We are born with eternity in our heart and mind. We enter a world of brokenness but long for a place that is whole, safe, and secure. And while heaven must wait, we look to find a resemblance of that heavenly place while in our earthly body.
The first place we look to find a secure base from which to explore our world is our mother. She is our first significant attachment figure. When our mother is available to supply that safety and security, she creates a secure attachment with us. We say to ourselves, “I am worthy of love and others are capable of loving me.” In times of distress we look to her to soothe and comfort us, and validate our feelings. We feel the truth and beauty of her responsiveness. This secure attachment style sets the stage for how we view other relationships in life.
But what happens for the child who has an emotionally absent mother? The emotionally absent mother leaves her daughter with a wounded attachment relationship. This child learns that she is either not worthy of love, not capable of being loved by others, or both…not worthy of love and others are not capable of loving her.
One of three attachment styles can emerge. Joshua Straub in his book Safe House illuminates these attachment styles.
- When a child believes they are not worthy of love while others are capable of loving them, an anxious attachment style develops. This child fears abandonment and becomes afraid to explore the world. They appear clingy as they yearn for an anchor of security.
- If the child believes they are worthy of love but others are not capable of loving them, an avoidant attachment style emerges. This child learns not to look to mother for safety and becomes overly self-reliant and avoids feelings.
- The child who believes they are not worthy of love and that others are not capable of loving them will reflect a fearful attachment style. This child desires closeness with the mother, who may give unpredictable responses of both comfort and rebuke.
The following excerpt is of a teen who longs for emotional closeness to her mother.
“The little girl understood what it meant to make a mistake, and this person who was supposed to be there for her in life, called mom, had shown her the difference between a mistake and a consistent pattern of toxicity. She had been shown that just because someone had a child, it didn’t make them a parent. This little girl had to be her own parent when she was with this woman called mom.”
This teen and others with an emotionally absent mother begin life with loss. It is a wounded attachment which longs for healing. Redemption for this wound is found in a fifth attachment style called earned attachment.
Earned attachment is found in those who offer the emotional safety by being emotionally present. These folks have the capacity to hold the aftermath of attachment woundedness in a sacred space of acceptance. There is an anchor of security found in their empathetic stance that speaks the words of redemption…you are worthy of love and others are capable of loving you. It might have come through a counselor, the other parent, a grandparent, someone else, or through more than one person.
Below are words of the aforementioned teen who experienced earned attachment. It’s from a passage called, “My Grandparents.”
“…having a routine with someone who cared for me and did it just because they knew it made me smile meant the world to me as a child. It still does. It shows the other person went out of their way just to help you out and to make your day brighter.”
“I always got excited when I heard the knock on our apartment door, and I always loved seeing the comforting face of my grandma behind it.”
“Whenever time came for her to go I would run up to her and I would ask for a hug and a kiss or how I said it when I was younger, “a hug and a kiss.” I made sure to get multiple to supply me until the next time I saw her.”
This teen as a child intuitively recognized the sustaining power of earned attachment.
Hope remains for those with emotionally absent mothers. She did not write your destiny. God has sprinkled a taste of heavenly comfort in others around us who are waiting to provide a new experience through earned attachment.