Public service announcement:
It is normal to long for connection.
Take another look at that last sentence: It is normal to long for connection. Healthy, even. Foundational to what it means to be human. And also, a profoundly painful longing when it goes unfulfilled.
I am often inspired to write about themes that show up in the therapy room over the course of a week or two. It is uncanny how often multiple clients with no connection to each other outside of shared family toxicity will present with the same kinds of pain. This week, the connecting thread is just that: Connection.
We are all born with a natural and primal drive to form an intimate, loving, and trusting connection with those we look to for our safety. If our primary caregivers are unable to give it to us, we may learn to settle for whatever else we can find. It is a sad commonality between many adult children of narcissists that their childhood attempts to connect with caregivers and loved ones were not well received. Despite a narcissistic parent’s seemingly endless need for attention, that attention did not flow both directions.
For a young child, the question of “Why doesn’t my parent love me?” is both confusing and shameful. Maybe you felt the instinctive wrongness in a parental relationship not characterized by love, acceptance, and trust runs deep. We may live in denial for a time (for our own protection), but there is always a part of us, deep down, that knows this is not how it is supposed to be.
Young children are egocentric by nature. Their world is only as large as what directly affects them. As we grow and mature, our worlds expand and we learn to care about things larger than ourselves. The tragedy of a developmentally normal childhood self-focus is that a child cannot separate a parent’s inability to love from the child’s own lovability. The answer to that heart-wrenching question, then, becomes “Because I am not lovable.” And when we believe that we are unlovable, we are filled with shame and grief.
Connection in peril
So what happens when that child who came to believe that they are unlovable grows up? How does that deep-seated shame and sense of wrongness show up in adulthood? There are several ways that disrupted connection, also known as attachment, can manifest. Here are a few common archetypes. Do any of these sound familiar?
- The people pleaser willing to become whatever their partner needs them to be, with little regard for their own wants and needs
- The distant loner who keeps everyone at arm’s length because close relationships feel suffocating
- The anxious worrier who feels pressure to constantly check in and assess the “state of the union” with their partner
- The hot and cold waverer, swinging between passionate engulfing and cold withdrawal
- The “anyone will do,” who would rather be in a toxic relationship than to be alone
Children who grow up with conditional love, moving goalposts, confusing mood changes, and unclear boundaries have little sense of what the rules of a relationship are supposed to be. They grow up feeling like they can’t trust their own instincts, let alone the words or actions of another person. And yet, that unfulfilled longing for connection may lead them to impulsively or deliberately ignore any red flags in hopes of finally feeling cared for.
I have often heard clients wonder why they seem to attract so many narcissists – wasn’t growing up with one bad enough? Yes, it was. And it also trained you to approach all relationships from a basic assumption that relationships fail because you are unlovable.
Connection begins within
Let’s go back to the PSA from the beginning of this article, in case you need a refresher: It is normal to long for connection. And, when you grow up with a distorted view of love and relationships, you will likely base your relationship expectations on a skewed schematic. So, how do you address those distortions and create a healthier relationship?
It begins within.
I have written before about forming a loving, compassionate connection between your core Self and the parts of you that have been wounded. I have witnessed on countless occasions the healing power of connection with Self. And I have seen how creating a connection within opens up new possibilities for stronger, healthier relationships with others.
Healing begins within; and, your internal process can be augmented by developing kind and supportive relationships with trustworthy people. That is why I started my therapy group, Walking on Eggshells. I wanted to create a space for people to find emotional safety, community, and connection. A place where the parts that feel broken or damaged can see that they are not alone, and that the scars they carry do not diminish their value.
If your “I am unlovable” parts have been especially hard on you lately, maybe it’s time to show them there’s another way. Connect with your wounded parts and show them your compassion. And I invite you to take the chance of finding an amazing community of support. Make a connection. Contact me today to join this wonderful group.