Before we know anything about the world — who we are, who our parents are, how we fit into a family — we instinctively reach out to connect with people around us. Our little fingers grasp whoever reaches out for us.
The most important connection we need from the beginning is with our mother. We want her touch. We crave her attention. We need her breast. We listen for her voice. We eagerly crave her love. We need her approval and her presence.
We quickly crave connection with both parents (or substitutes) and maybe with an extended family. We want to be loved. We need to belong. We crave connection.
For many of us, something goes wrong along the way — and we spend years or decades trying to find whatever was lost. We can be confused about what we need. We can seek substitutes. We can chase achievements that seem as though they might satisfy our needs. But something is still missing.
For me, all of the connection I eagerly crave today goes back to what was lost when I was a little boy — and I understand now that it started when I lost my mother.
As adults, we intellectualize everything. We have trouble seeing how basic our needs are. We believe we are sophisticated and mature adults, so our needs must be for the shiny things which the adult world offers us.
We reach for money, for power, for achievements, for positions, for success of every kind. But when we allow ourselves to quiet the “monkey mind” inside, we hear the whisper of a child who still has needs which are far more basic.
We still need connection.
We want to be loved. We need to be loved. We missed something along the way that we needed. We’re not sure what we missed. We just know something is wrong. And if we allow ourselves to be quiet long enough to see the truth hiding in our hearts, we can finally admit it’s love and connection and understanding which are missing.
Some connection from the past has gone awry — and we haven’t been able to bridge the gap between what we lost then and whatever connection we have today.
Along the way, we built defenses to cover up our need. We even hid it from ourselves. The conscious brain believes it’s in charge and is making the important decisions, but the child inside who is still crying for love is actually driving us.
That inner child pushes us to do and be things which don’t make sense to our conscious brain. That inner child has an instinctive understanding of what was lost — of what is still needed — and the child has unspoken hopes that our scheming and planning will finally get us what we’ve been craving from the day we were born.
We don’t normally see this consciously, but our relationship choices are intended to get what we missed in our parents. It’s hard for us to see that.
The truth is complicated. It’s not as simple as saying that we choose a partner who can give us what we needed from our opposite-sex parent, but there’s an element of truth in that.
Sometimes our choices can recreate situations which will allow us to relive — and maybe fix — broken connections from the past. Sometimes our choices go the opposite direction, such as when we choose someone who’s intended to be the opposite of what we thought we had.
Either way, we’re allowing our old unmet needs to drive our choices.
Sometimes those choices lead us to simply repeat the dysfunctional patterns from the past. This is why we might choose partners who will reject us or abuse us or abandon us. We sometimes make choices that unconsciously set us up to test whether — this time — things might turn out differently.
In our romantic choices, we’re trying — and often failing — to find the connection which we somehow lost along the way. The worst part is that we never know whether the choices our hearts make bring us closer to the connection we crave or leave us destined to remain disconnected from what we need.
The only thing I can be sure about is that the heart makes decisions about what we want for its own reasons — and those decisions often make no sense to the conscious adult brain.
I came across something last night which I wasn’t looking for, but it’s something which suddenly filled every part of me with love and desire for a particular woman. It reminded me — in a vivid and visceral way — of why I fell in love with her. And even though it’s inconvenient to remember that — and to feel that way so strongly all over again — it causes me to fall in love with her all over again, as though the love is brand new once more.
My need for connection is powerful and it’s complicated. It’s colored by the loss of my mother at a very early age. It’s colored by my shifting understanding of who my narcissistic father was. It’s colored by needs which I felt as a child — needs which they couldn’t fill — which must be met before anything else in life is going to have meaning.
It took me many years to know enough about my mother — and enough about what I lost — to be able to mourn the lost connection.
It took many years to work through my changing understanding of what I missed from my father — and to mourn the loss of what I needed from him.
I still need the connection and attachment which didn’t develop in healthy ways when I was a small child. I still crave connection with my mother. I still crave genuine love and approval from my father.
But because both of them are dead — and neither was capable of giving me the connection I needed under their lives’ circumstances — I have to find my own connection.
And this is why I need the family which I crave. I need connection with a wife and with children. I need them to help me as I heal from the losses which I finally understand — and I need to give them the connection they need as well.
I can intellectualize so much of what I need in life, but it all comes back to a need I first felt as a young child — when I reached out for a woman who was no longer there when I needed her.