By: Miriam Yerushalmi
Many people have questions about the process called Bonding, which is considered to be an essential element of parenting. Bonding is a process of developing emotional closeness, which can begin at the moment of birth and continue throughout the lifetime of a parent and child. But if parent and child did not bond at birth or infancy, can bonding still occur at any point in the relationship? Does this process ever end?
Questions people have asked me about Bonding:
1) I am finding it difficult to bond with my child. I think this is because my mother was never really there for me. Can I ever heal from the neglect I suffered so that I can bond with my own child?
Trauma in childhood can definitely take an emotional toll on the adult you become. This may manifest in having difficulty bonding with others, especially with your children, and even more particularly with children who are generally challenging.
I recall very clearly the time an 80-year-old woman cried to me about how her mother never loved her and the regret she herself felt since she had never addressed the difficulties she had faced in bonding with her own daughter.
Take the steps now to heal your heart from childhood trauma in order to prevent your children from suffering as you did.
We are all born with the capacity to love.
Childhood experiences can negatively affect our psyche—but not our soul. We have been gifted with an unlimited reservoir of holy energies with which to overcome the obstacles and challenges that G-d sends our way. Our deep faith can help us come to terms with the challenges of our past and prepare us for the challenges we may face in the future. We can work on being more at peace with the fact that our limited intellect cannot fathom the infinite intellect of the Almighty. With this awareness and deep faith in G-d’s ways, you can take negative experiences of the past and build them into stepping stones by which to reach your potential. Through the squeezing of an olive, fine virgin olive oil is produced; similarly, the challenges in our life can be the triggers which bring us to a more elevated state of being.
A person whose mother did not bond with her can be even more motivated to take the steps necessary to bond with her own child. It is likely that after taking these steps, she may even be able to reach a much greater level of bonding to compensate for what was lacking in her developmental background.
The heart of a person who suffered such a lack of compassion from the important adults in her life may be more sensitive to this situation, and consequently, all the more compassionate towards those around her than someone who never experienced such a lack.
2) After I had my child, I was severely depressed but scared to get help. My child is now one year old, and we have not bonded as I would have liked to. What can I do now? Is it too late to reverse the effects on my child?
It's never too late. Never. One can always go the extra mile and give even more time and affection to her child. Try your best to stop dwelling on the negative. Try to cleanse your mind of guilty, fearful thoughts.
First and foremost, release yourself from the bondage of the past. Tell yourself you did the best you could with the tools that G-d gave you at the time. Remind yourself that when you were a child, your caregivers also did the best they could for you with the tools they had.
Forgive them, and forgive yourself.
Accept the fact that this particular child was meant to go through that particular experience for that particular period of time—and for reasons beyond your grasp. Every time a negative thought comes in, try your best to switch it to a more positive thought. Say to yourself, “Thank G-d that at this point, I am more aware and more enlightened. Even though I seemed to be less capable than I would have wished to be during that period of time, it is the past. I choose to live in the now.”
Initially, this will not be easy, because even when we eventually accept this intellectually, we may not be emotionally able to believe it. But you can’t lose hope. With time, it will be easier to let go of the past.
If need be, you may find it helpful to work on this in depth with a trained therapist.
Finally, take action. Make every extra effort to bond with your child through eye contact; hold and caress or massage him; spend more time on the floor, closer to his level, with play activities. Bath time should be as long as necessary for your child, and should be conducted in a very calm and loving manner (try not to use frenetic energy, giving your child the sense that you are hurrying to get to the next task at hand).
Mealtimes are also wonderful opportunities to bond with your child through little games or songs or stories as they eat. Try to make more eye contact with your child whenever you speak to him. Speak often of your love for your child, to your child.
Consider joining a “Mommy and Me” class or a similar activity-focused gathering of mothers and children. These are very helpful as they familiarize you with new ways to bond with your child, but at the same time, allow you to relate as an adult to other adults. You might also consider family therapy, where the therapist can see you interact with your child and guide you to additional ways of increasing your mutual bond.
3) Unfortunately, my marriage has not been an easy one. We are getting help and things are improving slowly, b”H, but there are still occasional rocky moments. What can I do to safeguard my children from the times my husband is upset with me, and therefore, isn’t as loving or bonding with our children as he could be?
