It’s not unusual to enter the therapeutic process with a future orientation. When enrolling in True North, families wonder where this process will lead. It is important to maintain a goal oriented perspective, and yet, the process begins with looking into the past.
This is the first of four-part series examining the theory and integration of family systems work in the context of True North’s programming. We begin with attachment; where relationship molds form and examine the importance of the parent/child relationship throughout a young person’s development. In future publications, we will look at integrating new awareness into current relationship analysis, recognizing patterns that recur in multiple generations and developing skills to build healthy connections with teenagers and young adults.
Attachment theory has its roots all the way back to Freud, and was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. In short, Bowlby and Ainsworth recognized that an infant’s attachment to their caregiver begins immediately and shapes a child’s perception of safety and importance in the world. Both embarked on a lifetime of research and writing to better understand and classify what happens in early childhood and the impact it has on the lifespan. Attachment is defined as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969), and can be thought of as “affectional bond” and “emotional bond.” Subsequent researchers have examined how attachment impacts adolescence, relationship development in adulthood and parenting styles. We’ll continue to explore those notions in future articles.
The main attachment styles as described by Bowlby and Ainsworth are secure attachment, anxious-insecure attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment, and disorganized-insecure attachment. All these styles focus on a parent’s ability (or inability!) to be attuned to their child’s needs, regulate their own emotional experiences, and show up in a consistent and predictable way. Fast forward to today- Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson have identified the “Four S’s”, for parents, encouraging an environment that is Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure. The parents ability to provide such an environment shapes the infant attachment style. It seems pretty straightforward, right? Then why do parents approach child rearing in vastly different ways? There are a multitude of factors, however the experience and model of attachment the parents were raised in is an essential ingredient.
As parents engage in the therapeutic process at True North, they reflect on childhood experiences and relationships, and how the attachment with their parents shaped them. It’s important to understand the factors that contributed to the strengths and challenges of adult attachment and relationship development and the comfort with emotional expression and intimacy. Parents can then connect how their parenting style evolved out of their own development, and how it plays a role in their parenting. This can be difficult work, and will provide an excellent platform for self-awareness, vulnerability, and relationship growth.
In the next article, we’ll look more closely at attachment styles, what they look like in adulthood as well as the connection to parenting style.