Yes, No, Maybe
Stefanie Stahl is a German psychologist and was born in Hamburg, Germany, where she grew up. She studied psychology at the German University of Trier. Since 1993 she has had her own practice in Trier, where she works as a psychotherapist and gives seminars in the German speaking area. Stefanie Stahl is the German psychological expert on commitment phobia. She is a bestseller author of advice literature on subjects such as partnership, (re-)building self-esteem, and commitment phobia.
Yes, No, Maybe
II. Causes of fear of commitment
In the vast majority of cases, the causes of fear of commitment go back to the sufferer's early childhood. From the start of our lives, attachment plays a vital role. We enter this world attached to an umbilical cord and are then detached. Attachment and detachment are recurring themes throughout our lifespan.
An infant is totally dependent on the care and affection of its closest attachment figures. If they do not care for the child, it dies. In most cases it is the mother who assumes the main responsibility in the first years of life. However, the father, grandmother or another attachment figure can also play this role. It does not matter who does the caring as long as somebody does it. Most children grow up with several attachment figures taking care of them, or at least with a father and a mother. I will refer to the mother because it is too linguistically clumsy to keep mentioning, for the sake of gender equality, that the father or another attachment figure can provide the same services to the child. This should be taken for granted in the following remarks.
The role of the mother
Whether or not we are capable of commitment in our later lives depends to a great degree on our relationship with our mother during the first years of life. It depends on whether our brain associates attachment in earliest childhood with feelings of "security, warmth and protection," or with "abandonment, loneliness and fear." Since the first two to three years of life fall victim to infant amnesia and we are unable to recall them, our experience during that period is normally not accessible to our conscious mind. Consequently the unconscious plays a very large role as a powerful instrument of control in commitment phobia. A small baby is wholly dependent on its mother. In the first months of life it does not even know that it and its mother are two separate beings. The infant is totally governed by its needs and feelings. Its emotional life consists of sensations of pleasure and displeasure. Feelings of displeasure can result from hunger, thirst, cold, heat and physical complaints. The infant cannot deal with too much displeasure by itself. The feeling of displeasure triggers severe stress and the child begins to cry. The mother's job is to stop the stress if possible, to calm the child, to feed it, warm it and comfort it. Along with the need to have its displeasure alleviated, the infant also has a congenital need for social contact and human affection, so the mother's job is not just to relieve the stress of displeasure but also to impart in the child the feeling of wellbeing that results from human affection and attention. In the first year of life the child learns increasingly to control its motor skills, to grasp more firmly, to turn from its back onto its stomach. It learns to crawl, and toward the end of its first year it takes its first steps. Increasingly, therefore, the child can control its desire for affection and food itself, by reaching for its mother or its bottle, crawling towards its mother, or turning away from or toward her. If all goes well, mother and child become attuned to one another. The mother understands her child's signals better and better and reacts to them. The child learns that it is understood and that it can influence the satisfaction of its needs. It learns from experience that it can actively provoke the reaction it wants from its mother. That includes not only its wish for affection, but also for independence. The better the child can move, the more it wants to explore its surroundings independently. Important as it is to satisfy the child's hunger for affection, it is equally important to let go and allow it to explore the world. A mother's ability to empathise with her child's needs is a fundamental prerequisite for enabling the child to establish a stable bond with the mother.