Attachment theory tells us that children form internal working models (Bowlby, 1973) or representations about themselves, others, and the world based on their experiences of parenting, significant relationships, trauma, stress, and safety or security. These models develop from infancy and are relatively stable by the age of 4 or 5.
Children with generally attuned attachment relationships learn to trust their belonging in the world and anticipate positive outcomes. These relationships help them to feel belonging in the world and resilient in the face of challenges. On the other hand, when children experience stress or trauma in childhood, including neglect, they develop models of themselves and the world that are shaped by cognitive distortions like:
“I’m not good enough.”
“I have to please others to survive.”
“Nobody cares about me.”
Internal working models become automatic. They also shape our ability to be with emotions and our expectations of relationships. Even if a child does not experience trauma or stress, there will inevitably be moments of misattunement with their primary caregivers, moments when they feel silenced or unseen. These momentary misattunements may also contribute to our internal working models, creating walls or vulnerabilities that stop us from showing up fully in our lives as adults.
In our therapeutic relationship, I see you and accept you exactly as you are, as a perfectly imperfect human being doing their very best. Slowly, we work with and through our relationship so that you begin to experience a felt sense of not being alone, and enough just as you are. Over time, you absorb this experience, and it gives you a very different foundation for your relationship to self—one of compassion and caring, and this leads to new possibilities for relationships, choices, and wise action.