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The 4 S's that Define Your Relationships

The 4 S's that define your relationships

Have you ever wondered why you gravitate to certain people and others repel you? Do you find it difficult to let go and love with all your heart? Is it hard for you to make close friends? Or do you love easily? Do you give with all your heart without worrying about what’s next? Who we choose to love and how deep we go in that relationship begins when we come out of the womb.

The 4 S's

The safe attachments, or non-attachments, in our home shape how we behave in relationships and the type of people we choose to be involved with during our lives. In Daniel Siegel’s book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, he says that at the core of healthy “attachment relationships” are the 4 “S’s” of human need: The need to be seen, soothed and safe which = security.

He goes on to say that when “non-attachment relationships” occur with a parent, that child will do what she needs to survive and find someone else to satisfy her needs. So, that could mean she will seek out the other parent or another caregiver. At the same time, she'll make note that the non-attached parent is not serving her basic needs, so she might use that non-attachment survival instinct in other relationships to protect herself.

The Brain Only Wants to Survive

Here’s the thing. Our brain is designed to help us survive: Fight, flight or freeze. When we were in the wild that part of our brain, the amygdala, served us well. We knew instinctively to run from the bear! But in today’s world, that survival instinct could be preventing us from developing meaningful relationships. If we don’t feel secure in a core relationship, we seek out ways to protect ourselves. Sometimes it induces negative behavior that might feel right in the short term to the person, but doesn’t serve them in the long term.

For example, as an adolescent we might behave in ways to get attention, because we lacked it earlier on from our caregiver/s. That behavior could get us kicked out of class, sent to the Principal or even worse, not “just say no” to drugs or alcohol so we could fit in with the crowd. We are desperate to be seen, soothed, safe and secure in the arms of our peers.

Those peer relationships are critical to a teenagers survival, because of his innate need to leave the nest. It’s part of our basic human development. Cubs have to leave the den in order to survive in the world. The acceptance by our peers is vital to taking us through the next phase of our lives.

Ask “What Happened?”

Attention all teachers, parents, youth leaders and anyone serving our youth! The next time you see a child acting out in a negative way, take a conscious, mindful breath and ask yourself, “What happened to that child?” This one breath will give you pause, help to soften your reaction and instead foster a meaningful response filled with empathy and care. That doesn’t mean some form of restorative discipline isn’t required. But, you might consider first trying to make a deeper connection with the student to understand him and where he’s truly coming from. If you can make him feel seen, soothed, safe and secure he might change his behavior.

Mom vs Dad

Learning the 4 S’s has opened up my eyes to my own behavior in relationships and that of others as well. My mom and I had a very close relationship as a child and continues until this day. She is my best friend. As a child, she provided my need to be seen, soothed and safe more so than my dad who was always working at his career as a Physical Education teacher by day and a Square Dance caller by night and weekends (more on that later!).

Mom and I spent so much time together that when I went off to kindergarten I cried every day, because I missed her so much. That lasted for a couple of years because I hated leaving her so much. In fact, she would often have to come to school to get me, because I couldn’t stop crying. My brother sometimes would even be removed from his class to sit and comfort me. (Side note: He resented me for that because his crappy teacher made fun of him for it. What a jerk!)

As I got older, and to this day, I had no trouble creating deep, meaningful connections and friendships with women. Men, not so much. In my teens and 20’s, I often sought out the attention of older men that led to inappropriate advances from them and years of shame for me. As for the otherwise “healthy” relationships with age-appropriate men - those tended to end after only a few short months when it started getting too serious. I finally did get married, and I guess it all worked out because we’ve been married for 27 years!

Understanding Dad

The 4 S’s has helped me understand my dad’s obsession with his work as a Square Dance Caller, the main passion of his life besides my mom. You see his mother died when he was only 14 from a sudden heart attack. His father remarried soon after to a woman who had 5 kids. Abandoned by his mother’s death and disconnected from his own father, Dad didn’t feel seen, soothed, safe or secure.

Eventually he became a Phys Ed teacher, despite his father’s wish for him to be doctor, and added Square Dance calling at night and weekends to help pay the bills for his family. His work as a Square Dance Caller put him on stage in front of thousands of people who adored him and respected his work. He became known as “The King” of Square Dancing. He was seen, soothed, safe and secure by his adoring fans and his wife, my precious mom, always by his side. She replaced the mom he lost so very young and has achieved the greatest feat of all - a 63 year marriage to a woman he adores a little more each day he’s on this earth.

Self-Awareness Leads to Change

So why is it important to understand our behavior? Self-awareness is the key to change. Knowledge is power. Knowing that you know is what mindfulness does for us. Mindful practices such as Yoga, meditation and conscious breathing, help us become aware of our thoughts and feelings as an observer. They enable us to see ourselves for who we truly are without getting caught up in the emotional state these thoughts and feelings foster bringing on behavior that causes stress and toxicity in our lives.

When I practice mindfulness these days the loss I felt from my dad’s absence in my childhood is now replaced with respect and love for the hard-working, beautiful man that he is. I encourage you to get a copy of Dan Siegel’s book and answer the questions for yourself in chapter 3. Take your time. It will open up windows into your life about your own relationship behaviors. Once you understand that, you can change your own behavior and be more empathetic to those around you and especially the children you serve throughout your life.

Join us for our upcoming Mindfulness for Teens Teacher Training. Click here for details.

Phyllis Smith doing yoga pose

Phyllis Smith is Co-Founder and CEO of Live Free Yoga.

Her company specializes in mindfulness programs for adolescents and teens and those who serve them.

If you would like to learn more about Live Free Yoga programs, email Phyllis at or call 214-497-7982.,

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