Definitely try your best to manage those “rocky” moments by diminishing the episode as soon as possible: you apologize first, and take the steps to bond with your husband, even though you may be feeling disappointed or frustrated with him.
Spend a little extra time bonding with your children to compensate for the time they would normally be getting with their father.
Reassure them that they should not take it personally; that it is not because of anything they did or did not do, but that there's a life circumstance right now making their father more aloof. You can tell them that he is extra stressed from work (or lack of it) at the moment or that he is having a hard time with something, and that now is a good time for them to show him some extra understanding.
Then give them similar examples from their own lives: “Do you remember when you had that big test, and your friends were trying to reach you to study? Do you remember when your cousins wanted to invite you to come over, and you didn’t want to answer their phone calls because you were really stressed out? Well, imagine how Daddy is feeling right now with these demanding issues stealing his peace of mind.” Ask the children to supply more examples from their own lives.
4) Is it possible for me to bond with myself, if throughout my childhood, I received only negative input? How do I rid myself of this deep-seated imprint in my psyche? It feels like I have a toxic roommate in my head, 24/7, who is always on top of me, trying to belittle me into believing I am a loser.
It is definitely possible to develop a positive emotional bond with yourself even though you may have been conditioned into feeling like a loser by repeated bombardment of negative feedback.
Perhaps your parents were habitually critical, which led to your developing a constant internal monologue of seemingly endless faultfinding.
At any point, an adult can have perceptions of herself that are neither objective nor rational.
The faculty of imagination runs wild in one’s present life, associating and connecting current events and experiences to totally unrelated events and experiences from the past. And one can be completely convinced of these mistaken associations, thinking, “Who knows my failures better than me? Who knows what I have not been able to accomplish yet better than me? Who knows the opportunities I have missed and the chances I have messed up better than me?”
The cycle of negativity can continue endlessly, festering until the soul bleeds.
The goal is to rid yourself of these old tapes and recondition your brain to think more in line with the true G-dly goodness with which every person is endowed.
The goal is to get into the habit of catching yourself when the negative, demeaning thoughts appear, pushing them away as if with two hands and contradicting them with positive thoughts about yourself, as if to embrace yourself with a beautiful, warm regard.
Basically, you need to train yourself to be a virtue-finder, and to rid yourself of the irrational, distorted self-image that was based on a faulty perception of reality. In child psychology, there is a concept called the “feedback loop”, and in situations like these, you should do a feedback loop to yourself.
Let me explain:
Give yourself feedback that matches the emotional pain you have experienced.
For example, someone just ignored you and feelings of past rejection start to surface.
Say to yourself, “I am human and not a robot. I feel the sting.”
Do not be too quick to sweep it away.
Validate and support yourself while the old hurts are surfacing.
Embrace the moment.
Then say to yourself, “I can choose to release the pain now. I am free to choose to release it.”
As you do, feel triumphant; it's a freeing moment.
Eventually, a person can reach a beautiful, quiet, peaceful destination within, where there are no limits to how accepting and content you can feel about yourself, where you can truly feel secure in your sense of self-worth and a complete, majestic sense of self-love. True bonding with yourself has been achieved, and now you can truly bond with others.
Remind yourself often that this is a training process. Like any training program—whether you are training to ride a bicycle or to become a surgeon—it will take time and effort.
Research shows that the brain has neuroplasticity, and that with consistent effort, a person can create new patterns of thought and action for themselves. The human brain can be trained out of dysfunction, e.g., if someone’s circuits are going haywire from trauma, with time and effort, they can be trained to react normally again.
I have been helping people with this process for many years, and I see that retraining is possible and effective.
So try your best to be patient with the process, and you will, with G-d’s help, see results.
holds an MS in Psychology and Family Therapy. She was trained at Pepperdine University and is uniquely skilled at combining behavioral and humanistic approaches to address a wide spectrum of issues. Additionally, Miriam has authored the highly acclaimed book series, “Reaching New Heights” on marriage, and on prayer and meditation, which is endorsed by Dr. Avraham Twersky, and “Heavenly Waters: Mikvah Messages for Our Daily Lives”. She has also authored many children books. Over 200 of her free classes are available online at Torahanytime.com and on her YouTube channel. Check out her meditation video on bonding with your inner child here. Miriam can be reached at Miriamyerushalmi18@gmail.com.