Parenting

Why is your 'attachment style' so important?

Humans, like all mammals, are hard-wired to attach to their parents from the moment they are born. When you are a tiny baby, the first person you usually attach to is your mother, followed by your father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, teachers, colleagues, romantic partners, and so on, throughout your life. This 'attachment system' in your brain is very powerful, because when you are small and helpless it is literally a matter of life and death whether your parents – usually starting with your mother – love, feed and keep you safe. So attaching to them is absolutely vital.

The first person to really understand this was John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst who argued that all babies have this attachment system and, depending on their relationship with their mother, form either a secure on insecure attachment. A secure attachment means your mother has looked after you well enough, given you lots of love and hugs, changed you when you were wet, fed you when you were hungry, made plenty of eye contact, sung to you – and all the other things babies need to feel safe and secure.

Attachment and relationships

If your attachment was insecure, your mother – for all sorts of reasons, often because her own attachment with her mother was not secure – couldn't meet your needs as a baby, so you didn't feel 100% loved by or safe with her. One of Bowlby's  groundbreaking ideas was that the kind of attachment style you developed as a baby would stay with you into adult life. Why is this so important? Because people with an insecure attachment will struggle to form strong, lasting, happy relationships with friends, colleagues and especially romantic partners.

In schema therapy terms, these people may have an Abandonment schema, so constantly worry about being left or rejected by their partner. Understandably, this causes all sorts of problems and makes it very hard to have a stable, happy relationship with anyone. The good news is that, as Bowlby and later attachment researchers found, you can learn to have stronger attachments – and therefore better relationships – throughout your life. Schema therapy is one of the approaches that is very good at making these changes. If you do have an Abandonment schema, for example, we would work together on healing it so you felt happier, more confident, more trusting and relaxed in relationships.

As I always tell my clients, however difficult things were in your childhood, and however much you are still affected by those experiences as an adult, it's never too late to change. Heal your schemas and you heal the most painful and vulnerable parts of you – this really can be life-changing, as I have seen time after time with the people I work with.

If you would like to find out more about schema therapy, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

 

Overcoming postnatal depression

Postnatal depression, or PND for short, is a very common illness that affects between 10 to 15 in every 100 women having a baby. The symptoms are similar to those in depression at other times, but there are some differences related to being a new mum, worries about your baby's health and wellbeing and being able to cope.

Symptoms include:

•Feeling low, unhappy or tearful for much or all of the time

•Feeling irritable or angry with your partner, baby or other children

•Feeling utterly exhausted and lacking energy

•Despite your tiredness, you may have insomnia and lie there worrying about things throughout the night

•You may lose your appetite, ability to enjoy things and interest in sex

•You might have guilty or negative thoughts

•And you may feel anxious, worrying about your baby's health or whether you are doing a good job as a mother.

As with most health problems, these symptoms can vary in how strongly you feel them and how long they last – if they continue for more than two weeks you may have postnatal depression.

The first thing to say is that, especially if your symptoms are severe or you worry about harming yourself or your baby, it's very important that you see your GP.

If you are not having these thoughts, or your symptoms are milder, it's still really important that you talk to your GP, health visitor, partner and family about it. PND is not your fault, it is nothing to be ashamed of and is very common, so there's no reason to suffer in silence. It worries me that, according to a recent survey, nearly half of all mothers with PND didn't seek help because they were afraid of what might happen to them or their baby. Remember that your GP and health visitor only want to help you with any problems you're having adapting to life as a new mum – including postnatal depression – so there's no reason to keep it secret.

For mild symptoms, just getting a bit more support from your partner, family or close friends will be enough to help. You may also need some help from a counsellor or therapist like me (cognitive behavioural therapy is the most effective treatment for PND). For more severe symptoms you may need a combination of antidepressants and talking therapy – ask your GP about this.

If you want to know more about PND and how to treat it, the PND leaflet on the Royal College of Psychiatrists' website is excellent; I also recommend Overcoming Postnatal Depression: A Five Areas Approach by Christopher Williams, which is a self-help book based on the principles of CBT.

If you would like to book a session with me, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan