Deborah J Vinall, LMFT license # 45229
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What is the significance of attachment?

Attachment begins in vitro, is strongly shaped in the first years of life, and continues to affect one's thoughts, feelings, and relationships throughout the lifespan. Attachment refers initially to the security or strength of one's relationship with his or her primary caregiver, and the nature of that relationship is later projected onto and into every subsequent relationship and situation in life. Primary attachments may be characterized as:
  • secure, wherein the individual feels safe and confident that love and acceptance are readily available
  • anxious or insecure, wherein there lies more doubt as to the reliability of others, or
  • ambivalent, which tends to occur when one experiences contradictory experiences of love and instability (trauma, abuse, violence, anger).

Secure attachment may be fostered in one's children through consistent response and contact, tending without unreasonable delay to the child's needs, and appropriate touch. Attachment Parenting International (API) outlines 8 principles that lead to success in fostering this most important of bonds. In our busy, independence-oriented society, it is important to realize and remember that the developmental task of the first two years is the development of trust, out of which the development of independence naturally flows (developmental task of years 2-4, as outlined by psychologist Erik Erikson). Pushing independence too early does not create the secure self needed for one to become a confident individual.

Attachment trauma is a significant risk for the adopted child, with the circumstances and timing of an adoption taking important mitigating roles. Adoptive parents and parents reintegrating a biological child into their family following a foster care disruption can take steps to improve the facilitation of development or restoration of secure attachment. Adult adoptees (as well as other adults) experiencing relationship difficulties may benefit from examining their own current attachment style, considering the impacts of their childhood experiences, and working through experiential and cognitive methods to realign their actions and interactions to a more secure model, which operates out of a sense of personal power rather than fear or insecurity.

Trauma can disrupt a secure or developing attachment and derail positive experiences toward an anxious or ambivalent view of the world. The earlier the onset of trauma, the more deeply ingrained attachment disruption may be, unless the trauma is dealt with quickly, allowing a restoration to a secure model. This may result in a distorted and negative self concept, fearfulness, a sense of isolation or lack of deep intimacy with others, and inability to cope with life's stressors, among other symptoms.

Whether you are seeking to change the patterns of your own upbringing to create a secure attachment with and for your child, assist an adoptive child in forging secure attachments in a new family, alter your interactive relationship patterns as an adult, or overcome traumas that have altered your view of the world as a safe place, it is important to surround yourself with supportive and caring people that you can connect with and trust. This also applies in your choice of a therapist, as the therapeutic relationship should create a secure attachment relationship experience that can serve as a springboard to helping you as you apply changes to your personal life.