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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

What's in a Relationship?

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Trauma, or experiences of overwhelming stress, lead people to develop what can be really nasty beliefs about how they see the world and those that they experience the world with. These beliefs certainly don’t make it easy for us to experience safety inside of relationships. Even when we really want to. Even when we really want it to feel okay. Sometimes these beliefs that we unconsciously develop make it so that our brains and bodies can’t settle into relationships. With others, but also our own selves.

Often times, what looks like one human's pattern or behavior is really, for them, an entirely different experience than what it looks like on the outside. This is the person who feels downright alone all the time, so they’re in one relationship after another because actually be alone is terrifying. This is the person who never feels good enough, so they’re constantly spinning their wheels trying to be who or what they think the world wants them to be. This is the person who simply doesn’t know how to find their people, so they tuck themselves away entirely. These few examples provide a lens to consider the patterns of others through and if we take a look through that lens, it can become easier to be in relationship when the behaviors of other's seem to make that really hard.

A result of feeling "unsafe" in relationships and operating on negative core beliefs is quite commonly the development of insecure attachment. Insecure attachment, in short, is when the ability to healthily engage in relationship is contaminated by fear.This experience inside of relationship can result in many different experiences for a person, no matter the age.

Isolation- Self Reliance- Co-dependence- Role Confusion- Shame

So, what do we do?

In a quote, "the antidote to shame is relationship."

Insecure relationship patterns can only be healed inside of experiences of secure relationship.

The elements of a secure relationship:


A secure relationship first begins with our willingness to be in relationship with another. We are dedicated to go the distance. This must come with an understanding that progress is not linear and dedication includes commitment to riding the waves of progress and regression. There will be bumps. We know this, and show up anyway.


Acceptance must couple commitment, and can be one of the hardest parts of a relationship albeit, fundamental. Acceptance is the recognition that people's behaviors/reactions/patterns are a result of their experiences of overwhelming stress (trauma) and relationship/attachment insecurities.

Common thoughts about someone that is not indicative of acceptance:

  • “They’re just lazy”

  • “They just have a bad attitude”

In order to model secure attachment, we have to accept that it isn’t a matter of “not trying hard enough” as much as it is a matter of people learning to trust others and themselves.


Once the feeling of acceptance is there, Safety and Security can enter (physically and emotionally.) A caregiver must demonstrate a secure relationship.

A secure relationship can be defined by these qualities:

  • Predictability

  • Consistency

  • Reliability

  • Regulation

  • Empathy

  • Ability to set clear limits and establish boundaries

In short, I know what to expect and when to expect it. I know that you'll do what you say you'll do. I know where you start and where you end.


Repetitive experiences of Dedication, Acceptance, and Safety lead to a person’s ability to attune with us and develop a safe relationship.

Attunement can be described as: “focused attention of the caregiver where empathy and our ability to be fully present in the here and now provide experiences of trust, vulnerability, connection, and co-regulation where trauma can be transformed into manageable feelings and memories." As parents, caregivers, etc. we spend a lot of time offering advice, strategy, and insight. While well intentioned, these tendencies are useless without attunement.

Humans cannot successfully self-regulate until they have successfully learned to co-regulate

This can look like:

  • Active listening

  • Seeking to understand: asking questions to understand better

  • Nonverbal cues

  • Safe touch

  • Eye contact

These elements of relationship are a constant, recursive process, with new encounters and new experiences triggering relational wounds that encourage us as caregivers to navigate back through the process before we can attune.

  • Check that we are Dedicated

  • In a place of Acceptance

  • Providing safety

These elements provide a neurobiological foundation for creating and sustaining healthy relationship



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