Emotional connection through attachment bonding
Part 1 How it starts.
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;…” John Donne wrote this in 1624 and it is no less true today.
He was right of course. We humans are mammalian creatures who naturally live together in social groups, nurturing and supporting each other physically and emotionally in small ways every day.
You’ve seen this behaviour in footage of our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees in the wild, grooming each other. Paying attention to each other, slowing down, taking time, being focused on each other and helping the other to feel safe and secure. They can lift their arms and speak of their needs, “saying”, you’ve missed a bit, without their partner taking offence.
Emotional connection as children
Many parents naturally behave like this with our own new-born children. We tend them physically and emotionally, looking into their eyes and calming them with soothing sounds and cuddles when they are sad or frightened. We check with them what they need, trying things out; food, water, cuddles, sleep, play, fresh air…we ask by offering and we listen to their reply and act on it.
We don’t have to be there 100% of the time with babies. We can soothe them and let go of them for short periods. They learn to know that they can rely on us to come when they call and tell us that they need us. If we do that, they learn to manage to cope on their own for short periods between calling us. They learn to trust us. To trust that we will return to them and hear their call and act on it. They begin to feel secure with us and relaxed. This lets them explore their world and learn more. Some of what they learn is to do with building their own emotional resilience, within the framework of care that we build for them.
We can do this for ourselves and our adult partners too, but more of that in Part 2.
Problems with attachment…
If as parents we can’t or won’t attend reliably to our babies’ and young children’s needs, this can lead them to feel abandoned and frightened that they don’t know if or when we will return to them. This feeling of insecurity is an emotional burden and a hurt for them, even if they are physically well looked after; well fed and clothed.
Such anxiety can stop children feeling secure and they develop strategies to soothe themselves and make themselves feel safe again. They may learn to avoid the emotional pain of not being attended to by teaching themselves not to expect care. They may appear to be “very good” children, not “needy”, but “quiet” and able to “look after themselves”
This all happens within a curve that we all have a place on. Some children are naturally quieter and are happy to play by themselves for longer than others. When they become engrossed in play it does not necessarily mean that they are soothing themselves from emotional pain. If they have been given a secure base it more probably means that they have learned to be confident that their carer will return. Meanwhile, their confidence is allowing them to safely explore their world.
However, feelings of anxiety and abandonment may emerge pre-language, so the child cannot express verbally how uncertain they really feel. If these feelings and responses get embedded early in the child’s life this can set up a pattern for how the child will respond emotionally in later life if they experience the same feelings again.
Emotional connection as adults…
Part 2 of this mini-series will deal with how this pattern can show up in adults and adult relationships and what we can do about it.
Attachment and bonding is central to our relationships. If you would like to talk through anything that is arising for you, please get in touch either via the contact form on the home page or by email.