How Does Seperation Shape Personality – Psychology Essay
One of my earliest memories is being taken to a new child minder at the age of about four by my dad. It was a big kitchen with lots of children. My dad wanted to
leave me there, and I would not let him go. The child minder’s daughter took me upstairs to her room, to show me her make up, and I remember thinking, I must go back downstairs, because my dad will leave me here. When I got back downstairs, he was gone. I still have a clear picture in my head of having a tantrum in the middle of the kitchen with everyone looking at me, and writing this, I can still feel the trauma of being left there.
Being separated from my parents since the age of about 2 has been a familiar experience for me. In this essay, I will explore to see how these experiences have affected my relationship with my parents, particularly my mother. I will look at my experiences in relation to Attachment Theory and speculate whether I fit into any of the attachment models, and whether our experiences of being separated from one another have shaped our relationship.
My parents came to England from Turkey in the early 1970’s, and I was born in 1975 in Turkey. My dad was in England when I was born, and didn’t see me until I was eight months old. Until then, I was cared for by my mother, and her family. When I was eight months we returned back to England. As we don’t have any other family here, we have always been a very close nit family, and I spent all my time with my parents. When I was two, my mum and I went back to Turkey, and I was left there with her family again for six months, and I formed close emotional bonds with my grandmother and my aunt, who were my main caregivers. When my mum returned six months later to collect me, she describes me as being distant from her. Although I did go to her, I was reluctant to stay with her, and wanted to go back to my aunt, who I had also started referring to as ‘Mum’, but due to the strong emotional bond I initially had with my mum, meant that the relationship went back to being as close as it was before I had been separated from her. However, a couple more separations up until the age of six meant that the anxiety caused as a result of these separations became a familiar feeling for me, and growing up, I was clingy, and fearful of strange environments and people. I’m not sure which of the separations was most significant, but the one I remember most clearly happened when I was five. My brother, who was nearly one at the time, and I were taken to Turkey, where we were separated from my parents for a whole year. My memories from that year are very clear, but the overriding feeling was one of deep discontentment. It always felt like something was missing, and when my family talk of that time, I am always remembered as being quiet and never really happy.
As I was growing up, I have always been aware of anxious feelings of being away from my parents, especially my mum. Due to their work commitments, we were never able to take family holidays together, so often my brother and I would go on holiday to Turkey without my parents. It would always take a week before I would settle into being there, and would feel quite tearful whenever I spoke to my mum on the phone. Likewise, when my parents went on holiday, and I would stay behind in England similar feelings would arise. I had, and still do to an extent have a tendency to be slightly clingy, and at times of distress, will almost always go home to my parents for comfort. After we returned from Turkey when I was almost seven, I really hated being away from my mother. I wanted to stay with her all time, and I felt unsafe when I wasn’t with her. I was always quite fearful, and I can still remember the sense of loss I felt when I wasn’t with her. I am still remembered by friends of my parents as being the well behaved little girl, who never left her mum’s side, but in hindsight, I do wonder now if that was linked to fear of being away from her. I can remember times when my mum had to work, so my brother and I would either have to go to a play scheme or to the child minders after school, and I do recall feeling afraid. When we went to play scheme after school, I would have been about nine or ten, so my brother would have been about five, I would never let him play too far away from me, as I was afraid something would happen to him, and I was often afraid of one of us being kidnapped by strangers. I would never be able to relax, or just enjoy being with other children. Looking at Bowlby’s models, at this stage I think I would have fitted into the Anxious resistant attachment, whereby the individual is always prone to separation anxiety and tends to be cling and anxious about exploring the world. Maybe if the separations had not been so consistent, or for such long periods of time, then maybe the closeness of our relationship would have prevented me from being so fearful of being apart from my mother. But the fact that most of the separations were quite traumatic incidents for me, I think may have contributed to my fears.
There are however contradictory incidents which make me question the model’s relevance to me. At the age of eight, I went on holiday to Turkey on my own. My parents took me to the airport here, and I was picked up by my grandparents at the other end. I don’t remember being scared or fearful, or anxious about being separated from my mum at all.
