Attachment is one of the most important aspects of human psychology . The emotional component of the affective bonds we establish have a great influence on our way of living and developing, both in our adult life and in our childhood. In fact, research suggests that the forms of attachment that we experience during our first years of life leave an important mark on us.
Therefore, understanding how attachment relates to parenting is very important.
Understanding Attachment: Interview with Cristina Cortés
On this occasion we interviewed Cristina Cortés, a psychologist specializing in child and youth therapy at the Vitaliza psychology center in Pamplona.
Attachment is often confused with other terms such as love, but what is attachment really?
We can consider the theory of attachment developed by John Bowlby as an attempt to conceptualize and explain the tendency and need of human beings to become attached, that is, to create affective bonds, and at the same time, an attempt to explain the emotional pain that occurs as a consequence of the separation and loss of these relationships.
According to the attachment theory, babies tend to create an emotional bond with their parents, a bond that will be associated with their self-confidence as they grow up. Inadequate bonding in childhood can lead to psychological difficulties later in life.
We are imminently social beings, we need the contact of the other, of another brain to adequately develop our own.
Attachment is mediated by biology; we are genetically prepared to become attached to our mother as soon as we are born. It will be the quality and quantity of these affective interactions that will develop attachment and bonding.
Several researchers have contributed valuable knowledge about attachment, some as well known as John Bowlby. Although his theory has been interpreted by multiple authors, he was one of the first theorists to focus on the affective bonding with our parental figures at an early age. When does attachment begin to develop?
We can say that the first social bonds are formed during pregnancy and birth, which is when we have the most urgent need to depend on others. Social bonds will be strengthened during breastfeeding and parental interactions from a very early age.
Oxytocin, the love hormone, or the shy hormone, as it is known, mediates the biological processes that promote attachment behaviors. Shy hormone because it is only produced in safety contexts. Therefore we can say that security is the preamble to attachment. All this implies that we are talking about biological processes and not about romantic love.
A few months ago you participated in the “I Jornada de apegocimento” held in Pamplona. During your talk you talked about the different types of attachment. Could you explain them briefly?
Yes, in summary we can say that the function of attachment is to ensure the safety of the baby and child. This implies that when the baby, the child, experiences discomfort he or she is attended to and calmed down. It is what any baby expects, that their attachment figures attend to their needs. As this happens, the baby first and then the child develops the neural circuits that lead him/her to regulate his/her mood, that is, the child learns to calm down by being calm.
The secure attachment will be one in which the child is certain that whatever happens will be calm, peaceful. He is fortunate to be growing and developing a confident image of himself and that he can trust others. Parents are good and sensitive enough to see the child’s needs, not just the physical ones.
Unsafe attachment is one in which the child does not get to experience his or her caregivers as a secure base. This may be due to attachment figures having difficulty connecting with emotions, not attending to them and focusing on action, avoiding contact and emotional content in the interaction: modeling is known as avoidant attachment. Or it may be because caregivers are not consistent enough in their care and regulation of affection. In this case, the child grows up with the uncertainty of whether his or her parents will be there for him or her, sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. This type is called ambivalent or preoccupied attachment.
And at the other extreme of security is the disorganized attachment that occurs when the baby or child has negligent or frightening caregivers who do not meet physical and emotional needs and when the caregivers are at the same time the source of terror. These caregivers do not calm the child and thus the child is unlikely to achieve healthy emotional regulation.
In the book Look at me, feel me: strategies for repairing attachment in children through EMDR , published by Desclèe de Brouwer, I take a look at the different models of attachment. Attachment is surely presented through Eneko, the child protagonist who accompanies us throughout all the chapters. From his gestation to the age of 7, Eneko’s parents become a model of secure attachment for the readers.
Why is attachment important to develop healthy self-esteem?
Children who have a secure attachment model have sensitive parents who are able to read their minds and attend to their needs. Such parents do not hold their children responsible for the breaks in connection that occur on a daily basis. They are always willing to repair the breaks, to encourage reconnection. And when they introduce no, calls for attention and limits, they do not focus on behavior and do not devalue the child.
Self-esteem is the affection we feel for ourselves and is the result of the image we have created of ourselves. This image is a reflection of the messages and affection that our caregivers have conveyed to us when we are inexperienced and insecure.
Much is said about the link between attachment and well-being, but what is its relationship with trauma?
Attachment and regulation go hand in hand. Our caregivers, as they calm and quiet us, help us regulate ourselves, so that the neuronal systems associated with regulation are formed and these circuits and this super capacity, as I like to call it, are created. This super power is very important when things go wrong.
And the trauma is just that, “something went wrong, very wrong.” If we talk about attachment trauma, the trauma has occurred in the relationship with the caregivers and the regulation has been blown up, we don’t count on it. And if we talk about an external trauma, in a disaster for example, our response, our capacity to recover will depend on my ability to regulate fear, emotions, the ability to trust, to hope that things can go well again. And curiously enough, families who repair and fix their messes, transmit that faith that things have a solution.
A secure attachment has nothing to do with being a super parent. Perfect parents don’t allow their children to grow up. The most desirable characteristic of secure attachment is knowing and being able to repair, not feeling attacked in that unequal power relationship between parents and children.
In what ways can the failure to maintain a positive attachment style during childhood create problems in adulthood?
According to Mary Main, the most important evolutionary function of attachment is the creation of a mental system capable of generating mental representations, especially representations of relationships. Mental representations that include affective and cognitive components and play an active role in guiding behavior. How I see myself, and what I expect from others
These mental representations that we create in childhood, in the interaction with figures of attachment, we project them into future personal and professional relationships and they guide our interaction with others
It seems that EMDR therapy and Neurofeedback work very well in these cases. Why?
In Vitaliza we have been combining both therapies for more than 14 years, especially when there have been very early traumatic experiences, whether they are of attachment or not, or when our system has been blown up due to the overload of chronic stress maintained over a long period of time. Both interventions lead to improvement in many ways.
Neurofeddback will help us improve our capacity for emotional regulation, and this increased regulation allows us to process the trauma. Having a greater regulatory capacity facilitates and shortens the duration of the stabilization phase required to process the trauma, and allows us to process through EMDR the traumatic situations that are activated by triggers in the present.
What advice would you give to parents who are concerned about their children’s parenting style? How can they be more likely to maintain the optimal balance between protection and freedom?
Most parents want to foster the best possible relationship with their children, and if they don’t do better, it’s usually because they lack knowledge and time. The lack of time and the stress that families carry nowadays are incompatible with a secure attachment, where time stops and the center of attention is not only the baby but also the child. Babies, boys and girls need and require full attention not divided with the mobile or smartphone.
We need to look at our children face to face, feel them, play with them, encourage interactions, play, laugh, tell them stories, free them from extracurricular activities and spend time, as much as we can with them. Let them not spend more time with multiple screens than with us, there is no computer that sits and smiles at you.