Q: I seem to be unable to hold on to relationships. Why is it that my “perfect other” (girlfriends and boyfriends) always turn out to be jerks?
Q: We have adopted a 3 year old son but he seems so angry and hostile. Any suggestions?
A: Although these questions seem very different, the answer may be the same.
Starting in the very first months of life, the most important psychological thing that is happening in baby is the development of trust. For this to happen, the primary care-giver must be emotionally available to respond appropriately and lovingly to baby’s needs. If the baby is crying, the caregiver must be able to make baby feel better. No matter why baby is crying, a part of what makes baby feel better is the security of having his or her needs met by someone that baby recognizes and feels safe with. In this way baby develops a sense of security, trust, and safety. These attributes are the necessary cornerstones for the development of self-esteem and confidence.
At the same time, baby is also forming an attachment to the individual that is providing the care. Although the caregiver does not always have to be the same person, there should be consistency so that baby develops the sense that the people he or she bonds to, will not disappear from his or her life. In other words, a few caregivers, such as a loving mother, father, and consistent day care provider are alright, but a mother who is emotionally unavailable (maybe due to illness, depression, alcohol, etc.) or multiple baby sitters or foster homes, will result in a distrustful person who is often angry, hostile, suspicious and disappointed with life.
As an adult, this person may also use what we call “black and white thinking” which means that they see people or things and as all good until something goes wrong and then they are seen as all bad. So, inconsistent parenting, neglect, or many separations from parental figures are all things that may have made the two people in our questions the way they are now.
In both children and adults this type of problem can be dealt with through counselling and figuratively “re-parenting”. This sounds much more complicated than it is and although it is not a quick process, the results can be amazingly gratifying.