Attachment Theory was introduced by psychiatrist, John Bowlby’s who writing in 1940’s identified 4 patterns of attachment a child can have with the mother which would influence people’s relationships later in life.The different forms of attachment he identified were labelled Secure, Ambivalent, Avoidant and Disorganised
In the case of a secure attachment, this would result from a healthy bond between mother and child, which enables the child to have secure attachment to other significant others when they were older. Writing in A General Theory of Love, psychiatrist Thomas Lewis describes the attached parent/child relationships as:
‘If a parent loves him in the healthiest way, wherein his needs are paramount, mistakes are forgiven, patience is plentiful, and hurts are soothed as best they can be, then that is how he will relate to himself and others’
‘Wherever a mother sensed her baby’s inarticulate desires and acted on them , not only was there mutual enjoyment greatest, but the outcome was, years later, a secure child’.
‘If the child has the right parenting, he learns the right principles – that love means protection, caretaking, loyalty and sacrifice’.
These thoughts that a well attached child will go onto have successful relationships were echoed in the words of psychiatrist Dennis Friedman in his book Behind the Façade.
‘Promising to stay with someone until ‘death did us part’ was not the rather loose arrangement it has become for many. Commitment was a serious matter, and I had to put my mind to it. I did not know then that commitment was a ‘birth’ gift from one’s mother and that her ability to build an understanding with her child based on love and trust would years later become an essential ingredient in another loving partnership’.
Before talking about the people who can’t form healthy relationships in more detail, I want to try to describe how a normal, healthy, attached adult would behave. To be securely attached you would have experienced all or most of the following ingredients in your childhood:-
You would have been raised by people who you knew loved you and were prepared to express and demonstrate this, they would have always been there for you, established clear boundaries to help you feel safe, helped you to adopt a clear set of values, taken time to listen to and helped you to interpret your feelings, thoughts and ideas, encouraged you in all your interests, validated your emotions and assisted you in your emotional development. They would have helped you to be the best you could be, celebrated your achievements, accepted your weaknesses, encouraged you to be empathetic with others, given you constructive feedback when they thought it would help you and taught you to give constructive feedback when you were unhappy about someone else’s behaviour. They would have allowed you to depend on them when you were young and celebrated your independence when you were ready. Finally they would have modelled a successful and loving relationship with a partner.
Did you have this kind of relationship, with the people who brought you up?
No me neither. You can see from the list of tasks above (and some others that I might have forgotten) that being a parent is a very difficult role, and it is likely that people can only parent to their own level of development. So most of us will have experienced a childhood that has some of these elements but it is unlikely that we will have experienced them all.
Children who are raised in families where most of these elements are present are described as people, who are, able to be ‘attached’. In psychological terms this means that they have been able to create a healthy deep bond with another human being and can use this experience to create other deep bonds with other human beings.
They would have a positive self-image, they would be able to protect themselves in a healthy way, they would have good problem solving skills, have clear personal boundaries and would be able to process their feelings. They are likely to feel confident in themselves and treat other people the way they want to be treated. They will also have a relaxed, looseness in their physical bodies and the way they carry themselves.
These people are unlikely to need to read books on relationships or visit couples therapy simply because they know how to be with another person in a loving partnership and are unlikely to select people who are not able to do this with them
So you can see how healthy attachment can go a long way in enabling us to be able to successfully attach to others. The other forms of attachment, Ambivalent, Avoidant and Disorganised result from insecure attachments to the mother which makes it difficult to have healthy relationships later in life.
I don’t think it is necessary to into the pathology of each of the insecure forms of attachments here, since the end result is the same – we become unable to have trusting, loving and secure relationships and to embrace our emotional lives in a positive way.
In its simplest form, the people with secure attachment are likely to find others with secure attachment and be able to have loving relationships. Whilst those who lack a secure attachment can experience confusion and drama in our love lives as we try to relate to partners.
According to Marsha Lucas in her book ‘Rewire the brain for love’ only about 55% of American adults are sufficiently attached to create loving and lasting relationships. I would imagine that this figure is also true for most countries in the West. These 55% can experience other people as validating, loving, communicative and safe. People who are sufficiently attached have the ability to have successful, loving relationships, but here is the interesting bit – because they do not thrive on drama, it is quite possible that the rest of us who are not sufficiently attached do not even notice them because they and their behaviour is invisible to us.
Or to put it another way, why would people who can form loving, healthy attachments be interested in the dramatic and volatile people who can’t?
The focus of this book is on those of us who through no fault of our own ( and probably in fact no fault of our parents ) were not securely attached when we were younger.
This blog is part of a book called ‘The Evolution of Love’ if you would like to follow the story from the beginning please go to the blog I posted on 20th June entitled’ The Evolution of Love’ and read forwards to now.
This chapter is out of sequence and should come after ‘evolving love’ in the contents page.
Thanks to Jo Grant and Stella Pitman for permission to use their photographs
Please note that this article is Copyright and cannot be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any way without prior permission of the author.