We are all insecure about our safety. We all want to prevent from being hurt. From birth, we are conditioned to try to cope from the chaotic world that surrounds us. As babies, we cry when we are born. Why? Because we are abruptly transferred from the comfortable, warm, and safe environment of our mother’s womb, to the cold, uncomfortable, unsafe world outside of the womb. We cry when we find ourselves suffering from hunger, cold, discomfort, and pain. As we begin to grow and develop, we develop coping mechanisms as children from continuing to experience hurt from falling down, more pain, and hunger. When we are cold, we cry because it reminds us of possibility of freezing to death. When we are hungry, we cry because it is a reminder of the possibility of starving to death. When we hurt, it is a reminder of hurting until we die. When we are left alone, even if it is temporary, we also cry because it is a step away from being nourished and, therefore, a step closer to abandonment and thus death. Although we as babies start to explore to world and strive to be independence by starting to crawl and walk, this step of independence is hard to fully achieve if the sense of security from a caregiver is not felt as a safety net.
It is all about the fear of death. Depending of how our parents or caregivers raise us, we develop different levels of insecurities. For instance, if our parents are protective and constantly available, a healthy approach of surviving is developed. On the other hand, if we are raised in a volatile environment, as in the case of adoption, foster care, or an abusive home, then our sense of insecurity is more profound and thus we develop more extreme ways of surviving. When we are raised in this kind of environment, as teenagers, we tend to choose ways to cope with the fear of abandonment, hunger, cold, and discomfort (fear of death) by adopting unhealthy and extreme ways of coping, such as using illegal drugs, getting involved in crimes, sexual promiscuity, or exhibiting violent means of dealing with difficult situations. Stressful events in our young lives are a reminder of the uncertainty of life and the possibility of facing death. We automatically react by engaging in these extreme activities that we erroneously believe will give us the sense of security we long, but in reality becomes a way of achieving immediate gratification and thus another self-destructive means to cope. All for the fear of being abandoned or hurt again.
This way of coping with life is what psychologists and psychiatrists have called Reactive Attachment Disorder. It involves two extreme ways of coping with life, by either being inhibited from engaging with others, thus being defiant, aggressive and isolated. The other extreme way would be being disinhibited from engaging with others, thus interacting with others without boundaries, engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors, and expressing inappropriate affect.
However, when we are raised in more nourishing, stable environments, our sense of self worth and self-esteem is better developed and we then tend to choose more balanced, healthy ways of coping with difficult situations, such as being assertive, diplomatic, respecting others, and following the law.
As adults, we continue to develop unhealthy ways of coping with difficult situations if we are raised in a volatile environment. We tend to rely on drugs, unstable relationships, and illegal activities. Our self esteem is low, and so is our sense of self-worth. We continue to develop extreme ways of coping with life. One extreme way is isolating ourselves (inhibited) , so we build up “walls” around us that protect us from being hurt again. We do this by distancing ourselves from others, being shy, avoiding social activities, and refraining from fully expressing ourselves. In more extreme cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts. We try very hard to create distance from others to avoid being hurt again.
The other extreme way of coping with life is overemphasizing our characteristics and skills (disinhibited), so we behave overly expansive and overly involved with others. We exaggerate our interactions with others by being flamboyant, overly friendly, and intrusive. We try very hard to overemphasize our skills and looks so that we can be accepted and approved by others, and thus avoiding being hurt again.
Both extreme ways have the same goal: Avoid being hurt. Avoid being abandoned. Ultimately avoid death.
However, there is hope. Even though some of us may have been raised in an unsafe environment that may have triggered these extreme coping mechanism, we also have the responsibility to choose to overcome these self-destructive ways of surviving.
First of all, we have to accept that death is going to happen regardless of what we do. It is a reality and natural part of our existence. Secondly, it is important to take advantage of the great opportunities we all have to succeed in this life before we reach our last day on earth. The two extreme ways of avoiding death that I mentioned above are ways of denying our true nature. They are ways of preventing us from appreciating the present. They make us focus too much on the hurt that we have experienced in the past, and on the possible hurt that we may experience again in the future if we don’t develop some way of surviving.
Therefore, we must concentrate more on what we have in front of us and accept who we are and what we have. We have to practice self love by starting to believe that we are worthy human beings, no matter what others may have told us or how others may have treated us. We must rely on our own self-assessments, instead of relying on the acceptance of others. Even though we are social beings, our ultimate source of guidance and standards must lie within ourselves.