When our children were young, attachment parenting was a big hype… but it didn’t really explain what attachment was. I turned an ignorant (even judgemental) eye towards these attachment parents, thinking they were a part of a cult. Unfortunately it also lead me to turn away from the very science that attachment spoke to. The important thing here is to make a clear distinction between attachment parenting and the actual Science of Attachment. Below is a brief summary of this science.
The word attachment was founded in the 60s and 70s by the Bowlby and Ainsworth experiments and research emerging out of post WW2 British orphanages. Ainsworth created the “Strange Situation” where babies began to show very distinct responses to their mother when they were left alone with a stranger and when the mother returned. One group showed a secure response, of crying when their mother left the room, and then being easily soothed by their mother when she returned. Another showed an anxious response to both the mother leaving and returning, failing to be soothed by their mother. Another group showed a dismissive response, with no crying when the mother left and no response when the mother returned. And the final group showed a disorganised response, with crying when the mother left, but sought soothing from the “stranger” in the room instead of the mother when she returned. Even more distressing to witness was the babies bizarre behaviour when in the presence of the mother, such as fear and freezing, not knowing to move toward the mother or away, pulling at hair or dazing off into the distance.
These patterns of response don’t end with the parental relationship. They make a permanent impression or imprint on the child’s nervous system. This sets up the child’s nervous system reactivity (or under-reactivity), and later the personality in adulthood. Attachment of the child in the first year of life has shown to be the strongest predictor of dissociative symptoms in adults at age 19.
As social beings, our complex brain and body connection has evolved over millions of years to thrive in co-operation and collaboration with one another. A secure attachment with caregivers gives us the essential start to life. Survivors of poor attachment have repeatedly shown early mortality rates and complex health problems. Attachment has been now researched to be an even more powerful predictor to behaviour and physical outcomes than inherited genetic predictors.
Attachment counts. Without it, we resign to a lifetime of failure.
Now all that sounds devastating, but there is good news for those who have experienced insecure attachment. The brain is mouldable and capable of lasting change.
The first step to change is knowing what type of attachment style you now have as an adult. This style is likely to be the style of attachment that your parents experienced with you as a baby. If you are lucky, you might even have access to information about how exactly your parents responded to you. This will inform the history of what happened to your nervous system as a child, as it came into contact with it’s most powerful influencers. A good quiz is found here: https://quiz.attachmentproject.com/
The second step is understanding how that attachment style has shaped you now as a human being, namely, your responses to other humans. And because the brain is beautifully complex, we of course have different responses to different people.
The third step is to take action towards secure attachment. What does a securely attachmed person do? What are their behaviours? How do they respond to threat or relationships? What is their nervous system doing?
Many of these things on the list might trigger you, or feel like an allergy to act out. That is the sign that there is work and change to be made. Valuing life is to value secure attachment.