Sonya Thomas lcsw

Attachment 101 – Part 1

We are going to spend the next few blog posts exploring in depth a very important concept that impacts all of us.  Many therapist’s, myself included, look to Attachment Theory to help us understand what is going on with our clients when they come to us in distress related to an interpersonal relationship.  In my work with couples, the distress is usually hinged on how the primary relationship is being experienced by each partner.  So what is attachment theory, and why does it matter?  In this blog series, we will take a look at the basic definition of attachment theory, the different attachment styles, as well as the stages of development that we go through early on in life and how these stages get replicated or re-experienced in our adult primary relationships.  Looking through the lens of attachment theory, we can better understand why we respond the way we do when frustrated or disappointed, why we might struggle when our needs are not being fulfilled in the way we would like them to be, and why we engage in behaviors that have negative implications relationally.

Let’s start with a basic explanation of attachment theory:

Attachment Theory is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long-term interpersonal relationships between humans and how we respond within relationships when hurt, scared or feel abandoned.  Essentially, the way we attach depends on our ability to develop basic trust early on with our primary caregivers.   It is a given that the interactions between infant and attuned caregiver will be ruptured some of the time. But the hallmark of a sensitive caregiver is that the ruptures are managed and repaired, contributing to secure attachment.

Insecure attachments form between infants and caregivers when the caregiver is not sensitive, responsive or able to manage and repair the ruptures that occur early on.   There are many reasons why a caregiver may thwart secure attachment.  They may be depressed, overworked, overwhelmed, abusing drugs or alcohol, in an abusive relationship, weighed down with caring for too many children, or is insecurely attached themselves, making it hard to foster secure attachment with their baby.  This has important implications for later in life. Infants cannot leave unpredictable or insensitive caregiving relationships. Instead they must find a way to manage themselves as best they can within such relationships.  How do they do this and why does it matter to us, as adults?  Stay tuned.  In our next blog post, we will explore the different attachment styles that result from our early interactions with our primary caregivers.  Until then, peace.

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