The Nature of Attachments

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Attachments are formed in childhood. There are four characteristics of attachments, and four types. Depending upon the level of attunement a child did or didn’t receive in childhood can determine the effectiveness of their relationships throughout life. Characteristics of attachments include: a safe haven, secure base, proximity maintenance, and separation distress. Four basic types of attachment disorders are: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment. The most severe attachment disorders are reactive attachment disorder and dis-inhibited social engagement disorder.

Consistent protection and comfort for the child produces the safe haven. Is the parent or caregiver present to protect the child from the hot oven, or comfort her when she falls down? Having a secure base is teaching and providing reliable information. Proximity maintenance allows the child room to explore and figure things out on her own. It also is concerned with providing answers to questions the child can’t grasp. Separation distress is natural. It happens when the child is separated from his mother or father, and cries.

When a child is subjected to any kind of neglect, their ability to form healthy emotional attachments can be hindered or thrown off balance. Children who have had medical issues, their parents are divorced, or placed foster care, may also be unable to form healthy relationships. This said, not all children develop attachment disorders. Like many emotional responses to harm, attachment disorders are on a spectrum.

Basic signals for an attachment disorder include: a history of abandonment, neglect, abuse, multiple foster home placements, indiscriminate affection seeking, antisocial behavior, aggression, lying, stealing, cruelty, manipulation, in-authenticity, inappropriate clinging, poor eye contact, difficulty learning, difficulty regulating emotions, abnormal eating, and elimination patterns, like bed wetting or hoarding food.

A secure attachment is when a child feels happy when their parents are around. They feel secure, but naturally become distressed when separated from them. Ambivalent attachment is when a child becomes exceedingly distressed whenever they are separated from the parent. This child feels she cannot rely on the parent whenever she needs something. With avoidant attachment, the child tries to keep her distance from the parent. This disorder is associated with when children are abused or neglected by a parent. Disorganized attachment is the result of mixed messages from a parent or caregiver. The child is confused by their inconsistent behavior towards them, and therefore can’t discern when to trust or be fearful of them.


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