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Play is a vital component of healthy development, not only in childhood but throughout our lives. Renowned British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott recognized the importance of play in fostering emotional growth and cultivating healthy relationships. In this blog, we’ll explore how two classic playground games—double dutch jump rope and tug of war—can provide insights into healthy and unhealthy attachment dynamics in our relationships. While attachment theory can be complex and academic, these games offer a visceral and experiential way to understand the dynamics of connection and disconnection in our lives.

Double Dutch Jump Rope

When we watch children playing double dutch jump rope, we can see the power of healthy attachment relationships in action. Each person is centered in themselves, yet they are responding to the tension and rhythm of the ropes in a cooperative way. There isn’t a winner or loser—the point is for the people on opposite ends of the ropes to attune to each other through awareness of senses and sensations that communicate. They are listening to the sounds of the ropes, feeling the tension in the ropes, and responding to the movements of each other. In this way, they are building a sense of trust and connection with each other, without even realizing it. What’s also remarkable is that when someone makes a mistake and gets tangled up in the ropes, they just keep going. There is no judgment, blame, or punishment—they simply pick themselves up and continue on. This highlights the importance of forgiveness, resilience, and repair in healthy attachment relationships. Even when mistakes are made, the bond between the individuals remains strong, and they are able to continue jumping together in sync, with a sense of shared purpose and trust. It’s a powerful example of how healthy attachment relationships can feel.

Tug of War

In contrast to the healthy attachment dynamics demonstrated through double dutch jump rope, the game of tug of war can teach us a lot about unhealthy attachment patterns. Tug of war is a zero-sum game in which the goal is to win by overpowering the other team. The players are pitted against each other, rather than cooperating with each other. The game is also characterized by a sense of competition, and there is often a clear winner and loser. In contrast to double dutch, where mistakes are accepted and the focus is on continuing to work together, in tug of war, mistakes can lead to blame and shame, as individuals are often singled out for their mistakes. These dynamics can foster an unhealthy sense of mistrust, competition, and shame, which can be detrimental to building healthy attachment relationships. By contrast, in double dutch, mistakes are accepted and the focus is on cooperation and shared purpose, which can be a powerful way to build healthy attachment relationships.

When we find ourselves in unhealthy attachment dynamics in our relationships, we can use the tug of war game as a metaphor for understanding our options for responding to the other person’s pull. We can choose to pull back, to jerk the rope, to sit down for a lower sense of gravity, to let go of the rope gently, or to let go in a way that causes the other person to fall down. By experimenting with these different options, we can attune to the other person’s reactions and responses, even if the process may be painful. What’s important is that we have the sense that we have options for how we respond, instead of feeling trapped and at the other person’s mercy. By understanding the power dynamics at play, we can learn how to rebalance ourselves in a way that promotes healthier attachment relationships and helps us to build stronger connections with those around us. It’s a powerful way to take control of our own lives and relationships, even in the face of difficult dynamics.

In conclusion, the simple games of double dutch jump rope and tug of war offer profound insights into attachment dynamics in our relationships. By attuning to the energy and rhythm of these games, we can develop a greater understanding of the ways in which we connect and disconnect from others in our lives. By practicing these skills early on in our relationships, we can build stronger connections with those around us and foster healthier attachment dynamics. As Winnicott wrote, “It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” So let’s embrace the power of play and the insights it can offer into the complexity of human connection.

Reach Out to a Compassionate Outpatient Therapist

If you want to learn more about your attachment style, don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura Bruco, MSW. She can provide you with the guidance, tools, and resources you need to navigate and improve your relationships. Take the first step towards a healthier and happier life. Contact Laura today 206-705-3101.