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How do our earliest relationships affect our happiness in later life?

Evidence strongly suggests our earliest relationships form the foundations on which much of our later happiness in life relies. The loving bonds which mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and other close carers put energy into developing with us are crucial building blocks for the mind and body. As Sue Gerhardt writes in her book "Why Love Matters: how affection shapes a baby's brain", babies are born 'hardwired' to seek and receive love from those around them. When we grow up in a home environment where those closest to us are warm, attentive, and loving, brain circuitry usually develops which enables us to adequately regulate our inner emotions, including fear and sadness. Loving relationships with one or two significant close carers, often our mother or father, helps our brains and bodies to develop in such a way that we are able to form secure, healthy attachments not only with them, but also with other people throughout life as we continue to grow. If we are not provided with attuned care, systems in our brain responsible for anxiety, depression, or dissociation can become either 'overloaded' or understimulated which can lead to long-term problems in our sense of self-esteem, confidence, tendency to worry or feel sad, and our ability to make and keep friends, manage tensions at school and work, and even our ability to relax, sleep, and eat properly. All of these can impact our sense of wellbeing and how much happiness we can derive from life. Much recent research shows that therapy can help, over time, to actually rewire some of the 'faulty' brain circuitry which can have its origins in these earlier misattuned relationships. By forming another close, trusting, and safe bond with someone who is trained to work with an awareness of both you now, and you then, even if this is before you have specific 'memories' of events, a gradual healing process can become possible whereby, together, you notice and 'feel into' any difficulties, explore meanings, and find reassurance or sometimes also, acceptance, and with the therapist's support look towards finding improved ways of living your life. So, just as an earlier relationship may have in some ways harmed us, so do later relationships have the potential to heal us.

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