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How Do We Make Sense of and Integrate the Past? Part 3

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

In the last two posts, I've been focusing on different approaches to integrating our past with our present. I told my own story of learning to trust the presence of Jesus in my present, which led me into integrating my past. And yesterday, I explored an Internal Family Systems interpretation of integrating past and present.

Today, let's explore this from an attachment approach.

According to attachment theory, children need to form secure bonds with caregivers in their first few years of life. When this happens successfully, kids grow up with three core beliefs about themselves and about the world. These embodied beliefs shape the nervous system and provide a foundation for understanding themselves and their place in the world. They build identity.

Secure Attachment

The three beliefs about themselves are:

1) I am safe.

2) I belong to a group of people.

3) I matter - meaning that my actions have consequences - both good and bad.

The three beliefs about he world are:

1) suffering is temporary.

2) People are there for me and will help me.

3) I have influence / agency over my environment.

Insecure Attachment

If kids grow up insecurely attached to their caregivers, any one or all three of these beliefs about self and the world can become distorted. Instead, the beliefs might become:

1) I am not safe and I don't have any confidence that this suffering will ever end.

2) I don't belong anywhere and I'm not sure that anyone cares about me or is there for me.

3) I am insignificant and am helpless to change anything.

These distorted beliefs become reality. They are the water we swim in. They affect everything about how we see the world, how we make decisions, how we approach relationships, and how we view ourselves. Most of us struggle with at least one of these distortions, if not all of them. And these beliefs are a result of our early relationships in our families.

In this way, our past very much determines our present. As long as we struggle to feel safe, accepted, and significant, our past dominates our ability to move safely, confidently, and powerfully in our present.

So What Do We Do About It?

In order to integrate the past into our present, we must find new attachment relationships that provide safety, belonging, and significance. We got to this place of insecurity through being in relationship with people, and the only way to re-write these beliefs is to be in healthy relationships that help us learn to tell a different story.

Which leads us straight to God. Because no human can always make you feel safe, always make you feel like you belong, and always make you feel like you matter. The only completely reliable, consistent, unconditionally accepting, and completely empowering person in all the world is the person of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, present to us by the person of the Holy Spirit.

Building Secure Attachment

When we work to create secure attachment bonds with God, that secure relationships can give us the safe haven and the secure harbor that we so desperately need in order to find our way in this world. The safe haven is the unconditionally safe place we can return to be soothed and comforted and loved. The secure harbor is the place we sail away from as we risk new attachments with healthy humans and do the thing we're made to do in the world. We can always return to harbor and refresh our provisions and rest before setting out again.

Secure attachment with God can lead to deep healing of past attachment wounds, integrating the past and the present for a free and hopeful future.


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