Attachment in Childhood & How it Affects You
Attachment is the quality of the emotional bond between the main caregivers and their baby (usually mum and dad in most cultures, but not always). It involves the parents responding appropriately and consistently to their baby’s emotional and physical needs.
Where the former is concerned, this can be in the form of responding to the baby during interactions. Say for example, when a baby makes a cute noise, mum will react by laughing or smiling, thus encouraging them to continue with a psychological game of tennis: a pattern of I respond to you and then you respond to me. It requires being alert for the signals that small non-verbal babies send to those caring for them that they are ready to interact.
Another aspect of attachment is when parents act as a mirror and reflect actions and emotions back at their child – an interaction which can start as early as two-weeks. Dad smiles at baby and baby smiles back; baby coos and dad coos also.
These interactions – called reciprocity and interactional synchrony by psychologists – are so natural that we may not realise the underlying significance both have to a child’s wellbeing.
Attachment: why is it important?
A good quality attachment means that the needs of the child are being met and this allows the child to do certain things. For instance, it allows babies to develop the confidence to leave their parent and explore their surroundings, seen in psychological studies whereby those with a secure attachment will happily play with toys when mum is on the other side of the room. They know that mum can be depended on to help if needed and this gives a feeling of security. Trust, therefore, is an essential element of this relationship.
It also thought that being soothed by mum/dad when distressed, regulates babies’ emotions and helps them to calm down. Furthermore, it acts to show babies that they can also learn to do this themselves when they are able to do so.
Not only this, but these early relationships have an enormous impact on the psychological development of children and influence them even as adults. A psychologist called Bowlby suggested that this impact will go on to shape and define all future relationships; that we all have an internal working model, established in our early years which effect we interact with others. So if you had a secure attachment to your parents, it’s likely that you’re able to trust others, have self-esteem which ensures you’re able to accept yourself despite your flaws and can both show and accept love from other people. Importantly, you will also go on to develop loving and secure relationships with your own children, thus ensuring another generation of secure attachments.
If you have difficulty with relationships however, it could be due to a particular attachment style you developed as a result of your bond (or lack of one) with your carers as a young child.
Many psychological studies have been conducted to investigate the psychological impact on children being separated from their parent and how they react to a stranger coming into their environment. It is thought that both of these test the quality of the attachment between child and caregiver.
These are children who develop strong bonds with their parents; whose needs are mostly responded to appropriately and as a result, are able to experience loving and secure relationships. The impact of these is far-reaching (remember that the early bonds act as a model for future ones). These children have better outcomes as adults: generally better mental health, higher levels of self-esteem, good-quality relationships and even more successful careers. If this is you, thank your parents the next time you see them – they have given you the gift of early emotional security. Thankfully, most children experience this type of attachment with their carers’.
These children avoid their parent(s) when they return after having been separated. This could be due to their needs being neglected and the child has learnt not to rely on their caregiver.
As an adult, if you have this particular style, you may avoid intimate relationships, telling yourself that you are too ‘independent’ or that others cannot be trusted. If you do have a partner, you may come across as being emotionally distant or even cold.
Fearful-avoidant / Disorganised Attachment
Children with this type of attachment style show a mixture of responses when separated from their caregiver. They may have confused behaviours and act disorientated when their parent returns and may resist or avoid a reunion. This could result from inconsistent parenting which means that the child sees them both as comforting and untrustworthy.
Children with this type may grow up with contradictory emotions around relationships; both really wanting intimacy and at the same time, wanting to avoid it. If this is you, it could also mean that your behaviour is confusing – one minute you really love your partner; the next, you’re pushing them away.
These children become distressed when they are separated from their parent(s) and may not respond to being comforted when they are upset.
As adults, people with this type of attachment style have a fear of being abandoned, thus leading to feelings of insecurity in relationships. You may have experienced this yourself or know people who have been ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’. If this sounds like you, you may need regular reassurance from your loved-ones and have a constant worry that your partner is going to leave you.
Attachment Issues: How Cognitive Hypnotherapy can Help
If you suspect you have one of the insecure attachment styles outlined above and it’s impacting on your mental health and relationships, it’s never too late to do something about it. Putting the work in now means you can educate yourself about some of your behaviours and feelings/thoughts and make real changes will which allow you to start having a better relationship with yourself and other people. It can also start the process of disrupting the generational patterns that exist within families.
Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help you to:
- Re-form any damaging or limiting beliefs stemming from early attachments. Helping you move from ‘I am worthless’ or ‘I am unlovable’ for example, to ‘I am important’ and ‘I am lovable’. Learning to value yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do and will have so many far-reaching consequences in every area of your life.
- Help re-form your narrative of one from struggles and victimisation to one of resilience and strength. Changing your personal story will re-frame how you see yourself and again, can impact on your thoughts and behaviour.
- Regulate emotions such as anger, anxiety and even feeling ‘stuck’. These are understandable responses to how your unconscious protects you but they also hold people back.
Everyone is unique, therefore the approach your Cognitive Hypnotherapist uses will depend on this uniqueness. If you do have any of the issues outlined above, remember what I’ve already said: it’s never too late to do something about it. It’s almost like learning to parent yourself and doing the emotional work that wasn’t done for you as a child.
This article originally appeared in Hypnotherapy Directory and can be read here: https://www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/attachment-in-childhood-and-how-it-affects-you