Failure To Bond

Everyone has an underlying fear of being alone—that is part of what it means to be human. But why do we not ever talk about the fear of being known for too long…until we’re discovered and exposed? What about our fear of being interrupted—of “inconvenient” relationships that distract us from tasks or achievements? 

It is commonly portrayed as normal to be afraid of loneliness in modern movies and TV shows. It is considered selfish and arrogant to be afraid of intimate friendships or relationships. So many people suffer from the fear of being discovered. What we do not often realize is that this disconnection is rooted in early childhood, failure to bond. 

These two extremes are often perpetuated in a person’s early years. In certain households, children feel isolated from their caretakers, and they overcompensate by either becoming overly fearful and clingy, or avoiding intimacy altogether. In other cases, children grow up with feelings of isolation from neighbors or the outside world, which results in the same set of problems. Neither of these cases are biblical, since God intended for humans to be in community with—and dependent on—one another. It is okay to have needs. 

A common lie that some Christian and non-Christian communities believe is that too much exposure to other people is not “godly.” Isolating yourself is discipline; allowing “bad influences” into your life by relating to non-Christians, or “not like-minded” Christians is (apparently) sinning. This is not true and it is not the example that Jesus left for us. We are not meant to be alone and people are not inconvenient obstructions on your path to success. 

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13, NIV). 

Of course, we are all sinners. We all need God to lead us into healthy relationships with each other or we miss out on the compassion and “mercy” that Jesus is referring to. He does not want our sacrifices if they interfere with the relationships that he has placed in our lives.  

In his book, “Changes That Heal,” Dr. Henry Cloud asserts that some of the most prevalent symptoms of the failure to bond include addiction, fantasy relationships, and excessive caretaking. These symptoms are not always addressed since excessive caretaking can wear the façade of selflessness, fantasies are not often confessed, and addiction appears to be a simple case of greed. 

Discovering the root of our vices and why we turn to them for comfort is essential in our recovery process. Trying to replace people with food, drugs, imagined scenarios or exhaustion from excessive caretaking will only leave us more empty in the end. Testing our hearts’ motives and confessing them to God (Lamentations 2:19, NIV) and trustworthy people (James 5:16, NIV) is one of the first steps to recovery from our fears of loneliness and vulnerability/exposure. 

Those who long for real relationships throughout childhood were often abused or neglected as infants, according to Dr. Henry Cloud and Psychology Today. Babies, whose needs were not met, grew up believing that their needs did not deserve to be acknowledged. The adults that they grow into often wear a tough exterior and do everything within their power to maintain their reputation as self-sufficient loners. On the other side of the spectrum, some children who felt ignored or mistreated believe that they deserved it and they focus their attention on caring for others so that those people will do the same for them. Unfortunately, when their needs are not met, despite their attention to others’ needs, anger issues and lashing out often arises. 

The common barriers to bonding that many people face result in disordered thinking. Some of the most common lies we believe are: “My need for others is not valid,” “My feelings will overwhelm anyone,” and, “God only wants good Christians.” In 2 Corinthians 7:6-7 (NIV), Paul says, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.”

Who are the “downcast” that the Bible speaks of? They are the needy, and the broken-hearted. 

“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Psalm 140:12, NIV).

God not only provides for the high-maintenance downers of the world, but he brings them comfort through his people. 

When we read of the first sins in the Garden of Eden, the Genesis story appears to be one of despair. We have not realized the hope behind this story. God redeemed us because he knew that the human heart could not withstand isolation. When he commanded that man should not eat of the tree of life and live forever, it was out of his love for us. If man had lived forever with their souls cut off from God, it would have, literally, been hell on earth, without the possibility of redemption (Genesis 3:22, NIV). He preserved the seed of humanity despite their ancestors’ sins. 

Without God, there is no good, and without his people, we are alone. 

“Man was not meant to be alone” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). 

people riding on bikes during sunset Via Everton Vila on Unsplash

Cloud, H., & Cloud, H. (2003). Changes that heal: how to understand your past to ensure a healthier future. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub.