By, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Attachment is the relationship people develop with our early caregivers that shape how we form connections to other people throughout our lives as well as the lens through which we view the world. We are all born relying completely upon adults to meet our needs. Humans rely on parents to ensure survival longer than any other species for basic nourishment and caretaking making our connection to our caregivers incredibly important.

As infants, while relying on our caretakers, we are also building the neurotransmitter systems in our brains. When babies look into the eyes of their parents, literally thousands of neurons per second get activated. The building of this neuron wiring sets up the foundation of our attachment system or structure. When you think of it this way, it is simple: if baby gets her needs met “enough,” she develops what we would call a secure attachment, if baby does not get her needs met “enough” she develops what we would call an “insecure” attachment.

A securely attached child tends to think more along the lines of: the world is a safe place, I am loving and loveable, adults are reliable and my choices make a difference. Children with insecure attachments tend to think more along the lines of: I am bad, when I trust people I usually get hurt or disappointed, my choices don’t make any difference. In the classification of insecurely attached children there are two categories.  I see these categories as insecurely attached with a structure (anxious or avoidant) and insecurely attached without structure (disorganized). This distinction is important because if a child tends to have an anxious/avoidant style of attachment, you are more likely to be able to predict behaviors and their response to different challenges.  However, with a disorganized structure, because the child has no system for tackling issues in place at all, it is incredibly difficult to predict what the child will do in a given situation. Prediction is difficult because they do not have any consistent way of tackling a problem.

While attachment is a concept that was first studied by Bowlby back in the 1950’s and developed upon by Mary Ainsworth, more recently clinicians have begun working to find methods to help children with insecure attachments to repair their attachment style. Clinicians such as Daniel Hughes, and Art Becker-Wideman, who utilize Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, and Glen Cooper, Robert Marvin, Kent Hoffman and Bert Powell, the creators of the Circle of Security intervention, have begun the fascinating work involved in working to help with this often overlooked and minimized issue. In more ways than ever before, clinicians have the opportunity to learn about not only the importance of attachment-based therapy but the methodology for effectively treating children with a disturbed attachment style.

What’s the extent to which you have seen disorganized attachment patterns in children and how do you work with them in therapy?

2 thoughts on "A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships"

  1. I have seen these patterns repeatedly in adult trauma survivors – especially those with complex PTSD/DID. As a psychodramatist trained in The Therapeutic Sprial Model tm of psychodrama ( clinically modified for work with trauma survivors) , I often use an intervention called “the body double” in which I use limbic resonance and empathic attunement to help the client come into and remain in “the window of tolerance” , build a therapeutic alliance, and create safety for attachment with self and eventually with others. I have written about this in the book (in press, Jessica Kingsley) Healing Eating Disorders with Psychodrama and Other Action Methods – Beyond the Silence and the Fury , with co-author Karen Carnabucci .

    1. lisaferentz says:

      Linda, thank you for your insights. I am very familiar with the body double modality, our trainer teaches it in the Level II program, and I agree that it is incredibly effective and powerful! I look forward to your upcoming book and wish you great success with it!

      Warmest regards,

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