Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

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Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

By Liza Telford, MFT Intern

Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

In 2002, Nelson Mandela addressed the United Nations during a special session regarding the welfare of children world-wide.  He said, “history will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children. The real work will only begin once we return home” (2002, Mandela).  He went on to encourage the leaders to return to their various corners of the earth and take the actions necessary to make this discussion live beyond the day. This speech resonates with me when I think about seeing young clients and their families.  It is keenly important to make the hour I spend with a parent and child an experience that invites them to return home and keep the process “live.”  

It is the belief of experiential therapists that change occurs through a growth experience (Costa, 1991) and not only through intellectual interpretation or insight.  It is through “openness, self-awareness, spontaneity, freedom of expression, creativity, action, intuition, self-fulfillment, process, confrontation, and personal integrity are valued rather than theory” (p. 3). These values constitute the essence of the experiential approach to families.  

According to Kolomeyer and Renk (2016), when seeing children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), it is important to select an intervention that takes both biological and environmental influences into account. Emotionally Focused Therapy examines both the biological and environmental factors at play for a family and allows a safe and secure space to explore the role Anxiety is playing in keeping the family stuck.

Storytelling is one example of an intervention that promotes an emotionally focused experience.  Bowlby (1977a) stated that the early attachments formed within families are very important because they fulfill critical safety and security needs. Asking a parent to tell their child a story about their life invites the child to experience the emotion through the words and imagery of the story.  There is potential for emotional connection and expressing sentiment that the child has not heard from the parent before.

When Nelson Mandela spoke to members of the UN that day, he did not expect them to make changes for the children during that very lunch hour, but rather to be moved enough by their experience that they would feel inspired to make lasting changes when they arrived home.  Similarly, I want to facilitate experiences with families that inspire them to continue after our sessions to create safe attachments, connection, and a secure place to explore and express emotion.   

References

Bowlby, J. (1977a). The making and breaking of affectional bonds, I. British Journal of Psychiatry,/50, 201-210. 

Costa, L. (1991). Family sculpting in the training of marriage and family.. Counselor Education & Supervision, 31(2), 121. Retrieved from http://libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9707085681&site=ehost-live 

Kolomeyer, E., & Renk, K. (2016). Family-Based Cognitive–behavioral Therapy for an Intelligent, Elementary School-Aged Child With Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Clinical Case Studies, 15(6), 443–458. https://doi-org.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1177/1534650116668046 

An Introduction to Attachment

married couple linking arms

What is Your Attachment Style?

By Dr. Debi Gilmore LMFT

What is attachment and why is it important?

Attachment refers the particular way in which you relate to other people. We each have a certain style of attachment that was influenced and developed at the very beginning of life. The most important years of attachment development occur during your first two years of life, and is influenced by your most consistent caregiver or mother-figure.  Once established, your attachment style remains in place and directly influences how you relate in intimate relationships and in how you parent your children. It is important to identify and understand your style of attachment and how you felt and developed in your childhood because it offers you insight into your present relationship patterns. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.

Early Attachment Patterns

From the early hours of life and through the early years of childhood, infants need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for their social and emotional development to occur normally. Without this consistency in interaction, secure attachment is negatively impacted, and children can suffer serious psychological and social impairment. During the first two years, how the parents or consistent caregivers respond to their infants, particularly during times of distress, establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form.  These patterns will go on to guide the child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as an adult in future relationships.

Secure Attachment:

Ideally, when an infant cries out, their caregiver responds consistently. The baby begins to formulate confidence in the idea that when they have a need, someone will be there for them. This is essential during the first year of life and must be consistent during the first two years of age. As a result of this consistency, they form an emotional attachment to an adult who is attuned to them, that is, who is sensitive and responsive in their interactions with them. It is vital that this attachment figure remain a consistent caregiver throughout this period in a child’s life. During the second year, children begin to consider and use the adult as a secure base from which to explore the world and become more independent. A child in this type of relationship is more likely to become securely attached. In order for a child to feel securely attached to their parents or care-givers, the child must feel safe, consistently recognized, and soothed.

