Attachment is the phenomenon that is associated with how people attach to others in relationship. This includes their expectations, beliefs, needs, and behaviors under relationships stress. Attachment patterns start to be mapped in earliest childhood (birth -18 months or so) and are a reflection of how available, stable, and attentive the primary caregiver.
The more attentive and responsive a parent is (e.g., able to read the infant’s cues and respond appropriately with care, love, and boundaries), the more likely the child will develop secure attachment , such as being able to form and maintain loving relationships, experience more self-esteem and better mental health. However, if the caregiver is unable to respond and attend, does so inconsistently, or is abusive, then the child will be more likely to develop insecure attachment.
It is not just the quality of attention and care from adults that helps shape the attachment style of kids, but also their environment. Growing up in an insecure setting, such as a violent neighborhood, a refugee or immigrant situation, or an alcoholic home, can also trigger insecure attachment wiring. It is not always a matter of parenting, but also the environment.
Insecure attachment is not a fatalistic paradigm in which inattentive parenting equals a miserable life, but the chances are increased and the effort required to overcome these challenges will be greater. The good news is that attachment styles and patterns can be changed. A lot of therapy these days focuses on this, especially when it comes to treating trauma, addictions, and codependency.
Secure relationships can be incredibly healing and can help kids survive crises and trauma in their lives. A present, caring, attentive, boundaried parent will be able to “wire” a child’s brain for resilience, self-esteem, and a positive outlook. Without that, kids are more likely to act out against authority, act out against themselves, or isolate from family members. A lot of the time, this will result in addictive patterns.
Children With Unmet Emotional Needs
In an insecure attachment scenario, the infant will cry or act in a way that is communicating a need to the parent. If that need isn’t met or met consistently, then the child will learn other ways to get that need met: act out more (tantrums), seek negative attention, be excessively clingy, whine, or try to be as good as they can. If those don’t work, then they will turn to other safer sources to meet their needs: drugs and friends, food, sex, running away, perfectionism, or cutting. Those are all ways kids try to regulate themselves and get their needs met in the absence of a consistent and caring caregiver.
Addicts And Attachment Insecurity
Most addicts (if not all) have attachment trauma. Ask any addict about their deepest pain and they will most likely talk about their dysfunctional families. A parent who is in active addiction, works too much, is stressed, has anger issues, is codependent, or has experienced trauma or grew up with those who did, may have a hard time parenting, and that may result in an insecure style for kids.
What this means is that these kids are more likely to have brains wired to expect rejection, being ignored, not feeling good enough, and being angry, depressed, anxious, and disregulated. They also tend to have focus and attention problems, and addictions. When kids stop using their addictive substances and behaviors, these issues will usually come to the surface.
Healing Old Wounds
Working with these kids requires a lot of focus on offering them a consistent and loving relationship. This is a large part of teaching them that their wiring can be changed and they can be loved and are lovable. It also requires attending as best we can to them and helping them to access their attachment wounds. These are usually very deep, as they happened pre-verbally.
This is why a lot of addicts – adults and kids – can’t tell you why they do what they do, and can be so hard to work with. Their beliefs about the possibility of love, lovability, and hope are so negative that it requires a lot of support and effort to help someone change their beliefs. This takes time. But it is possible.
Key To Success
When kids have the experience of having their needs met, as well as some healing in their families, they are set up for success and will be able to let go of the behaviors that used to act as inadequate substitutes for love and boundaries.
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