Attachment theory was developed in the 1950’s by John Bowlby (1907-1990), an English psychologist and psychoanalyst, who had an interest in child development that came out of his own experiences as a child of his time. Although the theory is well established in psychology, it’s only recently that we have begun to understand the far-reaching effects of adverse childhood events on adult functioning.
Attachment is the fundamental bond that develops between infants and caregivers. It is necessary for wellbeing throughout life. Some of the consequences of children not having the environment that would result in a secure attachment are:
· Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
· Lack of self-control
· Relationship difficulties
· Aggression and violence
· Lack of empathy, compassion and remorse
So, attachment is a profound and continuing bond that is created between the child and caregiver together, in a reciprocal relationship, in the first few years of life. The quality of the bond influences every area of experience as humans: mind, body, emotions, relationships and morals.
The purpose of attaching to a protective and loving caregiver is to provide security, safety and support. It is a basic mammalian need, which has an adaptive, evolutionary function. If mammals didn’t attach to their caregivers, they wouldn’t survive – simple as that. So, attachment is instinctive. It happens naturally – babies instinctively seek the safety of a ‘secure base’, and parents instinctively protect and nurture their offspring. Attachment meets physiological, emotional, cognitive and social needs. This instinct to attach produces certain behaviours in both the baby and caregiver which are triggered by cues in each member of the dyad. Attachment therefore is not something that the caregiver does to the child. It is a ‘mutual regulatory system’, in which each affects the other over a period of time.
The primary developmental task of the first year of life is to create a secure attachment between the infant and the caregiver. In order for this emotional, communicative bond to develop, the caregiver has to be biologically and psychologically attuned to the needs, and to the emotional and mental state of the child. What has also been found is that although attunement is important, it’s not necessary to have this 100% of the time. Mis-attunement between the caregiver and child only result in difficulties when the mis-attunement fails to be repaired. Mis-attunement, followed by repair, can be advantageous to the child in the development of resilience.
Secure attachment, as well as providing safety and protection to the vulnerable infant, also provides the child with various abilities that are vital throughout life.
· To learn trust and reciprocity as a basis for future relationships.
· To feel safe and secure enough to explore the world, to enable social and cognitive development.
· To be able to self-soothe and self-regulate, which helps manage impulsiveness and emotions.
· To build a sense of self and identity that is confident, competent, has self-worth, and is able to be interdependent.
· To have empathy, compassion and a conscience which allows for healthy social interaction.
· To develop a core belief system that encompasses the ability to reflect on self, others, and life in general and to appraise the effect of self on others, and vice-versa.
· To develop resilience and resourcefulness which helps defend against stress and trauma.
So, the development of a secure attachment in childhood, in effect, ‘immunises’ us to the stresses of life, and provides us with resources that give us resilience to cope with the difficulties that life throws at us.
About the Author: Maggi
Maggi lives in a rural location in Lanarkshire with her German Shepherd, Solas. She enjoys nature, reading, dog training and sometimes having a duvet day cuddled up on the couch with Solas, enjoying chocolate (not for Solas though!)