This also makes me think about the way I am as an adult. Although I am extremely close to my parents, and could to an extent resonate with the anxious resistant model when I was younger, it doesn’t resonate with me as I am now. Looking at the Adult Attachment Interview, I can relate to classification SST B. Even when I was younger, I still was able to form close secure attachments, especially with my teachers at school and I was very attached to my aunt when I was in Turkey. As an adult I have been fairly independent, and at times have had to fight my parents for independence. Although this could be linked to model anxious avoidant attachment, where the individual may attempt to become self sufficient, I don’t believe this is the case. Holmes (1996) however states that we autonomy is possible on the basis of an inner secure world, as believes that we can go it alone as long as we are sure that we can return to attachment and intimacy as needed, He states that we can be intimate if we feel autonomous enough not to fear engulfment and know that separation does not mean that our loved ones will be lost forever, which makes more sense to me.
There is one major incident in my adult life however, where I did revisit feelings of separation and abandonment. When I was nineteen I got together with someone who was mixed race. I always knew my parents would disapprove of this relationship, being Turkish, they didn’t approve of my having boyfriends let alone non-Turkish ones. A year after of being together, I told them about my boyfriend, Paul and how I felt about him. Their reaction was not so different from how I expected it to be. They insisted that I split up with him, and there were threats of disowning me. Up until then I had generally been a ‘good, well behaved’ daughter, and would generally do as I was told. This time however, I wouldn’t. My relationship with Paul had been quite up and down, but something was keeping me there, and even during the most difficult times with Paul, where there was no real relationship to save, I was still hanging on, and fighting my parents. Paul was adopted and already had issues of rejection which I was well aware of, and I felt a strong sense of responsibility to not let him down. My parents didn’t carry out their threat to disown me until three years later when I moved in with Paul. By then I had got used to the arguments. They would tell me I had to split up with him, or they would disown me, and I would refuse, eventually they would back down, for a while and then it would start again. They always said they would never accept the relationship. Things changed when I moved in with him. This time they were very serious about disowning me, although they did say that they would try and accept the relationship if I just didn’t move in with him, which was what I had been wanting all along anyway. However it was too little too late, and so I moved in with Paul. He had just bought a new flat and we were decorating it together. I will never forget the phone conversation I had with my mum, where she told me they no longer had a daughter…..
I didn’t cry initially, I was very calm on the phone. I quietly walked downstairs. Paul opened his arms and told me he was there for me. At least I was making someone happy. Until then Paul and I had been arguing because he had felt that I wasn’t doing enough to fight for him. He had wanted me to disown my parents for him. Well now they had disowned me.
The separation lasted a few months. Paul and I always got on well when I was having problems with my parents, so I became quite attached to him during those times. It felt very wrong in this situation. I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet I was being punished, and was expected to be understanding towards everyone’s needs. But no one seemed understanding towards mine. No one was hearing my voice, yet I was being blamed for everything.
Eventually my parents started talking to me again. They still weren’t openly accepting, and were refusing to meet him, but they had stopped telling me to split up with him.
I was always trying to be there for Paul as well, and thought that by not giving him up, no matter how much suffering I went through, or no matter what he did, I could show him that I wasn’t going to abandon him. I was also afraid that Paul was going to leave me, as he had affairs whilst we were together, and whenever I tried to leave him because of these he would beg and plead me not to leave him. And the one time he wanted to leave me, I wouldn’t let him. I felt I had put in too much effort for him to leave me. I did eventually leave him, not because of my parents, or because I found out about another affair. My parents did actually accept the relationship after five and a half years! We got engaged, and as soon as that happened, something in me changed. Maybe the challenge was over! I don’t know. 6 months after I first had that feeling I met someone else. He had walked into my life and he promised me a fairytale! The fairytale never happened.
I’m struggling with relating all this to my childhood experiences, and applying it all to attachment theory. I know these were all hugely significant times in my life, and I can see certain patterns and consistencies in these situations.
When I chose to write about my separation in relation to attachment theory, I envisaged a particular outcome. I assumed I would be Anxious Insecure Avoidant. I now think I’m secure. Although I have brought up the subject of my separation from my parents and subsequent problems in my relationships in my therapy sessions, it was never really explored in a psychoanalytic way therefore I am uncertain as to how I have moved from one model to another, or if they apply to me at all.
I was unsure how to write this essay, as I wasn’t writing about attachment from a clinical perspective, and have found it difficult to apply the theory to my own experiences. However, what I did want to do was to speculate how my separation from my parents would have affected my personality development. And having re read this paper, I do feel like I have brought up certain issues as though I was in a therapeutic session. I guess if this was a therapy session, it would be over to the therapist now…..!