Adult Relationship Problems May Stem from Childhood Insecurities
> 2/14/2007 10:34:16 AM

Psychoanalysts have long argued that one's early childhood experiences color the nature of later relationships, but the newly published results of long-term studies seem to confirm a very direct relationship between these variables.

The study in question stretched over nearly a quarter century, carefully tracking 78 people from infancy into young adulthood. At various significant points in each individual's development, researchers used clinical experiments and the testimony of teachers, family and peers to gauge social competence and relationship habits regarding relationships. In one of the earliest testing sessions, doctors recorded the responses of infants briefly deprived of their mothers' company, noting how they behaved when their mothers returned. Of course, the group initially grew upset; most of the babies immediately turned to their returning mothers for comfort and quickly calmed down, where some could not be consoled even with attention and others did not approach their mothers at all. Results suggest that the babies who turned to their mothers and grew quiet had the strongest sense of emotionally support and were better socially adjusted than their peers.

In elementary school, researchers asked teachers how the children interacted with their peers and attempted to resolve classroom conflicts: did the kids display their anger in the form of disruptive behavior, or did they work together with the other children? As teenagers, the subjects underwent another round of testing intended to measure their methods of coping and their dependence on friends for assurance and emotional relief. The final interviews took place as the children became adults at ages 21 to 23, and these sessions focused on romantic relationships, with the subjects' partners participating independently by answering questions about the behavior of their significant others. In each of these periodic surveys, researchers found that those who responded positively to their mothers' presence in the first experiment were more likely to develop healthy relationships with peers, teachers and lovers. In the words of lead researcher and psychologist Jeffrey Simpson of the University of Minnesota:

"We find if you are insecure at age 1, that predicts being rated as being less socially competent than your peers during grades one-two-three, which predicts less reliance on your best same-sex friend when you are upset at 16, which then predicts more negative emotion in a romantic relationship at age 21 to 23."

On the other hand, researchers believe it entirely possible for individuals to overcome emotional deficits in infancy and maintain healthy, rewarding relationships later in life. Though early, negative experiences result in a greater likelihood of a negative social disposition, they hardly constitute an insurmountable obstacle. At any point in development, positive social experiences can work to counteract early negative. And contrary to popular mythology (particularly among Western men), reaching out to others for emotional reassurance at any age is not a sign of personal weakness but a healthy recognition of the supportive nature of successful relationships, whether they be between lovers, classmates or a parent and a child. Some doubt the accuracy of this study, considering the imprecise science of measuring one's emotional state and proposing a reasonable debate on how responsible a parent is for his or her child's early disposition. Some children, it can be argued, are simply better behaved and/or more reliant on loved ones. This may be due to internal wiring rather than real-world conditioning. But the study seems, at the very least, to point toward the conclusion that, once an emotional base has been established, these people become more successful individually and will ultimately be less likely to develop unhealthy attachments. Perhaps being a momma's boy is not so bad after all.

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