A secure attachment has been shown to be an indicator for positive self esteem, better outcomes at school, greater capacity for independence and social interactions. Having a secure attachment has also been shown to promote a lower prevalence to depression and anxiety. John Bowlby, the originator of this theory on attachment, has argued that a secure attachment is responsible for shaping all future relationships; supporting our capacity to focus; our ability to self sooth and calm ourselves down; provide awareness about our feelings and our capacity to bounce back from misfortune.
Conversely if the caregiver is insensitive to the child’s needs or is neglectful then an insecure attachment develops that has later consequences in future relationships; how they view the world and their place in it; producing problems such as anti-social behaviour, aggression and poor handling of stress. Where neglect is profound the consequences can be massive such as mental health challenges, personality disorders and substance abuse. One researcher proposed that the relationship between a person using drugs and the drug itself mirrors the security and satisfaction needs similar to those that an infant experiences with their mother. It could be argued that where babies are significantly neglected then the insecure attachment that develops is countered by the pleasure, security and rewards that are the effects of substance use.
This can be backed up by the research into neuro chemicals. The primary bonding hormone is oxytocin which promotes the connecting patterns between the child and the caregivers, primarily the mother. Other bonding neuro chemicals are opioids, which are natural morphine like chemicals produced between parent and child, especially during touch. These opioids produce feelings of elation between the baby and the care giver which enhance bonding. Opioids also provide pain relief which are released when the infant is experiencing either physical or emotional discomfort as they are comforted by the care giver. Another interesting aspect for babies experiencing the happy effects of opioids occurs when they are separated form their care giver, the opiod levels decrease causing some distress both physically and emotional similar to heroin withdrawal. However, alternate behaviours counter their discomfort such as babies sucking their thumb to self sooth. From a psychotherapy perspective a person with challenges due to the consequences of an insecure attachment are not fixed into being a certain way ad infinitum. How we make contact with others and the world around us can change when awareness is focused on ways of being that don’t serve us. By bringing our attention onto other possibilities and then experiment with alternate behaviours different outcomes can be achieved. This allows new frontiers of experience to become part of our lives which in turn allows a different choice to be made according to the circumstances. For example, an angry or aggressive person maybe using these emotions as a defence because their care givers weren’t adequate in their response to their needs as a child. This anger may cover a deep hurt and sense of rejection which is hidden by pushing people away because their core belief is that their needs wont get met. From a therapeutic space by exploring the anger and aggression and providing a safe space to feel the hurt and pain of rejection this can allow the possibility that their needs can be met, which in turn facilitates a new response. May this day find you well Counselling and Psychotherapy team