Attachment and Adult Relationships

How the Attachment Bond Shapes Adult Relationships—

You were born pre-programmed to bond with one very significant person—your primary caretaker, probably your mother. Like all babies, you were a bundle of emotions—intensely experiencing fear, anger, sadness, and joy. 

The emotional attachment that grew between you and your caretaker was the first interactive relationship of your life, and it depended upon nonverbal communication. The bonding you experienced determined how you would relate to other human beings throughout your life, because it established the foundation for all verbal and nonverbal communication in your future interactions.

People who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional communications during their infancy often grow into grown-ups who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits their ability to build or maintain successful interactions. Attachment—the interaction between babies and their primary caretakers—is responsible for:

• the ability to rebound from disappointment, discouragement, and misfortune
• the ability to maintain emotional balance
• the ability to enjoy being ourselves and to find satisfaction in being with others
• shaping the success or failure of future intimate interactions

Scientific study of the brain—and the role attachment plays in shaping it—has given us a new basis for understanding why vast numbers of human beings have great difficulty communicating with the most important people in their work and love lives. Once, we could only use guesswork to try and determine why important interactions never evolved, developed chronic problems, or fell apart. Now, thanks to new insights into brain development, we can understand what it takes to help build and nurture productive and meaningful interactions at home and at work.

What is the attachment bond?

The mother–child bond is the primary force in infant development, according to the attachment bond theory pioneered by English psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth. The theory has gained strength through worldwide scientific studies and the use of brain imaging technology.

The attachment bond theory states that the interaction between babies and primary caretakers is responsible for:

• the ability to bounce back from misfortune
• strengthening or damaging our abilities to focus, be conscious of our feelings, and calm ourselves
• shaping all of our future relationships

Studies reveal the infant/adult interactions that result in a successful, secure attachment, where both people are aware of the other’s feelings and emotions. Studies also reveal troubled - or insecure attachment - in which the communication of feelings fails. Researchers found that successful adult interactions depend on the ability to:

• use communicative body language
• stay “tuned in” with emotions
• manage stress
• be readily forgiving, relinquishing grudges
• be playful in a mutually engaging manner

The same studies also found that an insecure attachment may be caused by abuse, but it is just as likely to be caused by isolation or loneliness.

These discoveries offer a new glimpse into successful love relationships, providing the keys to identifying and repairing a love relationship that is on the rocks.

The attachment bond shapes a baby’s brain—

For better or worse, the infant brain is profoundly influenced by the attachment bond—a baby’s first love relationship. When the primary caretaker can manage personal stress, calm the infant, communicate through emotion, share joy, and forgive easily, the young child’s nervous system becomes “securely attached.” The strong foundation of a secure attachment bond enables the youngster to be self-confident, trusting, hopeful, and comfortable in the face of conflict. As an adult, he or she will be flexible, creative, hopeful, and optimistic.

Our secure attachment bond shapes our abilities to:

• balance emotions
• create positive memories and expectations of relationships
• deal with stress
• develop meaningful connections with others
• experience comfort and security
• explore our world
• feel safe
• make sense of our lives

Attachment bonds are as unique as we are. Primary caretakers don’t have to be perfect. They do not have to always be in tune with their babies’ emotions, but it helps if they are emotionally available a majority of the time.

Insecure attachment affects adult relationships—

Insecurity can be a significant problem in our lives, and it takes root when a baby’s attachment bond fails to provide the youngster with sufficient structure, recognition, understanding, safety, and mutual accord. These insecurities may lead us to:

• Become disorganized, aggressive and angry—When our early needs for emotional closeness go unfulfilled, or when a parent's behavior is a source of disorienting terror, problems are sure to follow. As grown-ups, we may not love easily and may be insensitive to the needs of our partner.

• Develop slowly—Such delays manifest themselves as deficits and result in subsequent physical and mental health problems, and social and learning disabilities.

• Remain insecure—If we have a mom or dad who is inconsistent or intrusive, it’s likely we will become anxious and fearful, never knowing what to expect. As grown-ups, we may be available one moment and rejecting the next.

• Tune out and turn off—If our mom or dad is unavailable and self-absorbed, we may—as kids—get lost in our own inner world, avoiding any close, emotional connections. As grown-ups, we may become physically and emotionally distant in relationships.

Causes of insecure attachment—

Major causes of insecure attachments include:

• emotional neglect or emotional abuse—little attention paid to the youngster, little or no effort to understand the youngster’s feelings; verbal abuse
• frequent moves or placements— constantly changing environment; for example: kids who spend their early years in orphanages or who move from foster home to foster home
• inconsistency in primary caretaker—succession of nannies or staff at daycare centers
• maternal addiction to alcohol or other drugs—maternal responsiveness reduced by mind-altering substances
• maternal depression—withdrawal from maternal role due to isolation, lack of social support, hormonal problems
• physical neglect —poor nutrition, insufficient exercise, and neglect of medical issues
• physical or sexual abuse—physical injury or violation
• separation from primary caretaker—due to illness, death, divorce, adoption
• traumatic experiences— serious illnesses or accidents
• young or inexperienced mother—lacks parenting skills

The lessons of attachment help us heal adult relationships—

The powerful, life-altering lessons we learn from our attachment bond—our first love relationship—continue to teach us as grown-ups. The gut-level knowledge we gained then guides us in improving our adult interactions and making them secure.

Adult interactions depend for their success on nonverbal forms of communication. Newborn babies cannot talk, reason or plan, yet they are equipped to make sure their needs are met. Babies don’t know what they need, they feel what they need, and communicate accordingly. When a baby communicates with a caretaker who understands and meets their physical and emotional needs, something wonderful occurs.

Relationships in which the parties are tuned in to each other’s emotions are called attuned relationships, and attuned relationships teach us that:

• conflicts can build trust if we approach them without fear or a need to punish
• nonverbal cues deeply impact our love interactions
• play helps us smooth over the rough spots in love relationships

When we can recognize knee-jerk memories, expectations, attitudes, assumptions and behaviors as problems resulting from insecure attachment bonds, we can end their influence on our adult interactions. That recognition allows us to reconstruct the healthy nonverbal communication skills that produce an attuned attachment and successful interactions.

==> Parenting Defiant RAD Teens

Best comment:

Wow, I've been dealing with two kids of RAD for 13 years. It's affected their relationships so much that one is a ward of the state and in a foster home and the other is in a mental hospital in another state on the verge of spending the rest of the teen years in juvinille corrections. Thank you for the information. Wish I would have had it 13 years ago.

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