How Attachment Affects Us

“The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind.” -Bessel van der Kolk

Before proceeding, the purpose of this blog is to provide information on how attachment influences us. It is not meant to shame or blame parents for the occasional lapses in attunement, communication, understanding, and patience. I would like to note that:

  • I believe that we are doing the best we can, with the resources that currently we have, at the given time.
  • Parenting is challenging. It is even more difficult, when we are struggling with our own trauma, anxiety, and depression.
  • By recognising how we relate and respond to the external world, initiates the first step of our own healing, our attachment injury. We possess the ability to end the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Blueprint for future relationships.

How we relate, respond, and view others in adulthood stems from our relationships and interactions with our primary caregivers. As infants, we instinctively relied upon and attached to our caregivers to survive. Aside from meeting our basic physiological needs, we longed for emotional connection and attunement from our caregivers. We wanted to be soothed and reassured when we were in distress. We desired their love, warm embrace, and acceptance.

Secure attachment.

  • Secure attachment develops when our caregivers are consistently responsive, warm, and attuned to our emotional needs.
  • Consequently, we gain the belief (that follows us into adulthood) that people are accessible, trustworthy, loving, and reliable while possessing the ability to reciprocate love and affection (Nosko, Tieu, Lawford & Pratt, 2011).
  • Secure attachment eliminates our insecurities, anxiety, and isolation while offering us an optimistic view on relationships (Nosko et al., 2011).

Avoidant/dismissive attachment.

In contrast to the secure attachment style, the avoidant/dismissive attachment style stems from withdrawn, rejecting, and insensitive caregivers (Nosko, et al., 2011).

  • When our caregivers are emotionally withdrawn, distant, and insensitive to our needs, the belief that people are unreliable or untrustworthy becomes engrained.
  • Ultimately, we learn to depend on ourselves.
  • When we become distressed, we do not seek outward support; instead, we retreat and self-soothe.
  • We are often worried about people getting too close, so we distance ourselves or become emotionally unavailable when things get too serious (Nosko et al., 2011).

Van der Kolk (2014) explained when we have an avoidant attachment style:

  • We detach from our emotions.
  • We do not like being vulnerable or too close to others.
  • We prefer relationships in proximity.
  • We prefer focusing on ourselves and disregard other’s feelings.
  • We shut down and prefer keeping to ourselves.
  • We behave like nothing is bothering us.

Anxious/ambivalent attachment.

The anxious/ambivalent attachment style stems from our caregivers’ inconsistent responses to our needs.

  • These responses are polarised, from affectionate, nurturing, and attuned to insensitive and unavailable.
  • As a result, we become confused, distrustful, and insecure because we don’t know how our caregivers will respond.
  • Through trial and error, we learn that the best way to get our needs met is to cling to our caregivers.

The following are common traits of anxious/ambivalent attachment style:

  • We constantly seek approval and validation from others.
  • We put other’s needs before our own.
  • We cling in relationships.
  • We become easily insecure.
  • We possess an intense fear of being abandoned or rejected.
  • We often feel resentful and angry when we do not receive the attention and recognition we desire.
  • We have low self-esteem and possess the belief that we are defective.

Disorganised attachment

Disorganised attachment style develops when our caregiver, our source of safety, also becomes our source of fear. When this happens, Van der Kolk (2014) explained, we lack an internal sense of safety to the point that we cannot differentiate between safe and dangerous.

  • During childhood, we indiscriminately offer affection to strangers and, at the same time, struggle with trusting others.
  • We are fearful of others and view them as unpredictable.
  • Although we crave connection, we avoid commitment.
  • Living in such extreme conditions, we numb ourselves and later engage in thrill-seeking and dangerous activities and situations to feel something.

Additionally, we develop negative core beliefs about ourselves to explain why we are treated so poorly by our caregivers:

  • I am unlovable.
  • I am defective.
  • I am unworthy.
  • I deserved to be treated that way.
  • I don’t deserve love.
  • I only deserve bad things.
  • I am insignificant.

When we internalised these negative core beliefs about ourselves, we set ourselves up to become victims of the perpetual cycle of trauma.

References

Nosko, A., Tieu, T., Lawford, H., & Pratt, M. W. (2011). How do I love thee? let me count the ways: Parenting during adolescence, attachment styles, and romantic narratives in emerging adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 47(3), 645-657. doi:10.1037/a0021814

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.

Photo by Parizan Studio on Unsplash

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