The Pain of Love (this blog is not about romance).
Updated: Jan 8
I fucking hate Christmas. I'm writing this following waking up to severe jet lag, a false (?) positive lateral flow in my hand and a feeling tantamount to champagne hangziety. Whilst wondering why the fuck I left Thailand to surprise the people I love. After evacuating my sisters flat abruptly on Christmas eve, and going into utter meltdown due to seeing my parents the night before (not knowing if I may have covid). I genuinely questioned, if I could give less of a fuck would I choose to if I could not care, not love, would I?
Since the shed episode (see the previous blog). I've been doing a lot of reflecting, and somehow due to the perfect storm of my mindset, my friends need to get away and Thailand opening its borders during a global pandemic. I've been drinking lots of Chang, staring into many sunsets and convincing myself I am young enough for a full-moon party (the buckets told me I am).
When I left for my pilgrimage, I already knew, in my heart, I would be back to surprise my family for Christmas. When my Nanny Butter copped it 2-weeks before her 91st, just before Christmas, I felt as though it was a no brainer. I would describe this as creating a 'pull on my heart', a biological attachment that psychologically demands my attention - an emotion I have both loved and loathed over the years. Because to experience, love is both the greatest, high and low.
Having read a great many books recently that reflect on the societal narrative. And why we find ourselves on the great wheel of life in the way we do (Happy Ever After, A Hunter-Gatherers Guide to the 21st Century, Head First). I have reflected on how to be mindful of automatic non-useful behaviours and why we do so many things we do. Therefore, I am starting to wonder if being attached is one of these 'non-useful behaviours' because it's so f*****g painful.
Considering one of (what should be) the most loving relationships; the parent and child attachment. It's interesting to note that scholars argue attachment styles learnt when younger generally stay with us when older. Many agree Bowlby's attachment styles are the most founded:
The theories also argue as parents age and weaken, "their impermanence becomes more apparent to children. Anxious about the threatened loss of their attachment figure, children may provide support to bolster their parents and preserve the important attachment object” (1). In the last blog, we argued Culture could be an evolutionary trait. With this in mind looking after parents could be an example of something we've culturally developed because it's useful (2). Homo sapiens can benefit from positive feedback loops that enhance survival. For example, grandparents make excellent caregivers to our children; therefore, the positive reinforcement of this leads to us caring for parents. But, personally, when I think about why I care for my parents, it is because they are incredible friends. They are whacky, intelligent and perfectly imperfect - I love being around them. My sister is also ok.
At my nan's funeral, much to my dad's distaste and my concern that I might set on fire. We had the arduous task of a hyper-religious church service (as per my mom's evangelical Christian background). After arriving in the cold community centre-esque hall, an 80-year-old churchgoer who knew my nan approached us. Naturally, we chatted about covid whilst expressing his views he stated "well any government who agrees with sodomy won't be producing a vaccine I can trust" - this will probably be the thing I will always remember from my nans funeral. I'm telling you this because later on in the car, lost in thought, my mom said out loud, "the thing is you just can't tell a Christian you like anal sex". And that, my friend, is why, perhaps, I have such a deep attachment to my parents - not because they appreciate anal, but because we sing off the same hymn sheet ('scuse the pun). They confirm my biases, created me, and I'm who I am because of them.
We cannot fight genetics. Psychology talks A LOT about experiences and how they shape us - maybe because we can't change our genes, we are less interested in them. Research continues to show us how genetics seem to determine our make-up. The academic level of an individual (3), happiness (4), how much we earn (5) (although the latter is slightly more complex in terms of the chicken and the egg) are disproportionately affected by genes. And parent-child genetics have to, biologically speaking, be similar. We find safety in familiarity. Relationships of all kinds are born from this fact. I have always believed such comfort of familiarity stunts growth. I like to think I throw myself into relationships that force me outside of familiar concepts and conversation but, you can't choose your family. So we find ourselves driven into attachment by both biological and psychological factors.
