Attachment 101: What's Love Got To Do With It?
Updated: Jan 7, 2019
Have you ever felt like you've been dating the same--but different--person over and over again? Do you ever wonder why your relationships all seem to end in the same way? Maybe you've heard people say that we are all looking to find someone just like our mother or father? This, is attachment.
Do you wonder why some people seem better able to handle stressful experiences with less emotional distress? Why some people seem to "bounce back" from adversity? This too is related to attachment.
If you're a parent, have you ever been curious as to where and how you've come up with your parenting choices? Whether you're a cry-it-out or an attachment parent--or somewhere in between? Ever think about the traditions you pass on to your own children--what foods we eat, how we conceive of and respond to death, what kind of spirituality we share, how we talk (or don't talk) about sex. All this too, is attachment.
And it all starts with an infant and their caretaker.
From birth (and maybe even earlier) an infant's brain is growing based upon the baby's experiences. See my post on Neuroscience for more information! When parents are available and "tuned in" to baby, baby feels a warm mix of hormones, think Oxytocin, our body's natural opiate, and baby is soothed, content. Baby is able to feel distress (it's inevitable!) and can easily return to a state of balance. With numerous of these kinds of attuned responses,as baby grows, they learn that they are valuable and that the world is a safe, nurturing place.
If parents can't be attuned to the baby for whatever reason (post-partum depression/anxiety, trauma, grief, their own attachment issues, etc.), or if an infant is born with a challenging temperament, babies may not be easily soothed--they may continue to feel distressed and tight in their bodies, and have difficulty returning to a balance. These babies may cope with ongoing mis-attuned reactions and the resulting distress in one of two ways: either by focusing on gaining the caregiver's attention above all else, or by becoming overly independent.
Interactions between baby and caregiver are being recorded in the baby's brain, embedded in baby's body, are shaping baby's sense of self and ultimately creating an unconscious map for relationships throughout our lives. Children develop a "secure attachment" when they learn to expect their needs to be met, and can easily return to balance after distress. Children may develop an "insecure attachment" if their physical, physiological and/or emotional needs aren't consistently met, leaving them to maladaptively cope by focusing on the caregiver above all else or by becoming overly independent.
Disclaimer: Parents--It's not as scary as it sounds!
Learning about attachment can be scary for parents, making it seem as if we are not perfectly and consistently "attuned" to our children, that they will end up with distressful memories, a negative experience of themselves and will be doomed for failed, painful relationships for life. This is not the case!
Here's the good news: Parenting is a series of mis-attunements! We can't all get it "right" every time. In fact, we shouldn't want to. Because growth happens in the mis-attunements--in the repairing of mis-attunements! Modeling re-connection with your children is a relational skill that will carry them in their own personal relationships throughout their lives!
For more information about parenting and attachment styles, I highly recommend Dan Siegel's book: Parenting From the Inside Out. It's a great read!
The Often Overlooked, Yet Powerful Temperament
Dialogue on attachment often leaves out the very real and relevant Temperament. Babies are not "blank slates" by which they learn everything through through their caregivers and environment. Rather, they come with their own inborn temperament--the beginnings of personality. It's important to know that not all children by nature are not "easily soothed" no matter how attuned you are. So take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders. Be persistent with unconditional love. And learn more. I recommend: The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Stock Kranowitz; Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and Understanding the Anxious Mind (free) by Robin Marantz Henig.
How Early Life Attachment Impacts Adult Relationships
Remember, through the messiness of childhood and parenting, that: Interactions between a child and their caregiver are recorded in the child's brain, embedded in child's body, have shaped the child's sense of self and have ultimately created an unconscious map for our adult relationships.
Maybe we had wonderfully attuned parents, we felt soothed and safe, and we have intimate, fulfilling adult relationships. Maybe we had to be overly independent, maybe our caretakers were (sometimes necessarily) focused on their own "stuff", so we had to "grow up fast". And now, as adults, perhaps it's hard for us to really be intimate, to trust another person, to depend on someone. Or maybe we desperately longed for our caretaker's attention, and as adults, we are preoccupied with the other person, whoever that may be. Maybe we believe that if we give up ourselves, our own needs, they will love us. Maybe if we can "fix" them, they will attend to us. Maybe we have a hard time loving ourselves, because we never felt loved. Perhaps we don't "see" ourselves, because we never felt "seen".
The Good News for Everyone!
A secure attachment through attuned, consistent parental responses nurtures a resiliency deep within ourselves that supports caring intimate relationships, carries us through distress and guides our own best parenting. But even if we haven't had such a response from our caregivers, or if we've experienced trauma that has challenged our sense of security, we can heal, and our attachment styles can change!
Creating Space Counseling and Wellness offers a safe and trusted therapeutic relationship, from which you can truly transform your life!
Call today to schedule an appointment! 856-281-1664