Table of contents:
- We are naturally attached to parents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones. In psychology, the term “attachment” refers to a deep and enduring connection that unites people across space and time. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to call it reliable
- Without "You" there is no "I"
- Permission to be yourself
- The heart will not deceive
- Inherited stress
- It's never too late
Video: How Attachment Protects Our Health - The Quality Of Life
We are naturally attached to parents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones. In psychology, the term “attachment” refers to a deep and enduring connection that unites people across space and time. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to call it reliable
Without "You" there is no "I"
The founder of attachment theory, John Bowlby, back in the 1950s, explained how the relationship between parents and babies affects the further development of children. Affection is formed when a parent is sensitive to the child's needs and meets them.
When a new person is just born, he does not feel himself a separate "body", does not know where the boundaries between "I" and "not-I" are. Already in the first hours of life, parents or people who replace them play a special role for a child. The body of a newborn is programmed at the physiological level to reach for them, because it is on these people that its survival depends.
In 1958, Harry Harlow conducted a cruel experiment with baby rhesus monkeys. The babies were taken from their mothers immediately after birth and were given two "artificial" mothers in exchange: one - wire, but with a milk supply system, and the other - a plush one. Poor monkeys spent almost all their time in an embrace with a soft and warm "mother", and went for food only when absolutely necessary. The more time the kids spent in such traumatic isolation, the more difficult it was later for them to be among their peers from “prosperous families”.
This proves that we naturally need not only food, but also love and care. And the quality of later life largely depends on how much warmth we receive in infancy
Permission to be yourself
The newborn begins to imitate the facial expression within the first 42 minutes of life! Well, isn't it a fantasy: an unintelligent little lump that can only scream, eat and sleep, is able to read the reaction of the one who cares about it.
And then two scenarios are possible:
- 1. The reaction of an adult is "good enough": he smiles at the child and calmly tries to calm the child down when he cries. In this case, the baby seems to receive permission to remain himself, to continue to behave in accordance with his needs. He understands that the parent will be there and will continue to care, no matter what happens. The result is a secure attachment style. Such children are more bold in exploring the unfamiliar environment. Although they painfully experience parting with a significant adult, they quickly calm down and even rejoice at his return. Thanks to the warmth and support, the child continues to perceive the world and people in general as safe.
- 2. The adult's reaction is "not good enough." The baby's needs are not met. He begins to suspect that something is wrong, and does everything in his power to "return" the guardian. And what is in his power? Shout, and only. And if they shout at him in response, because the adult himself had a hard time in life? Or is my mother in prolonged postpartum depression?
Depending on the reaction of the parent or guardian, the child may develop one of two attachment styles:
- If the adult's reactions are unpredictable, attachment becomes ambivalent. The kid does not know what to expect from the parents or guardians: they will either leave, or scold, or caress. This gives rise to alertness, helplessness and anger. It is easy to guess that such a world and such people are perceived by a child as not very safe. The parent's departure is painful, but even when he returns, the baby continues to worry, because at any moment he is ready for the unexpected.
- Some parents choose tough parenting strategies: “Boys don’t cry”, “You will cry, I will leave you alone”, “You will bring me to the grave with your whining” and other gems in the treasury of neuroses. With this “tempering of character”, even babies learn to hide their true desires, involuntary reactions - in other words, they suppress their essence or learn to disconnect from it. Following this, contact with your body is lost: it is easier to feel nothing at all than to suffer. Toddlers with anxious-avoidant attachment styles unwittingly build distance so it doesn't hurt so badly to be rejected again. It is in such relationships that we learn to avoid what seems unbearable to us, and for many this remains the only familiar tool of self-defense in difficult situations for life.
The heart will not deceive
Surprisingly, the reactions of an adult and the quality of care shown even affect the physiological processes in the child's body. In one experiment, scientists examined the heart rate of eight-month-old babies in an “unfamiliar situation”: in a room with new toys. Mothers left the room, then returned. It turned out that when parting with their mother, the heart begins to beat more often in all children, even in babies with avoidant affection, who outwardly do not show their excitement and frustration.
It is curious that for some time it was believed that it was the children from the third group who were the easiest to cope with parting, since they looked like such good fellows. But the heart does not know how to pretend: apparently, babies with avoidant type of attachment simply learned to hide their emotions. And this is for some eight months of life!
Moreover, in children with secure attachment, the heart rate decreases when the mother comes back - that is, the child really calms down. But in children from the other two groups, the heart continued to work in an enhanced mode even after reuniting with significant adults.
And now imagine an adult who, from the first months of his life, learned to expect a trick or punishment for his natural urges in any situation: not only his heart, but the whole body, all consciousness, work in the "fight or flight" mode. How many personality disorders and psychosomatic symptoms can you get in such a tense environment …
Depending on what style of attachment we developed in early childhood, we grow up as different people: both at the level of behavior and at the level of physiology
Experiments with rats showed that the cubs of caring mother rats grew up less sensitive to stress, that is, they did not react so violently to potential threats and extreme conditions. But indifferent rat mothers grew anxious and fearful rats. Such changes are called epigenetic: the genetic code of rats (as well as people) does not change from how their parents treat them, but these genes manifest themselves in different ways.
In this regard, there are two news. The bad news is that the consequences of one rat mom's behavior have been passed down several generations after her. For humans, this is aggravated by the fact that all of us are here now only because our ancestors were anxious enough to survive in the wild. Anxiety is entrenched in us as a sign that contributes to survival. We are hereditary neurotics. It can be assumed that such a predisposition in itself does not very much contribute to secure attachment and secure relationships.
It's never too late
But the good news is that epigenetic changes are reversible. In the same experiment, the rat pups bounced back if more caring mothers were added to them. Of course, in real life, no one would take babies from "not good enough" mothers to hand them over to more nurturing hands. However, parents are creatures with willpower, self-observation, and control over their behavior.
Even if the early infancy has passed for the child under the sign of "Unsafe", parents can catch up at any time. This is especially true before children turn five years old - it is at this age, on average, that one style of attachment is fixed as the main one for any situations of interaction with people.
You shouldn't think: “It's too late to change something, you can continue to ignore the child, raise your voice to him and force him to cope with the challenges of fate”. No matter how old a person turns, his loved ones will always remain figures of paramount importance. Don't be afraid to change your relationship with your kids right now: your warmth, attention and support can work wonders.