Tuesday, 27 September 2011
College places some significant and substantial pressures upon students. They’re thrust into a new environment with little or no support from their parents, long-time friends, and if they have one, their SO’s as well. Then they’re expected, by both their parents and the college staff, to be more autonomous with both their social and academic lives. My personal observation is that there tends to be a significant spike in mental and emotional dysfunctionality with people when they first arrive to their respective college or university.
We’d all probably be a little overwhelmed by such circumstances but I’ve noticed with my friends back home (I study in the U.K.) and with my fellow classmates that this spike in dysfunctionality is remaining within the student populace and isn’t diminishing. So the question that begs to be asked then is why do some individuals thrive while others struggle and suffer? I found the answer to this in my research, Attachment Theory.
Attachment Theory is a theoretical perspective used to understand an individual’s experience of negative moods and interpersonal problems. The basic premise behind it is that an individual’s emotional experiences with their primary caregivers (parents), in childhood, lead to the development of attachment security or insecurity. Thus, if an individual has caregivers who are consistent in their emotional availability, they are then likely to develop attachment security and can effectively cope with the negative events that arise in one’s life.
If an individual does not have caregivers who are emotionally available, then they are likely to develop attachment insecurity; subsequently this will make them less able to cope with stressful events in their lives. In short, one’s attachment acts as a template which will both construct and organize one’s subsequent social experiences in a manner that proves to be self validating.
To explain, one’s attachment creates a self fulfilling prophecy; so for example if one has an insecure attachment then they are very likely to have more negative occurrences in their lives, which they won’t be able to properly cope with and inevitably lead to more and more of the same negative scenario’s and results in their lives.
To elaborate a little more upon Attachment Theory there are generally three classifications that one can fall under – Secure, Avoidance, and Anxiety. Secure attachment individuals have a positive internal model of both themselves and others, which enables them to neither fear abandonment nor emotional intimacy. Avoidance attachment individuals are characterized by a pervasive discomfort with intimacy and interpersonal closeness, whereas individuals with Anxiety attachment are characterized by a chronic fear of interpersonal rejection and abandonment.
Furthermore these individuals who fall into either Avoidance or Anxiety have possess an insecure adult attachment internalized negative expectancies about their personal competence and lovability, the responsiveness of those they’re close to in the social world, or both sets of expectations. Also, there are individuals who can possess both of these insecure attachments.
Now, I’m sure you are asking “What does it all mean Basil?” I’ll go into that now. Studies upon college students showed…
Those with less secure attachments had or were…
-More Relationship Difficulties
-Greater usage or poor and/or avoidant coping strategies
-More instances of Physical illness
-Greater and more instances of feelings of Anxiety, Loneliness, and Depression
-Highly attentive to their own emotional states
-Used social support indirectly and ineffectively.
Note: These feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression usually developed from one of two sources; either a discomfort in self-disclosure (with close friends and lovers) or a lack of social efficacy (Individuals' beliefs that they are capable of initiating social contact and developing new friendships).
Whereas those with more secure attachments (those with trust in others and greater security in themselves) had or were…
-More likely to seek out and to benefit from their relationships with others
-Discernibly more confident in their abilities to attract and engage romantic partners than their peers
-Noticeably less feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression than their peers
-Had the added buffer of social skills that “facilitates one’s adjustment to the college transition”.
Now where does this leave you as a parent? How does one be consistently emotionally available to their children and partner/spouse?
Well firstly one has to become emotionally intelligent, which means to become aware of their feelings as well as others. One should be aware of and be able to read those subtle, nonverbal cues that reveal how someone is feeling, what they want and need. For example, say you’re aware of your own wants and needs but you’re not aware of those of your spouse, this means that they will not be able to communicate this to you and you will be left to guess. If they don't have self-awareness and the ability to communicate this to you, then they wouldn't be able to recognize your wants and needs and therefore be unavailable, emotionally (leaving you hanging).
So in other words, if you’re not aware of your own emotions as well as that of your partner/spouse then you probably shouldn’t be having children to begin with as they are going to suffer the consequences of your ignorance (I'm of course speaking on behalf of the poor college students in the study above).
The best way to reach a higher level of emotional intelligence is to TALK TO PEOPLE, especially your spouse. Ask them how they have been lately and how they feel right now, what is their attitude towards your relationship now and over the years. Worst case scenario have both you and your spouse go see a therapist, talk about your issues, be open and honest with one another, and try to better yourselves as individuals and as a couple. Your future children will thank you.
Your thoughts? Other suggestions on how one becomes emotionally available?