More About Attachment
Ideas about attachment and its importance in human relationships, were first developed by John Bowlby who was a behavioural scientist and psychoanalyst. It was Bowlby who developed Attachment Theory. The purpose of attachment primarily is to establish a relationship with a prefered care-giver, which provides an infant with protection from danger and with a sense of soothing and comfort when frightened or distressed. It provides what Bowlby referred to as a ‘secure base’ from which a child can safely interact with and explore its environment, thus enabling secure emotional growth and development.
Bowlby suggested that the particular attachment bonds that develop between an infant and their main caregivers and the security that this provides is a crucial factor not only for the infant’s survival, but also has a powerful influence upon the developmental pathway that the infant experiences on the journey through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Thus earlier attachment experiences have a powerful influence upon our later ability to form and maintain close relationships later in life, both as partners in romantic relationships and as parents and caregivers to our children. A secure base is important throughout the life cycle.
Patterns of Attachment
Later research based upon the work of Mary Ainsworth, has shown how we develop particular patterns of attachment according to the care-giving that we experience, and that these patterns can be classified as either secure or anxious. Ainsworth developed a particular test, known as the Infant Strange Situation as a way of identifying these patterns. Subsequent research has also shown that modified and more elaborate forms of these patterns can also be identified in adults, and that there are particular forms of anxious attachment that people can develop as strategies in order to adapt to the shortcomings in their close relationships. These strategies also have a key influence later in life, by determining how individuals interact in emotionally close or romantic adult relationships.
Due to the fact that attachment is concerned with the provision of comfort, safety and protection, it is very important in helping us all to deal with the traumas or losses that will inevitably occur as part of life. Where the comfort or protection that was needed was not available or was not adequate, traumas and losses can remain unresolved and have an influence upon the degree of security that a person is able to feel in subsequent close relationships that they develop. Thus, although we all have broadly identifiable patterns of attachment, we also have uniquely individual experiences that will also contribute to and influence our own particular way of relating to others, especially those who are closest to us.
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