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The importance of Attachment

Attachment refers to the relationship between an infant and its primary caregiver (usually the mother). This relationship is designed to help the infants immature brain use the mature functions of the parent’s brain to organise its own processes. During the first three years of life attachment is the primary focus of brain development. This is when the foundation is laid in the psyche for optimism, trust, dependency, empathy, and development of conscience. These attachment processes are dependent on the availability of one loving, consistent, warm, and encouraging caregiver.

Attachment ‘patterns’ are embedded in implicit memory and directly influence a person’s relationships throughout their lifespan. In effect, when people say, “I don’t know why I married someone just like my mother”, this is why. Infant attachment patterns are related to emotional regulation, autobiographical memory, social relatedness, self-reflection, cognitive, language, neurological and physical development, and narrative (Kamptner, n.d.). Attachment forms the biological and emotional template for all future relationships, that is; how worthy of love, care, and attention from others we are, how trustworthy others are, how to relate to others, and what to expect in close relationships.

Research has proven “beyond irrefutability” that attachment patterns stabilise in our neural circuitry by 12-18 months of age. They are stable and unconscious before we have any conscious choice in the matter and unless new experiences change them, will remain stable “rules” of relating well into adulthood. (Graham, 2010)

Attachment affects the infant brain in every way. From the ability to relate to others, the ability to manage stress, the physiological response to danger or deprivation and the ability to regulate our own emotions throughout life. When experience is chaotic, inconsistent, or unpredictable, the brain reflects this chaos resulting in disorganised and dysfunctional neural systems and functional capabilities (Perry, 2001). When a mother is unresponsive or expressionless, the child will attempt to engage the mother. If this fails, the infant will become distressed within two minutes. (Benjamin, 2011)

“The extent to which children experience or fail to experience parental acceptance and rejection may have a greater influence on them than any other single experience. Parental acceptance and rejection have been shown in the United States and in cross cultural research, to affect the emotional, behavioural and social cognitive development of children as well as their psychological functioning and well being as adults.” (Ronal P.RohnerPh.D University of Connecticut)

There are four styles of infant attachment: secure, avoidant, ambivalent/anxious, and disorganised. Approximately 60-65% of all children have a secure attachment. If a child suffers trauma or abuse, they will form an insecure attachment. Those with insecure attachment styles (especially Disorganised) are at higher risk of symptoms such as: hyperactive behaviours, acting out, conduct disorders, aggression, disruptive behaviours, “oppositional” behaviours, dissociation, substance abuse, self-mutilation, re-abuse and being abusive, eating disorders, depression, suicide, teen pregnancy, socio-pathology, and personality disorders.(Kamptner, n.d)

Re-parenting in a healthy balanced environment will lead to development and strengthening of ego states, ‘Adult’ in particular, leading in turn to developing an ‘earned secure attachment’.

(More about the particular Attachment Styles will be posted in the next blog)

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