Attachment Issues

Attachment is the deep and enduring connection established between a child and caregiver in the first several years of life. Sometimes as children we fail to develop secure attachments to loving, protective caregivers. Without the most important foundation for healthy development as children, we, as adults, are at risk for low self-esteem, lack of self-control, antisocial attitudes and behaviors, aggression and violence, lack of empathy, compassion, and remorse.

Early experiences with caregivers shape our core beliefs about self, others, and the world.

Experiences as a baby and young child are encoded in the brain and emotional experiences of nurturance and protection are encoded in the limbic area, the emotional center of the brain.

Over time, repeated encoded experiences become internal working models, or core beliefs about self, self in relation to others, and the world. These core beliefs become the lens through which we, as children (and later adults), view ourselves and others, especially authority and attachment figures. Below are some examples of core beliefs of secure and insecure attachments in the early years:

Secure Attachment

• Self: “I am good, wanted, worthwhile, competent, and lovable.”
• Caregivers: “They are appropriately responsive to my needs, dependable, caring, trustworthy.”
• Life: “My world feels safe; life is worth living.”

Insecure/Compromised Attachment

• Self: “I am bad, unwanted, worthless, helpless, and unlovable.”
• Caregivers: “They are unresponsive to my needs, insensitive, hurtful, and untrustworthy.”
• Life: “My world feels unsafe; life is painful and demanding.”

In determining our level of attachment, trauma and toxic stress are considerable factors. Trauma experienced in childhood has a direct influence on how we perceive and process adversity, trust and relate to others, and handle relative levels of responsibility. Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship without adequate adult support.

Childhood trauma, particularly sexual trauma or physical or emotional abuse contributes to intimacy issues that lead to difficulties in forming healthy intimate relationships. Research indicates that childhood trauma has a direct impact on how we form general and sexual identity, how we develop trust and self-worth, assert our confidence, and the level to which we avoid or embrace unhealthy/destructive relationships.

Our experiences at a young age do, indeed, impact our adult life and our relationships. The good news is that we can change our attachment style and learn how to reframe our past.

I work with people who have experienced toxic stress and other indicators of insecure attachment using trauma-informed care, which reflects an awareness of the harm that has occurred.