How we were raised and the types of relationships we have had, whether we want to admit it or recognize it, has implications for how we relate to others and to God. In fact, after a thirty-year longitudinal study (where scientists studied the same 1,377 people for a thirty year period) scientists discovered that the number one indicator of mental illness was how our primary caregiver, particularly one’s father, treated them.
All this to say that our past plays into our future, whether hurtful or healthy. It has even been said that our past is not our past—if we still let it affect our present. The sad fact is many of us struggle with love and intimacy because of our upbringing. With this in mind, let’s look at some possible causes as to why it may be difficult for some people to receive and give love.
In their book, God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God, Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub write about four different relationship styles, how each of them are developed, and how to find healing from past wounds in order to experience a life that is free and healthy. The four relational styles or attachment styles are: Secure Attachment, Anxious Attachment, Avoidant Attachment, and Fearful Attachment.
These relationship styles are developed on how we answer two important questions. First, am I worthy of love? This is what we believe about our self-worth. Second, are others capable of loving me? This addresses our perception of whether or not others are trustworthy and reliable.
The relationally secure person would answer the questions, Am I worthy of love and am I capable of others loving me? with a resounding, “Yes!”
Secure Attachment People:
- Are not afraid of emotions, their own or anyone else’s.
- Are willing to seek and accept comfort from other people.
- Know that relationships can be safe, and that knowledge gives them courage to engage in love and intimacy.
- Take responsibility for themselves.
- Find the courage to act when action is needed.
Those with this relational attachment style do not feel worthy of love. Whether it is feeling worthy of love in a romantic relationship or even with God, something inside this person tells themselves that it is all an illusion, they really aren’t worthy of other’s love.
In answering the two central questions—Am I worthy of love? and Am I capable of others loving me?—the relationally anxious person would say they are not worthy of love, but they generally do feel that others care about them.
Anxious Attachment People:
- Long for intimacy but live in constant, nagging fear of rejection.
- Are very needy, desperately looking for others to make them feel safe and secure.
- Trust too easily and unwisely, overlooking signs that others have not earned their trust.
- Are fragile and vulnerable to any perceived criticism, interpreting it as severe rejection.
- Hope that authority figures will finally come through and fix their problems.
- Experience a deep, controlling fear that they are not competent to make it on their own.
Avoidants are always trying to prove their worth by their accomplishments—and the more they achieve, the more they feel love. Completely opposite to those with anxious attachment, the avoidant style would say they are worthy of love, but that when it comes down to it, others do not really care about them.
Avoidant Attachment People:
- Avoid intimacy because they do not see the need for it
- Are confident in their abilities and are self-reliant.
- Commonly experience low levels of anxiety in relationships, even when others are very needy and demanding.
- Are very analytical about those in authority, and seldom trust others very much.
- Withdraw from those who express emotional needs.
- Have, in effect, business relationships with others, even close family members, with clear expectations of what each person will do to make a relationship work.
Fearful attachment relationship style do not believe they are worthy of love or having others love them. And some do not even have the confidence or drive needed to excel in life. Fearful people have often been hurt and still have open emotional wounds that have not healed; consequently, they have developed a protective shell around their hearts to keep others out. “They long to trust someone, but they have difficulty trusting even those who have proven to be loving and honorable.”
Fearful Attachment People:
- Feel unloved and unwanted, unworthy of anyone’s affection.
- Long for real relationships, but are terrified of being close.
- Lack confidence in their abilities to make life work.
- Are fragile, easily shattered, and vulnerable to any perceived offense.
- Believe they need to trust those in authority, but simply cannot.
- Sometimes remain isolated, but sometimes launch out into relationships, seeking the connection they have always wanted. Their neediness, tough, almost always drives people away.
As you look over the four relational attachment styles, do you see yourself in any of them? While some people have more affinity to one style, others are a mixture of these styles.
Yet, no matter what style or mixture of styles you might be, remember this—your style is not permanent, nor does it have to define who you are.
No matter what has happened in the past, God can heal and redeem you. You do not have to be a prisoner to the past; you can have a new start! God is not done with us. We are clay in the hands of the master potter (Isa 64:8). He molds us, mends us, and heals us. As the clay, however, it is our responsibility to allow God to heal us. We place ourselves in a position to be healed through a number of avenues including spiritual disciplines, forgiveness, community, and professional counseling.
 C.B. Thomas and K.R. Duszynski, “Closeness to Parents and the Family Constellation in a Prospective Study of Five Disease States: Suicide, Mental Illness, Malignant Tumors, Hypertension, and Coronary Heart Disease,” John Hopkins Medical Journal, 134.5 (1974): 251-270.
 Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub, God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God (New York: Howard Books, 2010), 66-67.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 70-71.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 74.