Attachment is how we connect and relate to other people. It is influenced by how we were raised, and the quality of the caregiving that we received by our parents or caregivers growing up. It shapes our brains, our nervous systems, it also influences our the relational patterns that we see.
These experiences influence who we choose to be in relationship with when we grow up, how we show up in our relationships, and even the pattern of relationships we find ourselves in.
Attachment is not just something that we think about with romantic relationships, but also with friendships, with our relationships with our career, business, money, etc.
It's important to share attachment styles are not a diagnosis and they're not fixed. They can also change over the course of life and look different in different types of relationships. For example, I tend to lean more anxiously attached in my romantic relationships, and more avoidant attached in my friendships or in my relationship with money. It took me a long time to start checking my bank account in my adult life on a more regular basis.
The good news is that we can all heal and grow towards the healthy attachment style, which is secure. What shapes our attachment is the quality of attunement that we received growing up. So attunement is how we were seen, felt and heard growing up. Attunement is also how responsive our caregivers were to us, (did they come when we cried? did they give us a band aid for our boo-boos? did they feed us when we were hungry?), the appropriateness of their responsiveness (did they scream at us or silence us or hold space for our feelings) and the consistency or lack thereof, of responding to our needs.
The quality of attunement shapes our brains, it shapes our nervous systems, and how we look at behavioral and relationship patterns. The research shows that a parent only needs to respond to a child's bid for attention or for connection, about 30% of the time for that child to grow up with secure attachment. So you didn't need to have perfect parents or you don't need to be a perfect parent or caregiver yourself. However, the research also shows that only about 20 to 30% of people entering adulthood have a secure attachment. So we have a lot of work to do as a society and supporting our parents and caregivers more in raising children.
A core tenet of attachment theory is this idea of a secure base, that when you have an adult or a caregiver who is attuned to you it provided you a safe place to explore the world from and come back and be nourished and resourced from.
To illustrate: Imagine you're walking out the park and you go by a playground, and you see three sets of adults and children come to play. In the first set, the caregiver arrives, and the child clings, is crying and grabbing on their caregiver and doesn't want to let go. In the second pair, the caregiver and child arrive, and the child takes off like a jet, running all over the place, even running far away. Finally in the third pair, the child may be hesitant to go out and explore the playground, but eventually is able to go out with the parent a few times. But then the child gains confidence and can explore on their own (I'm using a kiddo about 5 years old in this example who does not need constant adult supervision at a playground).
The child might explore the little Playhouse close by and then run back to the parent and get a hug. And then the child might go and explore at the little jungle gym, and then run back to the parent get a hug. And then the child might go to the slide and shout, "hey look at me look at me, and go down the slide."
There are three different scenarios here. The first scenario is an example of a anxious attachment, where the child doesn't feel safe to let go of the adult, because maybe they aren't sure that they're going to be there when they come back from the playground. The second example is a is an example of an avoidant attachment, where the child just runs off without the caregiver because they don't feel that the caregiver is that secure base is paying attention to them, is maybe checked out or on their phone. And then the third example is actually an example of secure attachment, where we may feel a little scared. But then we also feel safe to go out and explore and to take risks. And the child will like keep bringing back to the parent for like the hug, or to check in and kind of get their batteries charged back up. So they can emerge back into the world or back onto the playground, and explore, take risks and try new things. In our adult relationships this can look like having secure attachments that nourish and fuel us so we can take risks, try new things, expand our horizons, and feel free to develop into our most authentic selves.
You may be realizing you haven't had a secure base. I often suggest and work with clients to help them first establishing that secure base between their adult self and their inner child. We can also identify places, people, and communities that can also serve as a secure base.
What does your inner child need from your adult self to feel seen, felt and heard? What's even one small action you can take to show your inner child that you are here to nurture them, pay attention to them, provide safety for them? Ideas can include: boundary setting (with ourselves and others), cultivating a mindfulness practice so we can get more in touch with our bodies and care for ourselves better, journaling to and then from your inner child, engaging in positive self talk, and more.
If you'd like to dive deeper into healing attachment wounds grab a free guide I created. CLICK HERE to grab it!
Until next time take care,