- The smiling, confident child who looks back at his mother across the room for reassurance.
- The loving, working mother who pumps behind her locked office door and treasures breastfeeding for dinner with her little one.
- The grandmother, caregiver, or parent who seems to have a sixth sense when responding to cries, baby talk and behavior.
- The father who talks to the baby bump and who later rocks a baby sling – giving baby a snuggled. front-row view of life.
- The teenager who, while taking steps to form an identity, balances connection with “the ‘rents” and friends.
- The adult that regulates his or her emotions in a healthy way and forms positive, meaningful relationships.
Attachment is, on a small scale, the emotional glue within a relationship. On a larger scale, it is the global capacity to form relationships. In parent child relationships, attachment is a long-lasting, emotional bond that begins at birth (and even before). From the above, you’ve probably realized that attachment is something very familiar to you. It simply now has a name.
As we develop from birth, our attachment with our caregiver becomes the blueprint for future relationships and what comes with them (the capacity for empathy, intimacy, independence, etc.). Our very first relationship, the one we have with our parent(s), is hardwired into our brain as it develops.
Every human being functions somewhere on the spectrum of attachment. A secure attachment with a caregiver from an early age is typically a predictor of healthy relationships in the future. An insecure relationship with a caregiver may be linked to challenges forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Our attachment style provides us with a perspective of the world and others. It is how we love and how we bond.
There are multiple ways to reach a secure attachment. But, before we get carried away with the warm and fuzzy, it is crucial to understand the black-&-white.
Attachment is Instinctual and Natural
Let’s face it: as we’re getting more in touch – we’re losing touch. Today the world is more connected than ever – we stay in touch through the Internet and technology seems to make everything easier. What a glorious thing! Well, as technology takes over, our awesome, instinctual capabilities and drive take a backseat. Attachment is a return to our primal, simple ways of nurturing – lovingly hands-on and high touch. How did your grandparents raise their children? How were relationships formed and sustained without a cellphone? What did our ancestors do without formula, a stroller, etc? What about animals? They certainly know how to care for their young without “thinking.”
John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, believed studies completed by Darwin and other ethologists must apply in some way to human beings. I have a great admiration for Mr. Bowlby – he was revolutionary and relentless; spreading attachment theory despite decades of cold, harsh criticism. One idea he challenged was of infants only desiring mothers due to being conditioned and associating mothers with food.
We’ve come to realize, especially through Dr. Edward Tronick’s Still Face Experiment (watch below), that Bowlby was right – the relationship between parent and child runs deep.
Ethology gave Bowlby an explanation: …It’s not just a nice thing to have someone… cooing over you, snuggling you, and adoringly attending to your every need. It is a built-in necessity, and the baby’s efforts to obtain it, like the parents’ eagerness to give it, are biologically programmed. – Dr. Robert Karen
The desire and innate drive for connection is ongoing across the lifespan. We see attachment throughout life as we develop independence; we invest emotionally with family, we bond with peers, we have intimate relationships, and eventually transition a healthy attachment with our parents to a healthy attachment with a spouse.
Attachment is alive and at work in each of our lives. It is extremely important to understand attachment since it is the emotional glue and the substance that comprises any relationship. As it turns out, you’ve known the answer to “what is attachment” all along… and quite well, too.