"The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration." (Perl S. Buck)
Perl S. Buck has written these wise words long before research has confirmed that without good relationships we will not grasp completely who we are, we will struggle with mental problems such as depression or anxiety, and we might even get physically ill.
Human beings rely on significant relationships for all aspects of functioning and growing. Infants need the mother for regulating body temperature, breathing pattern, digestive system, and emotional states. Infants can’t do it by themselves and are totally dependant on the mother to do it for them. Indeed, without parents the infant would die. When parents are caring and attuned to the child, its brain can develop structures that allow the growing child to integrate emotions, sensations, behaviours, and thoughts into ‘neural networks’ enabling the child to cope with stimulation and arousal that comes with engaging with the world.
Thus good enough relationships are the building blocks of one’s sense of self and one’s personality. They are so important for human beings that the need for attachments and attachment seeking behaviours between is thought to be hardwired in our brains as nature’s way of assuring the survival of the species.
While the infant is unable to regulate his/her states without the parent’s help, adults can do that – if they had good enough parenting – to a large extend themselves. Having said that, we never quite manage to regulate our states completely by ourselves. We always need ‘the other’ in some form for state regulation. Even the most independent person can not get on without anybody relating caringly to him/her. This links to the 2nd paragraph above and explains why often, when in a long-time marriage one partner passes away, the other follows soon after. It’s almost as if the body, used to the partner’s ability to regulate, goes into shock.
We need relationships to be happy, well, and stay alive!