How the Attachment Bond Shapes Adult Relationships

Bond The mother-child bond is the primary force in infant development, according to the attachment bond theory pioneered by English psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth. The theory has gained strength through worldwide scientific studies and the use of brain imaging technology.The attachment bond theory


states that the relationship between infants and primary caretakers is responsible for:

  • shaping all of our future relationships
  • strengthening or damaging our abilities to focus, be conscious of our feelings, and calm ourselves
  • the ability to bounce back from misfortune

Research reveals the infant/adult interactions that result in a successfulsecure attachment, are those where both mother and infant can sense the other’s feelings and emotions. In other words, an infant feels safe and understood when the mother responds to their cries and accurately interprets their changing needs. Unsuccessful or insecure attachment occurs when there is a failure in this communication of feelings.Researchers found that successful adult relationships depend on the ability to:

  1. manage stress
  2. stay “tuned in” with emotions
  3. use communicative body language
  4. be playful in a mutually engaging manner
  5. be readily forgiving, relinquishing grudges

The same research also found that an insecure attachment may be caused by abuse, but it is just as likely to be caused by isolation or loneliness.These discoveries offer a new glimpse into successful love relationships, providing the keys to identifying and repairing a love relationship that is on the rocks.

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The attachment bond shapes an infant’s brain

For better or worse, the infant brain is profoundly influenced by the attachment bond—a baby’s first love relationship. When the primary caretaker can manage personal stress, calm the infant, communicate through emotion, share joy, and forgive easily, the young child’s nervous system becomes “securely attached.” The strong foundation of a secure attachment bond enables the child to be self-confident, trusting, hopeful, and comfortable in the face of conflict. As an adult, he or she will be flexible, creative, hopeful, and optimistic.Our secure attachment bond shapes our abilities to:

  1. feel safe
  2. develop meaningful connections with others
  3. explore our world
  4. deal with stress
  5. balance emotions
  6. experience comfort and security
  7. make sense of our lives
  8. create positive memories and expectations of relationships

Attachment bonds are as unique as we are. Primary caretakers don’t have to be perfect. They do not have to always be in tune with their infants’ emotions, but it helps if they are emotionally available a majority of the time.

Insecure attachment affects adult relationships

Insecurity can be a significant problem in our lives, and it takes root when an infant’s attachment bond fails to provide the child with sufficient structure, recognition, understanding, safety, and mutual accord. These insecurities may lead us to:Tune out and turn off – If our parent is unavailable and self-absorbed, we may—as children—get lost in our own inner world, avoiding any close, emotional connections. As adults, we may become physically and emotionally distant in relationships.


Causes of insecure attachment

Major causes of insecure attachments include:Physical neglect – poor nutrition, insufficient exercise, and neglect of medical issues Emotional neglect or emotional abuse – little attention paid to child, little or no effort to understand child’s feelings; verbal abuse Physical or sexual abuse – physical injury or violation Separation from primary caregiver – due to illness, death, divorce, adoption Inconsistency in primary caregiver – succession of nannies or staff at daycare centers Frequent moves or placementsconstantly changing environment; for example: children who spend their early years in orphanages or who move from foster home to foster home Traumatic experiences .

The lessons of attachment help us heal adult relationships

The powerful, life-altering lessons we learn from our attachment bond—our first love relationship—continue to teach us as adults. The gut-level knowledge we gained then guides us in improving our adult relationships and making them secure.Lesson No. 1—adult relationships depend for their success on nonverbal forms of communication. Newborn infants cannot talk, reason or plan, yet they are equipped to make sure their needs are met. Infants don’t know what they need, they feel what they need, and communicate accordingly. When an infant communicates with a caretaker who understands and meets their physical and emotional needs, something wonderful occurs.Relationships in which the parties are tuned in to each other’s emotions are called attuned relationships, and attuned relationships teach us that:

  • nonverbal cues deeply impact our love relationships
  • play helps us smooth over the rough spots in love relationships
  • conflicts can build trust if we approach them without fear or a need to punish

When we can recognize knee-jerk memories, expectations, attitudes, assumptions and behaviors as problems resulting from insecure attachment bonds, we can end their influence on our adult relationships. That recognition allows us to reconstruct the healthy nonverbal communication skills that produce an attuned attachment and successful relationships.