coming of age and preparing for a task she has been trained for all her life: find a suitable suitor, secure a proposal, get married, have children, and live happily ever after. (It is the 1800’s – but has that much really changed, after all?) She comes from a big, well-do-to and respected London family that functions like a well-run ship and earns the respect and admiration of the entire society. Daphne’s parents married for love, and together with her six siblings, they each take care of one another with pride. The picture of a ‘good’ girl turned strong woman, Daphne simply aspires to achieve that which her mother did – to live happily in love with her husband and raise a beautiful family together.
At the start of her search for a suitor, she meets Simon – the seemingly perfect, handsome Duke and friend of her eldest brother. A gentleman with an ever-so-alluring bad boy side; he plays friendly with her, enticing her to come closer, all the while banishing any romantic sentiment for her from his mind. Through their natural chemistry, they form a close friendship and before you know it, it’s obvious Daphne has fallen in love. He’s obviously into her too, right? Wrong. Simon swears that he will never marry, and never have children. With his mother having had passed away right after childbirth, and his father having disowned him as a mere toddler, Simon has been too hurt to appreciate the gifts of family, or to allow himself to want after that which is the source of his deepest wound.
So there you have it – it would seem, a securely attached leading lady who falls in love with a classically avoidant guy. This is the part where I caught myself choking on my popcorn – could it be any more familiar?
In the first few episodes, they begin their dance – a rollercoaster of ups and downs, one which is certainly familiar to anyone with the anxious or avoidant attachment style (or let’s face it, anyone identifying as human). What could be more human after all, than the tumultuous perils of love; the highs and lows, contact and withdrawal, the come hither (now go away), I-want-you-but-I-don’t-want-you game? Ah yes, perhaps now this strikes a familiar chord in the harp of your own ego.
While this work of fiction is just that – it’s also paints an interesting portrait of two complex individuals with completely different childhood experiences and upbringings – one which nurtured the expression of love, and one which all but forbade it.
Daphne no doubt witnessed an abundance of her parents’ love and fortitude – their good opinions of the other, high esteem for themselves, their positive beliefs about their relationship and marriage, and the dedication they each brought to doing whatever is best for the family. As a result, young Daphne picked up on these behaviors, attitudes and beliefs – unconsciously accepting them as the normal way people relate to each other whether that be in friendship, courtship, marriage or family. As a result of her relatively trauma-free, functional and supportive family life and upbringing, Daphne developed a mostly secure attachment style. And – without even being aware of it – she applied those very same behaviors and attitudes that she witnessed in her family dynamic in her relationship with Simon.
Simon too, was not spared the consequences of his early family life; in fact it is even more striking what role childhood trauma played in his inability to form an attachment with Daphne. Even as it becomes increasingly clear that he is crazy for her, he’s persistently avoidant – with the result being that he is forced to marry her after an impassioned kiss puts Daphne’s honor at stake. That’s right – he can’t keep his hands off her, nor say a bad thing about her – and still he wishes to avoid committing to her as if marriage and children by her would be the plague.
Eventually, a nice ending to the first season: Daphne’s unconditional love for Simon conquers all and his cold heart is turned warm – they are to live happily ever after in marriage, enjoy great sex, and have a lot of children. Huh. By this point, I have a lot of questions.
Did the behaviors and characteristics of Daphne’s secure attachment style serve as the glue that held our underdog-turned-hero couple together?
Or was this story just another Hollywood-romance ruse; is there no chance of hell this would happen in real life? It does sound like a familiar (toxic) story – that a woman – if she just loves and is good enough – can change a man.
Are we, like Simon, doomed to repeat our parents’ shortcomings and mistakes in the realm of love and family? In real life – would he really learn to love, or continue to dismiss every genuine romantic prospect that comes his way? Would we?
How we learn to overcome the dysfunctional relationship dynamics we unconsciously absorbed from our parents is of the utmost importance and relevance to our wellbeing, and that of the world, I’d argue.
Important to forsake the beliefs and behaviors, which contribute nothing to our own happiness, to that of our partner, to the health of our relationships, families, or the collective good.
Beliefs such as:
- It’s time I give up; they will abandon me anyway.
- I’m not worthy of love and support.
- Other people are more pain than they’re worth.
- Other people will hurt me – I cannot trust them or let them too close.
Behaviors such as:
- Running away and avoiding contact with your partner when they need you most.
- Using lying, withholding, and other forms of deception as a means of manipulating your partner rather than telling them how you truly feel and asking for what you want.
- Blaming and playing right/wrong games.
- Pointing the finger at others rather than looking inwards at ourselves.
- Assuming we know how the other person would react, and making decisions on their behalf without their consent or knowledge.
All of these things, lead to the destruction of what was most likely at first, a love as pure, natural and sweet as any love out there.
A person you were inexplicably drawn to.
A joy and ease they produced in you.
A rhythm you fell into you.
A body you came to know intimately.
An aching care that grew worrisome within you.
Love for another – the force higher than any other – that drives life itself and the continuation of our species.
How will you heal these parts in yourself and your own relationships? How will we reconcile our difference with one another? And most importantly – how will we learn to love securely – and be there for one another like our lives depended on it (because they do) – in spite of our earliest childhood adversity and otherwise?
Leave your thought on this in the comments!
Curious to watch the show? You can watch the new series on Netflix now. Check out the trailer below if you’re interested: