When thinking about improving health, the more obvious things that come to mind are nutrition, exercise, maybe sunshine or avoiding toxins. We don’t always appreciate the role the people surrounding us have in shaping who we are, increasing our stress or comforting us.
The minute we are born, we are placed into the context of our families. The contact with our immediate family has a great impact in our brain development, how our neurons wire for connection in the years to come. This imprint of our parents or primary caretakers determines our attachment style for the rest of our lives.
The best attachment style is called secure attachment, which happens between a reliable and attuned parent and a child that will trust the people around them, have a secure base to launch into life and trust themselves that they are worthy of love and positive relationships.
On the other hand, if children grow up in environments with conflict, parents suffering from mental health problems or who had insecure attachments themselves, they develop ambivalent, disordered or avoidant pattern styles. With an ambivalent attachment, children are clingy and overly dependent on others, reluctant to develop close relationships.
As Dr. Segal describes, attachment styles can correlate with resilience later in life: “It’s been shown repeatedly that children with histories of secure attachment are less vulnerable to stress and better able to take advantage of opportunities for growth.”
The way we learn how to relate to others is a lifelong process and does not end with childhood. According to the influential ego psychologist Erickson, our psychosocial development continues to be molded by our experiences in the social environment until death. At different ages we are faced with new lessons to learn. For example, the task of young adulthood is to learn how to develop intimate and loving relationships with others. Failure to achieve this step will lead to isolation and loneliness.
The longest study of human happiness was performed by a group of researchers at Harvard University. The study gathered health records of 724 participants in different socioeconomic levels and tracked them for 85 years. The researchers reviewed health records, asked thousands of questions to the participants and people around them and took hundreds of measurements. The study looked at career achievement, wealth, exercise, diets and many other details. The study has found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends and social circles.
The good news is that the best things in life are free, and as long as we are open to learn and work on self-improvement, it is never too late to develop strong positive relationships.
Ana Tanase, MD, ABOIM is a holistic pediatrician, board certified in pediatrics and Integrative Medicine. At TMCOne, she provides integrative medicine consults, primary care services and second opinions. Visits include personalized nutrition planning, lifestyle counseling, supplements, functional medicine testing and mind-body medicine teachings. Connect at 520-420-2110 or tmcaz.com/tmc-one/our-providers/ana-tanase.