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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Examining Attachment: The Biological, Physical, and Emotional Aspects That Affect Us Throughout life

Attachment is a subject often researched and debated among many psychology experts. The importance of early attachment is prominent according to many studies. Aspects of attachment include the biological component of attachment as well as the physical aspect of attachment. The importance of early attachment is imperative and directly affects how we form relationships in the future. Many believe that the positive emotional effects of a secure attachment can be carried into adulthood. Many professionals such as Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson have studied attachment theory and its effects.

Examining Attachment
The Biological, Physical, and Emotional Aspects That Affect Us Throughout life

Attachment is obviously a very important component in the raising of a healthy, mentally stable child. There are many components of attachment that come into play. Many agree that the prominence of early attachment between an infant and its caregivers is of the utmost importance. The biological roots of attachment are rooted inside of our DNA from years of evolution. There are physical aspects of attachment that include touching, and physical contact that make up the attachment process. The emotional effects that are left upon us through a secure or insecure attachment bond with our caretakers are not only real but are also reflections on how we were raised. This post will discuss the following topics concerning attachment:

  • The Importance of Early Attachment Between an Infant and Its Caregiver
  • The Biological Aspect of Attachment
  • The Physical Aspect of Attachment
  • The Emotional Effect of Attachment That Contributes to How We Form Later Attachments Throughout Life.
  • The importance of early attachment between an infant and its caregiver

Many have heard of the utmost importance of providing a child a secure environment in which he or she can grow up in. Coming directly from the womb, the child must feel attached to its caregiver in order to form a trusting relationship with the caregiver. The five crucial family functions are to provide basic necessities, encourage learning, develop self respect, nurture peer relationships, and ensure harmony and stability (Berger, 2007, p. 345). It is of the utmost importance to not only care for the infant by supplying it with its basic biological needs, but also to make the child feel safe and secure in its environment. Intuitively we all know that for the child, mother-love whether it is from the biological mother or one who has taken her place, encourages well being (Karen, 1994, p. 14). The most supreme gift you can offer your own child is a secure attachment (Newton, 2008, p. 7). The child must have basic needs met to form such a trusting relationship. The child needs to feel as if he or she is being cared for. Sensitive and responsive care giving in the early years of life contributes to a child’s development. Care giving produces secure children (Newton, 2008, p. 8.) According to Erikson the first crisis of life is “trust vs. mistrust.” This stage is the stage in which the child learns to feel secure or insecure with the fact of trusting the world for its basic biological needs (Berger, 2007, p.183). It is of the most significance that an infant feel attached to its caregiver.

The Biological Aspect of Attachment

The biological aspect of attachment is very real. We as humans need each other. In fact, not only do we need each other but even our neurons need each other. Without mutually stimulating interactions, our neurons die (Cozolino, 2006, p. 41). Attachment to a protective and loving caregiver, who provides comfort, support, guidance, and basic needs, is a basic human need stemming from millions of years of evolution (Levy & Orlans, 1998, p. 2). Without interaction with each other, we do not know if we are “up to par” and we will not be as motivated. Children are constantly reviewing their performance and comparing their evaluations to other peers. This is crucial so the child can keep up with the performance of their peers and thus continue to mature. Piaget proposed his six stages of cognitive development thinking as a developmental biologist. With that in mind, his stages coincide with the basic biology of the human mind according to what stage of growth the infant’s brain is experiencing. The human’s health depends on the attachments he or she forms. Studies done over 20 years involving more than 37,000 people show that social isolation doubles the chance of sickness or death (Goleman, 1995). The bottom line is we are biologically hardwired to be attached to each other.

The Physical Aspect of Attachment

The Physical aspect of attachment is quite simple. Children need to be held and touched gently to feel secure. This stems from inside the womb, where the fetus is physically attached to the mother via the umbilical cord. Attachment is a child’s biological tie to her primary caregivers (Newton 2008. p. 9). The characteristics of the child that are most enduring are the ones the infant has brought with him or herself from birth (Karen 1994, p. 254). The physical signs of positive affect such as smiling, touching, and eye contact reinforce positive attachment (Levy & Orlans 1998, p. 2). The importance of contact is furthermore expressed in research from conducted psychology experiments. In an experiment carried out to see which surrogate mother monkey a baby monkey would prefer, the importance of contact comfort in the development of attachment between infant monkeys and their mothers was displayed (Hock 1999, p.129). The physical aspect of attachment is important; we all need to feel the tender touch of one another to be reassured and to avoid feeling socially isolated.

The Emotional Effect of Attachment That Contributes to How We Form Later Attachments Throughout Life

Erikson theorizes that if the infant can be secure and learn to trust its mother and its atmosphere around him or herself than attachment issues will not be hard for him to face in the future. Later attachments in life are directly correlated with the early attachments we had when we were children. If we were constantly on guard being an infant in a stressful environment, we would have learned to be mistrusting and suspicious in all or most of our later relationships in life. From birth until death each of us needs others who seek out for us, show concern in discovering who we are, and aid us in feeling safe (Cozolino, 2006, p.41). Studies have shown that sustained levels of stress partially explain why early negative experiences in parenting and attachment have a lifelong impact on physical health, mental being, and learning (Cozolino, 2006, p.222). Countless studies demonstrate that children who begin their lives with the essential foundation of secure attachment do better in the following areas: self-esteem, independence, resilience, ability to manage impulse/feelings, long-term friendships, relationships with authority figures, pro-social coping skills, trust, intimacy, affection, hopeful beliefs, empathy, compassion, conscience, behavioral performance, academic success, and promoting attachment in their own children (Levy & Orlans, 1998, p. 3). These healthy traits are apparent in confident individuals who are secure with themselves. Such traits are essential in forming healthy and rewarding relationships with and assist with everything from working well with others, to being content with your own self. John Bowlby, a renowned psychiatrist and theorist, argues that infants form “internal working models” of attachment figures and that those models guide their relationships later in life. In retrospect, adults with secure attachments recall positive family relationships while avoidant and anxious adults recalled having problems with one or both of their parents (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 2002). The bonds we form as infants directly correspond with our ability to form future relationships.

Attachment in early childhood is a very important aspect of development in humans. There are both biological and physical aspects of attachment that take a part in the process of attachment. These attachments that we form in early childhood directly coincide with the attachments we form later in life. Attachment is a subject that correlates with our relationships in school, work, family, and friends. Attachment is an essential element in a healthy, mentally stable, and content individual.

References

Berger, K. S.(2007). The Developing Person Through the Lifespan. (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Brehm, S. S., Kassin, S. M., Fein, S. (2002). Social Psychology. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.

Cozolino, L. (2006). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. New York: Norton and Company.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Hock, R. R. (1999). Forty Studies that Changed Psychology. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Holmes, J. (2001) The Search for the Secure Base: Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy. London: Brunner-Routledge.

Karen, R. (1994). Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. New York: Oxford.

Levy, T. M., & Orlans, M. (1998). Attachment, trauma, and healing: Understanding and treating attachment disorders in children and families. Virginia: CWLA Press.

Newton, R. P. (2008). The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident child using the science of attachment theory. California: New Harbinger Publications.

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