Avoidant Attachment:

Some adults are emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. They seem to have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed. These parents discourage crying and encourage independence. Emotions are seen as being negative and a sign of weakness. Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves. These children pull away from needing anything from anyone else and are self-contained. They are likely to develop an avoidant attachment with a misattuned parent.

Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment:

Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent but at the same time they act clingy and desperate. These children have an ambivalent/anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.

Disorganized Attachment:

When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening. This child is caught in a terrible dilemma: her survival instincts are telling her to flee to safety but safety is the very person who is terrifying her.  The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. In these situations, children typically disassociate from their selves. They detach from what is happening to them and what they are experiencing is blocked from their consciousness. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures.

Adult Attachment Styles


Secure Personality:

People who formed secure attachments in childhood have secure attachment patterns in adulthood. They have a strong sense of self-worth and they naturally desire close relationships with others. They basically have a positive view of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Their lives are balanced: they are both secure in their independence and in their close relationships.

Dismissive Personality:

Those who had avoidant attachments in childhood most likely have dismissive attachment patterns as adults. These people tend to be loners; they regard relationships and emotions as being relatively unimportant. They are cerebral and suppress their feelings. Their typical response to conflict and stressful situations is to avoid them by distancing themselves. These people’s lives are not balanced: they are inward and isolated, and emotionally removed from themselves and others.

Preoccupied Personality:

Children who have an ambivalent/anxious attachment often grow up to have preoccupied attachment patterns. As adults, they are self-critical and insecure. They seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt. In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and overly dependent with their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced: their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.

Fearful-Avoidant Personality:

People who grew up with disorganized attachments often develop fearful-avoidant patterns of attachment. Since, as children, they detached from their feelings during times of trauma, as adults, they continue to be somewhat detached from themselves. They desire relationships and are comfortable in them until they develop emotionally close. At this point, the feelings that were repressed in childhood begin to resurface and, with no awareness of them being from the past, they are experienced in the present. The person is no longer in life today but rather, is suddenly re-living an old trauma. These people’s lives are not balanced: they do not have a coherent sense of themselves nor do they have a clear connection with others.

It's Never Too Late!

There is good news—it is never too late to develop a secure attachment. The negative effects of not having an ideal attachment experience early in life are absolutely reversible. Even though your patterns of attachment were formed in infancy and can follow you throughout your life, it is possible to shift your attachment style into a healthier one. The first step is to become aware of your present style of attachment.

Research on attachment demonstrates that awareness of your present attachment style and making sense of childhood experiences is actually the best predictor of future security in relationships. Research also shows that by forming an attachment with someone with a secure attachment style can influence our own sense of security in the relationship.

Getting Help

It may be helpful to meet with a therapist who is an expert in attachment theory. The therapist can help make sense of the insecurities and offer steps to shift and change the attachment patterns that have become barriers to healthy attachment. This process helps us to get to know ourselves through understanding our past experiences. This process takes time and varying levels of courage. However, in doing this, we strengthen our ability to navigate through the world with a more grounded sense of security that helps us better withstand the challenges and trials of life.

Resources

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol I. Attachment (1st and 2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Fraley, R. C., Booth-LaForce, C., Owen, M. T., Holland, A. S., & Roisman, G. I. (2013, May). Interpersonal and genetic origins of adult attachment styles: A longitudinal study from infancy to early childhood. Personality and Social Psychology, 104(5), 817-838.

Meyers, L. L. (2003). The role of attachment style, gender, and relationship history in romantic partnership satisfaction and partner selection (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest.

Roisman, G. I. (2007, Jan). The psychophysiology of adult attachment relationships: Autonomic reactivity in marital and premarital interactions. Developmental Psychology, 43(1), 39-53.

Seedall, R. B. (2011, Oct). John Bowlby - from psychoanalysis to ethology: Unraveling the roots of attachment theory. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 37(4), 509.