It promotes confidence, independence, resiliency, and compassion; and has been deemed one of the greatest predictors of happiness in family and romantic relationships. It is secure attachment. So, what is it and how do we get it? Pioneered by Dr. John Bowlby in the 1950’s, attachment research tells us that starting in the womb, we have an inherent need for connection. Not a desire, not a hope, but a survival need. (If you need convincing check out Harry Harlow’s experiments with Rhesus monkeys). When caregivers can provide emotional attunement, and be consistently available to their children, little ones develop a sense of security and safety. Knowing they have a solid base to return to and a model for healthy connection, children can confidently explore the world and feel comfortable with intimacy. This is ideal. However, when parents for example have an inconsistent response to their children (sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not) or even worse are distant and unresponsive, children can develop what is called an anxious or avoidant attachment style. Unfortunately, these learned and experienced patterns don’t just end with childhood. In the book “Attached,” Dr. Amir Levine, MD and psychologist Rachel Heller, MA describe styles of adult attachment that mirror our early experiences: “Anxious people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back” while “Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.” The good news, is while these less helpful patterns start so young, we do have the ability to develop more secure patterns at any age. In the context of psychotherapy, clients can not only understand their own attachment style and how it may be showing up in their life, but develop a reliable, secure base with their therapist to have a new experience that can foster change.
Julia Dillon, MA is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at The Place Within Folsom and works with adolescents and adults. She has an upcoming group for helping parents and teens improve their relationships with one another. For more information or to set up an appointment with Julia call The Place Within Folsom: (916) 799-1644.
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