The Power of Attachment (Part Two)

In the previous article in this series, The Introduction to The Power of Attachment, we covered Dr. Diane Poole Heller's unique background, her mission to find healing, and her role in pioneering the Theory of Attachment. (if you have not read The Introduction, click here.) 

In the following, we will delve into the first of four styles of attachment, Secure Attachment. 

The title, The Power of Attachment, is technically a misnomer, as there are actually four attachment(s) styles that we can potentially and unknowingly give the power to based on the attention (or lack thereof) we received during our first years of childhood. 

In chapter one, Dr. Heller extensively discusses the most optimal of the four styles, Secure Attachment. Obtaining a secure attachment (like all attachments) occurs during our formative years of childhood. Securely attached people are most likely to have grown up in a supportive household with loving and consistently responsible caregivers.

"In short, secure attachment is attunement. It reflects a positive-enough environment that creates and engenders basic trust."  

The Power of Attachment (p. 35). 

Securely attached people are independent, build lasting relationships, and are mentally stable, thanks to their supportive upbringing. They are okay being in their own skin and are deft at adapting to life changes and obstacles that come their way. But, perhaps most importantly, they can internalize and feel love from others and can easily forgive the essential people in their life who deserve and reciprocate their affection in a mutually beneficial way. 

For those of us who don't fall into this style of attachment, it may feel like we have been cheated out of a life of those who are securely attached. However, As Dr. Heller explains, we can become securely attached at any age in life:

"Although secure attachment can appear out of reach or like a fantasy goal for many of us, it's how we're fundamentally designed to operate. No matter how unattainable it seems, secure attachment is always there, just waiting to be uncovered, recalled, practiced, and expressed. We might lose access to it from time to time, but we never lose our inherent capacity for secure attachment."

- The Power of Attachment (p. 34). 

Obtaining this type of attachment does not occur overnight. It takes a lot of self-work and unlearning of past tendencies. Over time, we can learn to embody secure attachment naturally so when stressful situations or triggers of past traumas occur, we can adapt and recompose ourselves in a proactive (as opposed to reactive) way. We don't automatically follow the insecurely attached thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are detrimental to our mental and physical well-being.  

As we familiarize ourselves further with secure attachment, our connections become more accessible and more fulfilling—we're less reactive, more responsive, more available for reciprocity, healthier, and much more inclined to bring out the securely attached tendencies in others.

What Secure Attachment Isn't 

While it's essential to understand what it means to be Securely Attached, we first need to discuss what it isn't. 

Have you ever heard a parent or caregiver reactively recite some version of the platitude, "I give you a place to live, a place to sleep, and food to eat? What more could you ask for?" This cliched concept, though technically accurate -- to be securely attached you most definitely require such things -- are not enough on their own. These are the bare essentials of raising a child: home, food, primary medical care, etc. Secure attachment, however, requires much more than that. 

On the other end of the caregiving spectrum, secure attachment doesn't mean we received everything a child could ever desire. Being spoiled is also detrimental and negatively impacts our attachments in different ways. It doesn't require us to have had a perfect childhood, being raised by the prototypical nuclear family, and not living through personal hardships or even tragedies. Life is often unfair, and thankfully, being securely attached does not require our parents, single parent, or caregiver to be perfect. Nor does it require us to be perfect to ensure our child is or becomes securely attached.

Making Sure Our Children Become Securely Attached. 

Being an optimal caregiver can be difficult at times, but it's much more straightforward when broken down and put into perceptive. According to Ed Tronick, a pioneer in developmental psychology, being a good parent doesn't even take most of your time. In his book, Interactive Mismatch and Repair: Challenges to the Coping Infant, effective parenting only takes 30% of our time. Having 70% to ourselves, that's conceptually a reasonably low bar to meet. 

Secure Attachment Requires: 

  • Protection - Fairly self-explanatory, in order for children to become securely attached, they must first know they are safe and protected by their caregivers. 
  • Presence and support - For a child, nothing is more reassuring than a parent who is compassionate and constantly on our side. Being present is one thing, but for a child to understand their caregiver always has their back is invaluable. 
  • Autonomy and Interdependence - While being present as a parent is important, it doesn't mean they should engage in "helicopter parenting." When age-appropriately given independence, it's important for children to be able to discover the world, make mistakes, and learn from them. 
  • Relaxation - An often overlooked aspect of parenting is knowing when and how to let your guard down and relax. In other words, being able to joke with each other, laugh together, and be spontaneous, are invaluable tools that are invaluable in the eyes of a child. 
  • Trust - This kind of trust refers to giving your child a sense of security and faith in the world. Effective parenting involves parents providing children with an environment that engenders basic trust in humanity, and what it is to feel secure as a person who is not bogged down by existential dread.