Kimberley D. Thompson, PhD examines some of the ways in which girls react to insecure attachment and learn patterns of behavior and ways of seeing themselves that may lead them to form damaging relationships and set them up for depression.
Emotionally healthy parenting is fundamental to how we all form relationships throughout life. The absence of a stable and nurturing relationship during the critical period of infancy and toddlerhood leads to deficits in many areas of life, especially in the area of social learning and the ability to form meaningful relationships with others (McKenzie, Purvis, & Cross, 2014).
Women with insecure attachment styles often develop a habitual way of stepping outside of themselves and, in the imagination, critically examining themselves from the perspectives of others. No life experience is completely entered into with abandon. Impression management becomes automatic, an overlearned response like riding a bicycle or signing her name. This way of self-perception from an external viewpoint develops very early and becomes a fundamental part of the self. It is associated with the development of poor coping behaviors within intimate relationships. It is also associated with depression (Thompson & Bendell, 2014).
We live in a society where treating women and girls as objects is very common. When a woman or girl is objectified, she is not viewed by the other person as a human being with opinions, a mind, feelings, a soul, or even human rights. She is an object to be used. This can be seen in the phenomena of pornography, sex trafficking, and sexually based entertainment, such as strip clubs and topless bars. It can also be seen in the obsession our society has with a woman’s external appearance and youthfulness, almost to the exclusion of any of her other attributes (Szymanski, Moffitt, & Carr, 2010).
We tend to accept treatment from others that is congruent with our beliefs about ourselves. Therefore, it may be that self-objectification sets women up to accept objectification from others. While there certainly are many women who find themselves in the position of being objectified without having done it to themselves first, if self-objectification is her deeply ingrained way of being, it will seem more natural for her to accept others treating her as an object (Riva, Gaudio, & Dakanalis, 2015). We attract and accept treatment that we believe we deserve (Evraire, Ludmer, & Dozois, 2014).
A pattern of intermittent or sporadic responding is one of the most powerful ways known to perpetuate a behavior. Effectively, if you are rewarded some, but not all, of the time, you will tend to try harder and harder until you do receive a response (Hogarth & Villeval, 2010). Anxiously attached girls are in relationship with others who intermittently respond to them, and so their preoccupation with getting other people’s love and attention is sporadically rewarded with success. This keeps hope alive and the preoccupation with relationships going. The ways that anxiously attached girls try harder and harder over the years to ensure that others are responsive to them becomes complex and deeply rooted in their ways of being in relationships.
An anxiously attached girl begins to habitually view herself from the perspective of important others, overdeveloping her abilities to monitor herself and to conform to what she thinks others expect (Cutting & Dunn, 2002; Vliegen & Luyten, 2008). To stay one step ahead of others, she tries to anticipate what they are thinking and feeling, and to tailor her behavior to get what she needs and wants from them. Her own perspective becomes much less important than what others think or feel about her (Tan & Carfagnini, 2008). She may concentrate on seeking absolute merger with others to the exclusion of all other aspects of life, an impossible quest that leads to depression as hope of its success fails (Aubé, 2007).
Understanding the enormous impact that early relationships wield can help to illuminate how these relationships either promote resilience or contribute to depression vulnerability. Recognizing and understanding the connections between childhood experiences and depression in adulthood may support recovery. It also enables new parents to make conscious choices about what path to take with the next generation.
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Cutting, A., & Dunn, J. (2002). The cost of understanding other people: Social cognition predicts young children’s sensitivity to criticism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(7), 849–860.
Evraire, L., Ludmer, J., & Dozois, A. (2014). The influence of priming attachment styles on excessive reassurance seeking and negative feedback seeking in depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(4), 295–318.
Hogarth, R., & Villeval, M. (2010). Intermittent reinforcement and the persistence of behavior: Experimental evidence. Lyon-St. Etienne, France: Groupe d’analyse et de theorie economique.
McKenzie, L., Purvis, K., & Cross, D. (2014). A trust-based home intervention for special needs adopted children: A case study. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 23(6), 633–651.
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Tan, J., & Carfagnini, B. (2008). Self-silencing, anger and depressive symptoms in women: Implications for prevention and intervention. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 35(2), 5–18.
Thompson, K., & Bendell, D. (2014). Depressive cognitions, maternal attitudes and postnatal depression. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 32(1), 70–82.
Vliegen, N., & Luyten, P. (2008). The role of dependency and self-criticism in the relationship between postpartum depression and anger. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(1), 34–40.
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