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Creating a Secure Attachment

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

In practical terms, attachment style is our familiar strategies of relating with others and is intrinsically linked with how we see ourselves and the world around us. The two general attachment categories are secured and insecure. Rather than being ‘either/or’, as with many other contemporary views on categorizing when it comes to the human experience, attachments are now viewed as a spectrum. Attachment style can change over time, we can have different styles in our relationships, and it can change depending on the context and internal experience of the individual.

Research has shown that individuals with a more secure attachment history have a more cohesive sense of self, are more adept to identify and communicate their needs in effective ways, and are better able to cope and adapt to change. The figure(s) that we are securely attached to were described by Bowlby as a ‘secure heaven’ from which we can move away and explore the world, knowing that when needed we can return to that safe space. In contrast, individuals with insecure attachment histories (that have not been processed and repaired), have more difficulties maintaining a healthy sense of self and may vary in the degrees in which they approach other people and situations in anxious, avoidant, or ambivalent ways.

The primary relationships during the first years of life are remarkably important to shaping the brain and mind, forming a ‘prototype’ of relationships that will serve for future relationships across the lifespan. It brings to mind the preoccupation for parents and other caregivers, how do we foster a secure attachment? Gottman describes this as the “good enough” attachment. It is important to note that there is no way that we can perfectly serve the needs of another person. There is inevitably reality, we will all have moments of connections and disconnections.

Take for example babies and how they need others to care for their every need. Caregiving for another, independent of the age and context, can be exhausting. Caregivers often have to juggle different responsibilities such as household chores, personal hygiene, food prepping, work… Even without all that, knowing exactly why the baby is crying can be challenging! A key difference at the beginning of life is how caregivers respond to these demands. The characteristics of a good, secured attachment is a responsive, attuned, and nurturing caregiver. Dr. Dan Siegel, author of The Developing Mind, describes five paths of interactions necessary to create a secure attachment:

1. Collaborative Communication

This aspect refers to body language: eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, bodily gestures, as well as timing and intensity of responses between the caregiver and child. Resonance, feeling “felt” by another, supports the social, emotional, and cognitive development of the child fostering a coherent and autobiographical sense of self.

2. Reflective Dialogue

Even pet lovers do this with their fur babies, and I truly believe it helps deepen their sense of connection to them! Reflexive dialogue is when a caregiver verbally shares their perceived internal experience of the child as they try to make sense of the meanings of the signals they are sending. This also helps children learn to make sense of their own internal experience.

3. Repairs

Disruptions in a relationship are inevitable, the key to maintain our secure attachment is being able to repair such disruptions. Prolonged disconnection (such as neglect) can have significant negative effects on the emerging Self. Repairs help children make sense of the disruption and reestablish attuned communication.

4. Coherent Narratives

This reflects an autobiographical form of self-awareness. Being involved in the co-construction of narratives helps children understand what goes on in their own minds and others’. Interestingly, the parents' own narrative in relation to their own experience as children with their caregivers influences the quality of attachment with their children.

5. Emotional Communication

Ideal emotional communication is when both positive and negative emotional events and states are shared and accepted without abandonment. John Gottman discusses the importance of parents’ meta-emotion philosophy- the ways in which people feel about their emotions and their conceptions of how and when they should be expressed. How emotions are managed in the household, including the implicit and explicit messages we give to children about their emotional states and how we show up our own emotions greatly shape the relationships between caregiver and child, the child with themselves, and the child with the rest of the world.

Thaina Cordero is a Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology and Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology student at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She specializes in relationships, emotional regulation and sexual difficulties. Click here to request an appointment.

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