Psychoanalyzing the college experience: Better understanding your relationships


Our teenage years and early 20s are marked by immense socialization. After building up an entire social network throughout four years of high school, we are suddenly plopped onto a college campus and forced to start all over. 

This experience truly puts those hometown relationships to the test. Are you willing to go long-distance? Are you willing to make the effort to stay in touch?

During freshman year, we are bombarded with new friend-making opportunities. 

Having an understanding of your own identity is necessary when seeking out people you truly mesh with. Do you gravitate toward people who remind you of your friends from home? Has your own identity changed, leading you to want something different? 

It’s interesting to think that while the process of making friends freshman year feels so organic, you must make active decisions to forge your social path.

Throughout the years, some friends come and others go. We expand our business network, learn to spend most of the year away from our families and navigate relationships with significant others. 

These relationships consume so much of our time and energy at this stage of life. Think about how much time you spend hanging out with or thinking about your friends, family and love interests. 

Hopefully, we spend a large sum of time reflecting on these relationships. If there’s anything I’ve taken away from my college experience, it’s the importance of understanding how and why we interact with others the way we do.

Interestingly, the nature of our relationships and social behavior is largely impacted by our early childhood, a time in our life so distant we hardly remember it.

I personally look for cause and reason behind everything, and I look at relationships the same way. The way we act in relationships, including the way we treat others and the way we expect to be treated in return, is heavily influenced by our attachment styles.

Attachment style is a psychological phenomenon that refers to our relationships with our primary caregiver as a baby. This relationship between parent and child is the first relationship we experience in life. Through our caregiver, we learn whether or not we should have trust in the world.

Attachment styles can be either secure or insecure. 

Secure attachment styles are most common, characterized by the ability to comfortably express emotions and rely on others. Securely attached individuals tend to thrive in relationships. This is because their expectations for relationships in the world were set by healthy relationships with their parents.

In terms of insecure attachment, there are three styles: anxious, avoidant and disorganized. They all result from a parent-child relationship in which the children’s physical and emotional needs aren’t met. Each one is caused by a variation of this problem and, in turn, leads to different outcomes regarding adult relationships.

Anxiously attached individuals may feel afraid of being alone, have a negative self-image and constantly seek approval, support and responsiveness from others. 

Avoidantly attached individuals are more likely to be independent and self-sufficient, often referred to as “lone wolves.” Even so, they often avoid emotional closeness and conceal their feelings. 

Disorganized attached individuals find relationships to be both sources of desire and fear. As much as they may want to feel close to others, they have trouble trusting and depending on them.

People throw around the terms “daddy issues” and “mommy issues,” but in truth, these parent-child relationships are very telling of a person’s ability to form healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. 

This is not to say that your life is over if you have an insecure attachment style. There is so much time to understand your own emotional tendencies and work through them. 

While no one is doomed, it still helps to understand yourself on a more subconscious level. It can even be beneficial to look at your loved ones through this lens as well. 

As humans, we are biologically wired social beings. We have a dire need to belong and want to run in packs. 

This concept is evident by the prevalence of Greek life at colleges. People may satisfy their need of acceptance and belonging by joining a sorority, fraternity, sports team or club. 

This is the time in our lives where it is especially important to build our social capital. That social connectivity gives back to us in so many ways, making us feel fulfilled, accepted and understood. 

I encourage you to take a deeper look into all of the relationships that are important to you right now. Do you face recurring issues in those relationships? Do your friends lift you up? Do they make you a better version of yourself? 

If you have any doubts, it never hurts to branch out. By senior year, it won’t matter as much if you graduate with 50 surface-level friends, it’s the close ties that really matter. Nourish those relationships and allow yourself to grow within them. 

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