Over the years, research has shown that there is a connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with our parents. The basic idea is that early on in our lives, we develop an attachment to our primary caregivers. The type of attachment we develop is based on several things, including our temperament, our environment, and how our primary caregivers respond (or not) to our needs.
Internal Working Model
As we develop this attachment relationship with our primary caregivers, we also develop a template in our mind for how relationships tend to work. Psychologists call this template an “internal working model.” This template forms our expectations for how other people will engage with us in future relationships.
Relationship with God as a Special Case
Our relationship with God is an interesting type relationship. Certainly, we can talk and pray to God, and many people believe that God responds to them as well. But our beliefs and expectations tend to influence how we perceive and understand God engaging with us. We bring a lot to the relationship table, so to speak.
Parallel Attachment Styles
Research has found that there is a close connection between one’s attachment with their primary caregivers and their attachment with God. For example, if your parents were distant and struggled to meet your needs growing up, you are likely to view God in a similar way. If your parents were cruel and punitive with you, you might perceive God to be harsh and punishing as well. And, if your parents were kind and loving toward you, you are likely to perceive God as kind and loving also.
Projecting Our Parents on to God
If we notice parallels between our thoughts about God and how we view our primary caregivers, it’s wise to be cautious. We may not have an accurate view of God—we might be projecting our experiences with our parents on to God. It might be important to check our view of God with other sources that we trust, such as Scripture or a religious leader.
Counteracting a Negative Attachment with Parents
There’s another piece of this research that is a bit more hopeful. Some studies found that people were able to use their relationship with God to “counteract” a difficult attachment with their parents. In other words, individuals who had a challenging attachment with their parents (e.g., maybe their parents were distant or harsh) could develop a secure attachment with God and use that attachment as a “home base” of sorts for the other relationships in their lives.
Can you see any correspondence between the attachment style you had with your primary caregivers, and how you think about God?
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