The second truth about emotional health is it is achieved with others, not in isolation. We can’t simply will ourselves into emotional health by reading a book, listening to a podcast, meditating on a verse or meme. We are social beings. Our emotional health is directly tied to how well we are connected with others. This connection is directly tied to attachment.
Attachment is essential to human growth and development. From the moment we are born, we need to be held, comforted, talked to, and provided for. Remove these elements and there are going to be problems. Just look at the work of Bowlby and Harlow (warning, the Harlow study on baby monkeys is tough to read but it did shine a valuable light on the need for attachment in healthy development). We must first experience our caregiver attaching to us, connecting with us, in a loving, caring, nonjudgmental, and nurturing way to learn how to healthily attach to others.
Unfortunately, flawed people raised us. They were raised by flawed people, who were raised by flawed people, and so on. Mistakes were made. Caregivers were sick, too tired, or perhaps too messed up themselves to attach to us in the most healthy and consistent way. Some caregivers are better than others so the wounding that gets passed on in the attachment realm varies from person to person.
If you received healthy-enough attachment bonding, you likely have healthy relationships with those around you. You have people in your life you can share your messiest parts with and they can sit with you in your mess without criticizing you, fixing you, or trying to solve your problem for you. You can be in their mess with them. You enjoy being with each other. You can share all your emotions and hold all of theirs. When you are troubled, you lean into others instead of withdrawing. When no one is available, you remember the times they have been there, and you don’t feel alone; you can sort of take them with you wherever you go.
Perhaps you read that paragraph and thought you don’t have those people in your life. You don’t open up with others and you feel sad about that. Or, you realize you don’t have people in your life and you feel good because you don’t want to get close to anyone. Perhaps you thought, you’re always there for others but never let them see the real you. These are indicators of a problem with attachment. Lack of healthy attachment equals emotional unhealth.
What can you do about it? Start with therapy. It will be helpful to uncover the underlying attachment deficits you experienced in your childhood. You can gain understanding and some healing experiences with an attachment theory based counselor. It will also help to get involved in a community of safe people so you can start practicing being real and vulnerable with others. It can be tricky to find safe people. Look for those who are working on their own emotional health and making progress. I am partial to the Cloud and Townsend communities. You could start there if you don’t know where to begin.
A good resource for finding a therapist is PsychologyToday.com. I get nothing from them for saying that. It’s where I go to find my own counselors. They have parameters on the site so you can narrow down by preferences like location, insurance they take, cost, and models of therapy they use (like attachment theory, emotionally focused therapy, and EMDR – my personal favorites). You may have to try out a few therapists before you find one you like so give the process some time. You’re worth both the time and money it takes to develop emotional health!