Our approach to life, roles, and relatedness (engagement) is influenced by many factors. Chief among these is the relationships we have with significant others, especially during our developing years. It sounds trite to observe, but our relationships play a key role in our engagement.
The relationships we form toward significant people in our life, and upon whom we depend for care and protection, are our attachments. Our most active period of developing attachments is during childhood, when we form attachments to our parents/caregivers, and also to relatives, siblings, and other significant adults who have continuity and consistency in our life and provide some level of care and protection.
Our attachments to significant others vary, depending on our experience of care and protection from them. Some attachments are secure, meaning that we can confidently explore our world and take on challenges, secure in the knowledge that we have someone we can turn to when we need them; someone who will help us to feel better quickly so we can brave the world again. Other attachments are insecure, leaving us unsure about our access to the support we need to take on the world with confidence after it challenges us in some way. Other attachments are particularly problematic (disordered), as the person we rely on for care and protection is also a source of fear and distress. This type of attachment (also known as Disorganised) is rare and typically only occurs where there has been abuse and/or neglect.
Although some of these attachments are more influential than others (typically referred to a primary attachments), it is widely considered that our overall attachment style is influenced by our experience of relationships with all of the people towards whom we have developed an attachment. That is, if we think of attachment as a spectrum that ranges from disorder to security (see below), where each of us sits on the the spectrum is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by our collective attachment relationships.
In consideration of this, we see the positive influence of secure primary attachments and the disruptive (and, at times, destructive) influence of disordered ones. This is brought into further focus when we consider the relationship between where we sit on this spectrum and the the beliefs that form about ourselves, others and our world that develop from our experiences of attachment and influence our approach to life, roles, and relatedness:
All attachments are significant. All influence our approach to life, roles and relatedness. This is particularly important in child welfare and related endeavours where the focus is facilitating recovery from a tough start to life and traumatic relationships, including through the promotion of attachment security. Where the opportunity exists to do so, we need to support repair in disordered attachments and strengthen new attachments through high quality family contact and therapeutic child care. It is in the child’s best interests that all attachments are strengthened when attachment security is the goal.
Food for thought:
No matter that you consider the child in your care already has a secure attachment to you, where that child has had disruptive attachment experiences you will need to do more to compensate for the impact of those disordered attachments.
Where possible, our focus must be on repairing attachments that have gone awry. Where this is not possible, all other significant adults in the life of the child will need to do more to support attachment security.