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What is Attachment?

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What is Attachment?

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Simply put, attachment is a survival mechanism that begins to develop while an infant is still in the womb. Human beings are wired for survival. Because the human infant is quite vulnerable (no claws, teeth, or ability to flee if endangered), the infant is dependent upon his or her primary attachment figure for survival. When an infant senses danger or discomfort, its survival mechanism comes "online." The sympathetic nervous system is activated. The infant's heart rate increases, its respiration increases, blood pumps to the extremities, adrenaline and cortisol is released. This is a state of hyperarousal that helps human beings survive (prepare to fight, flee, or freeze) in dangerous situations. The infant cannot fight, flee, or freeze. Instead, it looks to its attachment figure for protection. If the attachment figure is highly responsive to the infant and offers a calm and reassuring attitude, the infant's parasympathetic nervous will engage, calming the fight or flight response. The infant's central nervous system will attune to the central nervous system of the attachment figure. If the attachment figure is unavailable, unresponsive, abusive, frightened, anxious, or clinically depressed, the infant will become increasingly hyperaroused and will have difficulty engaging the calming effect of the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Patterns of parental responsiveness become "wired" into the growing infant's brain over time. From this first attachment relationship, the infant develops a style of attachment that, unless actively addressed, will last a lifetime. If the  infant develops an insecure attachment style, he or she will have difficulty forming healthy, lasting relationships. If the infant develops a secure attachment style, he or she will be much more likely to form secure, healthy relationships in the future.

Modern American culture is not designed to foster healthy attachments. Many people have attachment styles and related central nervous system wiring that could accurately be called, "insecure." The good news is that this is NOT a life sentence. The human brain has something called "neuroplasticity," meaning it can be reshaped and molded in limitless ways. It is never too late to change the brain and the way we relate to the world. It is possible to change our wiring through engaging in even ONE healthy, responsive relationship. One way to do that is by engaging in attachment-focused psychotherapy. Parents can also learn attachment-parenting techniques to help their children develop healthy attachments.

Attachment is a life-long process. By exploring, evaluating, and addressing your own attachment style, it is possible to transform yourself and your relationships in highly positive ways.



11 Comments to What is Attachment?:

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Elizabeth Sherbow on Sunday, October 16, 2011 10:27 PM
I admire the content and the style of your website. The attachment theory advances that you describe provide a much clearer picture of what I learned, decades ago, as object relations. From what I'm beginning to understand, attachment theory not only provides greater clarity but also, with that clarity, provides a base for designing interventions. I wish you the best in your research and practice.
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Elizabeth Fisher, MA, LMFT, PhD (c) on Monday, October 17, 2011 6:15 AM
Thanks for your comment Elizabeth. Yes, attachment theory provides the neuropsychological underpinnings for object-relations. It is remarkable that, due to brain-imaging technology, we can actually watch these processes at work in the brain as the attachment object enters or leaves the picture! The effect on neural wiring is profound. The effect on the body itself is profound. The survival response and its activation plays a large role in creating physical symptoms,illness, and disease. Neuropsychologists have been collaborating with ethologists (scientists who study animal behavior) to better understand how our natural instinct for survival affects our health and behavior. "Attachment-focused parenting" and "attachment-focused psychotherapy" have developed out of these learnings. As knowledge about these findings continues to grow and develop, I imagine we will begin to see the mainstream adaptation of attachment-oriented medical approaches. The effect of attachment on physical health is profound. Fascinating! Isn't it?


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Tony Grech, MS on Monday, October 17, 2011 8:09 AM
I certainly agree. It seems that evolution has designed us so that we require relationship to survive. Alfred Adler was correct when he posited that "social living is our species' greatest tool for survival". Secure attachment and the resulting healthy psychological development of the child will foster the further development of this tool.
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Julie Puffer on Sunday, November 13, 2011 2:18 PM
I too love the accessibility of your website and the sense of aliveness that your dialogue with the reader evokes. Also enjoying your use of color and design! Attachment parenting - a beautiful gift for these times. In addition to supporting healthy development, it can help the children who are here and coming to be grounded in the Mother's heart as they develop capacities to face what will likely be a world of potentiated trauma and the necessity for psychic/soulful evolution. Still on a leading edge I see!
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DIY on Thursday, July 13, 2017 8:07 PM
Quite informative
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http://amsterdamtoursnow.com/tours-in-amsterdam/amsterdam on Friday, July 14, 2017 3:34 AM
What I have understood or my preconception about attachment was that it was a hindrance for one’s survival and to be a success. But reading this article actually broke my whole concept of attachment. It was a wonderful read on attachment.
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Academic Writing Help on Monday, October 30, 2017 9:59 PM
Attachment is a thing which you have bond with others. Like child with parents, teacher with students and many kind of other relations. If your attachment is strong so you can hold your loved one which you want to stay all the time and never leave them alone.
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