The Importance of Building Secure Attachments

Friday, April 27th, 2018

In a recent Ted Talk titled "Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong," speaker Johann Hari suggests that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it's connection.

This is a profound statement which echoes a theme that various addiction specialists in the 21st century have espoused for years — that addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it's about the user's inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings.

In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it's a social disorder.

At the core we are social creatures who long to be in connection with each other. We need stimulation, company, play, drama, intimacy and interaction to stay happy. Fundamentally, we need to be able to trust and to emotionally attach.

This human need for trust and attachment was initially studied and developed as a psychological construct in the 1950s, by John Bowlby. In a nutshell, he found that infants, toddlers and young children have an extensive need for safe and reliable caregivers. If children have that, they tend to be happy in childhood and well-adjusted (emotionally healthy) later in life. If children don't have that, it's a very different story.

In other words, it is clear from Bowlby's work and the work of later researchers that the level and calibre of trust and connection experienced in early childhood carries forth into adulthood. Those who experience secure attachment as infants, toddlers and small children nearly always carry that with them into adulthood, which helps them to trust and connect in healthy ways. Meanwhile, those who don't experience secure early-life attachment tend to struggle with trust and connection later in life.

It is important to note that people with insecure attachment styles are not locked into this approach for life. With proper guidance and a fair amount of conscious effort the individuals who were not graced with secure attachment in childhood (and therefore the ability to easily connect in adulthood) can learn to securely attach — usually through therapy, support groups and various other healthy and healing relationships — creating over time what is known as "earned security."

For those who are parents (all adults for that matter, uncles, aunts, coaches, teachers, etc.), it is essential to lean into the joyful responsibility to attach to your children. This can feel like a daunting responsibility; it is important and yet it does not need to be overwhelming.

Intentional commitment to a few good and simple habits of connecting throughout a child's growing years can make a big difference in their ability to emotionally attach, to form connection with self and others.

The good news is you are likely already engaging with your child in activities that promote a strong parent-child relationship. Activities to connect together as parent-child: reading, art, music, being in nature, physical touch, cooking and eating together, board games, writing, and on and on.

The importance is that we discipline ourselves to intentionally be with our children, to laugh, play and share life together.


This column was written by counsellor Matthew Isert-Bender and first appeared in the New Hamburg Independent:

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