Matters of the Mind: Attachment and authenticity, one should not cost the other

Why do attachments and authenticity have a reciprocal relationship, and how can we change that equation?

Human beings have a significant need for attachment and at the same time, real happiness and freedom comes from being able to be true to themselves, real and authentic. Unfortunately, often in the quest of achieving one, the other gets traded off.

Imagine a child trying to build a friendship. In order to maintain and deepen the bond, she may readily give up on being authentic, speaking her mind, and follow the current. A boy hoping for his parents’ approval and attachment may not clearly express his disagreement over their actions and may start doing the same to be more like them. Don’t be mistaken, this conflict continues well into adulthood.

The same may happen in a reverse situation when we may refuse to lose our authenticity and choose to distance ourselves from people who do not accept us as we are, steering clear of attachments in order to avoid emotional pain through rejection, criticism and disapproval. This is a common occurrence in several relationships, often compounding into internalised feelings of inadequacy and hostility expressed in forms of passive or active aggression, stress or disease.

Research shows secure attachments help with social, emotional development and communication. Attachments establish our sense of safety, belonging and security or an absence of those, and also act as a map for one’s sense of self, sense of others, developing the ability to make and sustain social relationships.

Paradoxically, while attachment can be defined as a deep and enduring emotional bond between two people, it can actually help children be more independent as a result of possessing confidence in themselves and their caregivers.

Then how is it that despite secure attachments, people start manifesting sadness, anxiety, or a disconnect later in life? That is because bit by bit, we allow ourselves to sacrifice our authenticity to keep those attachments.

The key question is: how do we move forward without having to trade one off for the other? Why do attachments and authenticity have a reciprocal relationship, and how can we change that equation?

Authenticity is not easy to define and even harder to recognise and sustain.

Somewhere between a genuine sense of self, a beautiful unique mix of one’s history and nuances in experiences, the word has a powerful and broad range of plausible perceptions. While self-awareness sounds like an obvious and easy step towards self-work and healing and growth in therapy, achieving it is truly a challenge. Creating bio-cognitive-psycho-social awareness of the self takes work, intention, persistence and practice. Once aware, the next challenge is manifesting authenticity in a world that is so quick to judge and comment, like or give you a thumbs down, even if they do not know you enough. Authenticity has severely suffered. From parenting to partnerships, siblings to significant work dynamics, we have to choose one–bonding or being. I see so many painful emotions here–anger, rejection, dejection, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and sadness. How one “must be”, “ought to act like” or “think/feel/behave like” creates much chaos in both attachments and authenticity-related loss.

To have an environment around us that respects imperfections, allows for the space to be or think differently, and accommodates diversity, is asking for too much unless we drop the need to control and embrace compassion and understand that those different from us can also be securely attached to us. Or it could lead us into stress, trauma and pain. If we just pay attention, exercise consciousness and practice compassion, we may be able to avoid a lot of conflict and loss of uniqueness.

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