Attachment and Relationships


Are you satisfied with your relationships, with your spouse, your parents, your children or your friends? Do you make friends with others easily, or do you fear forming a close bond with another? What was it like for you in childhood with your parents, other family members and friends? Would you like some answers as to why your relationships might not be as satisfying as you wish? Read on . . .

God created us with an inborn desire to attach to parents and others, because He desires that we attach to Him.  In Isaiah 43:1, it actually states:

“I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Do we believe God’s words? Why do we have difficulty forming the kind of relationships that bring us comfort and joy?  Here’s why:

Our connections begin in the womb.  Parents (husband and wife) who want children are thrilled when pregnancy occurs and begin to connect with their unborn child immediately. They talk to him, sing, pat Mother’s tummy and prepare for baby’s arrival.

The first four hours of life are designed by God for parents to bond with their baby and for baby to attach to Mom and Dad.  A baby put to Mother’s bare chest immediately has the privilege of looking eye to eye with perfect vision for 18 inches. He can hear Mother’s heartbeat, hear her voice, and Dad’s, feel their touch, and even drink the colostrum at her breast, which tastes like the amniotic fluid he has been drinking in the womb. In this ideal situation, baby’s attachment process has a powerful and loving beginning.

Should circumstances continue on this ideal level, the child can and will develop a SECURE attachment style. Not all of life’s circumstances are perfect, however. Illness, difficulties in the delivery room, loss or absence of a parent and other traumas can disrupt the ideal.

Here is an example of Ron’s experience. Ron’s parents had three children and had determined that three was enough to feed and clothe, but . . .  Mom discovered she was pregnant. She tried to abort the baby, without success. That having failed (Thank God!) she did her best to hide the pregnancy, especially from her angry husband. Ron was born in the attic of the house with no medical help. Birthing was at the end of month 10, and baby weighed 10½ pounds, creating a life-threatening situation for mother. She was taken to hospital immediately, leaving baby with his 9 year old sister. As a result of absent parents, he developed what Dr. John Bowlby identifies as an AVOIDANT Attachment Style – The Protected Self.

  • He was very distant from both parents, yet longed for the love and acceptance that his parents did not give.
  • He was angry!  Being poorly treated by parents only added to that anger.
  • He was sad and tried urgently to get their love and attention.
  • He lived in fear – fear of never being loved and never belonging.
  • He was a loner – frightened of relationships that would also hurt him.
  • He began to act out, doing things against the laws of parents and of the land.
  • He became addicted to alcohol to numb his emotional pain.
  • He ended up in prison for petty crimes he committed.

Those who have AVOIDANT attachment Styles do so because they were never bonded to by parents, and staying distant from people makes them feel safe. It makes them feel in charge of their connections. The addictions they develop are a part of their brain’s demand that they survive at all cost. All addictions are the result of the inability to or difficulty in attaching to primary caregivers.  Please note: Addictions can be overcome once the emotional pain causing them is healed/eliminated.

There are two more attachment styles – Ambivalent and Disorganized.

  • The AMBIVALENT Attachment Style is called The Fragile Self.
  • They answer questions about themselves in a negative tone.
  • They are afraid of loss, clingy, dependent, and indecisive.
  • They are performers, looking desperately for acceptance.
  • They feel that there is something wrong with them, preventing others from being desirous of relationship with them.
  • They struggle with fear, mostly fear of not being loved or admired.
  • They become people pleasers and tend to mold themselves to the expectations of parents, teachers, and others.
  • They have strong but vacillating emotions, which corrodes their sense of self.
  • They tend to place at least one person on a pedestal, praising and adoring them, while overlooking any of their negative traits.
  • They have difficulty asserting their own desires, beliefs, limits and opinions.
  •  They have an overpowering fear of rejection, so they cling to a parent or friend who they think would never reject them.

Have you identified yourself yet?  Let’s move on to the last of the Attachment Style, so that you can understand yourself and others.

The DISORGANIZED Attachment Style is The Shattered Self.

These individuals have been exposed to the toxic effects of child abuse, and are often so arrested in their emotional development, frozen in fear, and confused about their attachments, that they seem to be unable to grow in faith, hope and love. One who is emotionally arrested in development remains emotionally at the age that their wounding took place, even though in chronological years, they may be adult and functional.

The origin of the Disorganized Attachment Style:

  • Psychological neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse (incest and/or molestation)
  • Exposure to severe marital crisis
  • Exposure to addictive behaviors of parents or other close family members

People with the Disorganized style feel trapped in a chaotic world, one of rapidly shifting emotions, impulsive behaviors and muddled relationships. When the atmosphere at home was rough, with escalating anger and abuse, they learned to Dissociate – the ability to psychologically separate off from the conscious thoughts, feelings and even physical pain, and shift the experiences to some other part of the mind. This can become a habit in adult years.

As children they are a “broken self” and become adults who have difficulty controlling their emotions. They tend to view their parents as both the source of and the solution to their fears.

Research done by Bessel van der Kolk at Harvard University in 1994, showed that when trauma victims are reminded of their tragedy, the parts of the brain associated with intense emotions and visual images turn on, and become active. Simultaneously, the part of the brain associated with speech turns off. This is called speechless terror, the inability to tell the story of the horrific event.

When the brain is faced with extreme stress, it releases chemicals called endogenous opioids, which could be called the brain’s equivalent to heroin. These are God-given pain killers. One study showed that after viewing 15 minutes of a violent movie, the brain released the equivalent of 8 mg. of Morphine. Imagine then the addiction to chaos that ensues after a childhood filled with violence.

Perhaps you recall the experience in the U.S. known as the Waco Disaster. Dr. Bruce Perry, a Christian child psychiatrist was chosen to treat the children who survived that horrific event. He reported that as long as a year after the event, the children’s heartbeats were running very fast. Normal is 70-80. One girl’s was 160!  So not only was emotional damage done to these children, but physical damage as well.

So the question is: Are people hurt physically, emotionally and spiritually by the difficult experiences they endured in childhood?  Most definitely so!  But the greater question is, are they benefited and blessed by a loving, caring, spiritual two parent family? Absolutely!  They develop a SECURE Attachment Style, the same as God desires that we experience with Him. In that, we feel we can always count on Him to be with us and to answer us in times of need.

Take some time to think on what you have read, to honestly examine your attachment style and to re-connect with your Heavenly Father, with whom your connection can be not a theory, but an actual living, comforting, life-saving and vibrant connection.

References:
Bowlby, John (1982). Attachment, Basic Books,  New York, N.Y.
Perry, Bruce D. (2006) The Boy who Was Raised As A Dog, Basic Books, New York, N.Y.