We develop our earliest sense of self and of other, and our sense of safety through what is called “attachment,” to our primary caretakers. When there is an absence of secure sense of safety at these early times individuals develop with attachment difficulties. This is a difficulty to connect and attach and form consistent healthy relationships. Or even to feel safe in the world. Healing can happen and we can grow new neural pathways that help us sense safety within and without.
― Daniel J. Siegel
What is Attachment?
Within the first few years of life, depending on the way that we relate to our early caregivers and the sense of safety we feel, patterns develop that determine how we relate to others.
This begins even before we take our very first breath. Our prenatal environment directly influences how we grow and develop. The actual structure and function of our brain and nervous system is shaped by our earliest interactions with our environment. These are unconscious patterns—they were created without our knowledge and continue to operate in our daily lives under the radar.
There are four classifications of attachment styles that organize how we perceive and act in the world: Secure, Avoidant/Dismissive, Anxious/Preoccupied, and Disorganized insecurity.
Someone with a Secure attachment has attuned relationships with their caregivers, feel protected and safe and confident in their exploration of the world around them.
Those with an Avoidant/Dismissive attachment style develops a relationship with their emotions that is characterized by ignoring and disregarding them. They often have difficulty expressing their deeper emotional needs.
Those who are organized by an Anxious/Preoccupied attachment have difficulty calming down. They often fear loss or abandonment, and act according to those fears.
The final category from the research is called disorganized insecurity. As opposed to the other three styles of relating to others, this kind of insecurity does not operate by a clear set of rules. Most often, those that fall into this classification have experienced loss and trauma, and above all, an unreliable or even frightening caregiver.
How We Cope
As infants, we are dependent on our caregivers to meet all of our needs: food, drink, shelter, and just as important, touch. When our caregivers respond to our cries and meet our needs, we learn to feel safe in the world and develop a positive expectation that we will be cared for.
When our caregiver is not present for us, emotionally unavailable or even abusive, the opposite becomes true for us. We develop negative expectations of others and the world. We learn that we cannot expect our cries to be heard, and this becomes a lifelong way of relating to the world.
Whatever the reason for the misattunement—instances of trauma, hospitalizations, early separation, neglect, parental substance abuse—these can have a lasting effect on our ability to form secure attachments.
This early relationship is responsible for our later capacity to self-regulate and achieve a sense of safety and security in relationships with others and with ourselves.
Therapy Can Help
At Trauma and Beyond Psychological Center ® we are specially equipped with the knowledge necessary to help you better understand your attachment patterns. Our trauma-informed and holistically-minded clinicians have advanced training in attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology.
We use attachment and relational therapies for clients who experienced a traumatic rupture in their attachment bonds to rebuild and develop more secure connections. In relational therapy, the goal is to develop new conceptions and ideas about relationships, and to build a strong bond with your therapist. Then, you can use both those new ideas and the therapeutic bond as a model to create healthier, longer-lasting relationships with others.
Our relational therapists are understanding and nonjudgmental as the success of relational therapy is highly dependent on the client’s ability to form a personal bond with the therapist. In the creation of a therapeutic connection that is attuned with your most primal attachment needs, you can experience healing where there was once pain.
If you suffer from anxiety, have difficulty forming emotional bonds with others, have limited experience of positive emotions, or have difficulty with physical or emotional intimacy or boundaries, therapists trained in attachment and relational therapy might help you.
Would I benefit from learning more about attachment?
- Do you find it hard to trust others, or believe that they have good intentions behind their actions?
- Do you find yourself dependent upon the opinions of others?
- Are you afraid that if you don’t align yourself with others’ that they will leave or abandon you?
- Do you feel out of touch with yourself, your needs and desires?
- Is it hard for you to open up or ask your partner or other loved ones to meet your needs?
- Do you believe that others are generally unreliable and you can only count on yourself?
- Were your parents unavailable to you when you were young? Do you remember thinking, if I don’t take care of myself, no one is going to do it for me?
- Was there an early experience in your childhood that you often think back on that shaped who you are today?
- Did your parents or caregivers have a problematic relationship with alcohol or drugs? Do you see yourself falling into the same pattern?
- Were you involved in the child welfare system, have frequent visits from DCF, or live with a foster family for a while?
- Do you constantly have difficulty in romantic relationships?
- Do you hope to break a pattern of relationships that started in your family so that you’re children and you have healthier connections?