But, before we deviate from the point. If I could turn off such factors, would I? If I could not love, would I? During the inner turmoil of the past week, I considered the intensity of pain from my last break-up. I cried over the thought of reaching acceptance of my parents ageing. I begged for release from the worry of it in my mind (albeit this may have been made worse by doing dry January). I took stock of the maternal feelings towards my sister. (something which, if she is reading this, will probably make her projectile vomit last nights tofu and head for Bermuda).
But, without love, love for friends, for family, for partners, even for pets - what is life? Though we do our best to deny it, we have no purpose on this planet and, those around us help us have a reason to be. We live through them. We diagnose those that cannot attach as being 'on a spectrum', and much of psychotherapy focuses on the interpersonal realm - our relationships with others. Because enjoying life solo isn't as fun as enjoying it with someone. Even social media's popularity is linked to us spreading the word of our enjoyment and receiving positive feedback. As a routinely solo traveller, even I (slightly) enjoyed having someone to watch my sweaty arse whilst hiking through a national park in Thailand. Memories shared are more powerful. (not that I'm suggesting my arse will be the memory my friend retains from the outstanding beauty of Khao Sok National Park), (although I would say it is up there with the huge limestone mountains, deep valleys, breathtaking lakes, exciting caves and wild animals that we saw).
For some reason helping and giving has become behaviour favoured by evolution. That enhances relationships and promotes good wellbeing. It is indeed one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Research also suggests it helps us maintain a sense of emotional security from knowing our attachment figures are alive and available for help in return (6).
As a nearly 36-year-old without my own family (how anyone could think this binge drinking nudist could look after a child. I do not know.) I wonder if my need for parental attachment is more prominent because of not having a partner or any spawn to call my own. Outside this, I also recognise that having cared for my parents at a young age. I am bound to the narrative that if something were to happen to them, it would be the end of the world. The attachment styles illustrate how fear of loss and abandonment (in all of their guises) from parents can lead to an anxious attachment. In turn, this creates a preoccupation with how others (in all types of relationships)perceive us leading to the need for reassurance.
I have long known I struggle to 'detach' or 'compartmentalise' whatever you want to call it when it comes to relationships. Whatever the reason may be. I am hopelessly romantic and love to love. The past week's anxiety levels surrounding the fear of hurting those I love involved so many lateral flows I now have the septum of a coke addict. And to top it off, the physical impact of the adrenaline meant I nearly shit myself after a latte. However, the silver lining has been a productive level of exposure therapy. It has resulted in me writing this blog (which I know as a devoted reader you will appreciate). It has made me realise I need to speak out loud about the future and what it may hold for me, my loved ones and, the loved ones yet to come. Whilst also appreciating the small beautiful moments the incredible people in my life bring to me every day.
Anyway, I must go. I need to find a ball to my chain in an attempt to create some sprogs before my eggs dry up, and I have something else to moan about, just joking, or am I?
1. Kerns KA, Brumariu LE. Is Insecure Parent-Child Attachment a Risk Factor for the Development of Anxiety in Childhood or Adolescence?. Child Dev Perspect. 2014;8(1):12-17. doi:10.1111/cdep.12054
2. Garay J, Számadó S, Varga Z, Szathmáry E. Caring for parents: an evolutionary rationale. BMC Biol. 2018;16(1):53. Published 2018 May 15. doi:10.1186/s12915-018-0519-2
3. Joshi, P. K., Esko, T., Mattsson, H., Eklund, N., Gandin, I., Nutile, T., ... & Kubo, M. (2015). Directional dominance on stature and cognition in diverse human populations. Nature, 523(7561), 459-462.
4. Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Knopik, V. S., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2016). Top 10 replicated findings from behavioral genetics. Perspectives on psychological science, 11(1), 3-23.
5. Ben-Zur, H. Happy Adolescents: The Link Between Subjective Well-Being, Internal Resources, and Parental Factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 32, 67–79 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021864432505
6. Marks NF, Jun H, Song J. Death of Parents and Adult Psychological and Physical Well-Being: A Prospective U.S. National Study. J Fam Issues. 2007;28(12):1611-1638. doi:10.1177/0192513X07302728