Attachment is an emotional bond to another person. Psychologist John Bowlby, the first attachment theorist, described attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (Bowlby 1969). Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. The central theme of attachment theory is that mothers who are available and responsive to their infant's needs establish a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.
Attaching During the Critical Years
Most professionals who work with and study the process of bonding and attachment agree that a child's first 18 – 36 months are of vital importance. In a healthy situation, this is the period within which the infant is exposed to love, nurturing and life-sustaining care. It is the time when the bonding cycle is repeated over and over again:
• The child has a need.
• He expresses that need by crying, fussing, etc.
• The need is gratified by a caregiver, who provides movement, eye contact, speech, warmth and/or feeding.
• This gratification leads to the development of the child's trust in others.
When traumatic events such as abuse and neglect occur, they can interrupt the attachment cycle—leading to serious problems in the formation of the personality and most likely affectinghim/her throughout adulthood. When the cycle is not completed and repeated, difficulties may arise in critical areas such as:
• Social/behavioral development
• Cognitive development
• Emotional development
• Cause-and-effect thinking
• Conscience development
• Reciprocal relationships
• Accepting responsibility
Attachment trauma in childhood may be especially problematic because of its influence on the course of psychological, social, emotional and physiological development over one's entire lifetime. The attachment bonds formed between an infant and his/her primary caretaker profoundly influence both the structure and function of her developing brain. Failed attachment, whether caused by caretaker abuse, neglect or emotional unavailability, can negatively impact brain structure and function causing developmental or relational trauma. Early life trauma affects future self esteem, social awareness, the ability to learn and physical health. When the attachment bond goes well, neurological integration develops normally and the relationship brings the expectation of safety, appreciation, joy and pleasure. If the attachment bond was unsuccessful and traumatic, neurological impairment and memories of a failed relationship become the basis for adult expectations.
A person with a history of childhood attachment trauma may function very well for long periods into later life. Yet relational stresses within adulthood will often expose the ineffective coping mechanisms and trigger a traumatic stress disorder.
Process of Developing Secure
“Repeated experiences of parents reducing uncomfortable emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety, sadness), enabling child to feel soothed and safe when upset, become encoded in implicit memory as expectations and then as mental models or schemata of attachment, which serve to help the child feel an internal sense of a secure base in the world.” (Siegel, D.)
What is trauma for infants and toddlers?
Trauma for the infant or toddler is an unanticipated exceptional event that is powerful and dangerous in which a feeling of helplessness overwhelms the child’s capacity to cope.28 For many years, the assumption was that young children could not remember trauma; therefore, it did not affect them. Research following Hurricanes Andrew, Charley and Katrina has now established that psychologists frequently see considerable reactions and lengthy recovery from trauma among children.29 Very young children may experience