The Importance of Childhood Attachments

A Basic Human Need

When my son, Nicholas, was born he was a healthy 7 pound 15-ounce baby boy. From my perspective, he was the definition of a bundle of joy.

I’ll never forget the moment I heard the nurse say; “It’s a baby!” In an instant, I was filled with the sensation of euphoria. Never before that moment nor ever again have I experienced a moment like I did when I turned my head to see my baby boy. My breath ceased and time stopped.

Time continued to move in slow motion and my life was forever changed. Tears of joy began to swell in my eyes and one by one roll down my cheek. I was overcome by the desire to just hold, kiss and hug that little guy. I wanted to hold him more than I have ever wanted anything. That baby I had been wanting for so many years was now a tangible reality and nothing could possibly bring me more joy.

Not everyone feels such a euphoria right after giving birth. In fact, I did not feel it either when my other children were born. But, for the majority of women, if it doesn’t happen immediately, it will happen within a few days. Women are programmed to become so bonded with their children over a couple of days the thought of being without that child is painful and unimaginable.

This feeling, of unconditional bonding and connection, is built into humans. We are pre-wired to bond with and protect our young. To receive joy and gratification from our children.

Most people know this happens, even if they are unaware of the science of attachments, it is obvious and expected for this emotional attachment to occur. But, most of us are not aware of the necessity and importance of that bond for the infant, nor how their own infancy and childhood attachments have an impact on their present day reality.

I had to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover from the surgery after Nicholas was born. But during out entire stay, he refused to eat. Every time the nurses brought him to me to nurse, he would just make no effort. Really, if a newborn won’t try to nurse, be it from the breast or a bottle, there is little you can do about it. You can try to pour milk into their mouths, but if they won’t take the milk you just have to accept it and keep trying with love and patience. Nicholas did not accept one drop of milk for over two days.

Instead of nursing, I would unwrap him from his swaddle and hold his bare skin up against my bare skin (skin to skin contact) and cover us both tightly in a blanket. We rested skin to skin. Content and happy for hours at a time. If the nurses would have allowed it, we would have spent the entire stay in the hospital this way. It felt good for both of us.

A couple of days went by and Nicholas still had yet to nurse – at all. The hospital staff informed me that Nicholas’s blood sugar was so low from not eating that they had become extremely concerned. But, when they checked it again a few minutes before, much to their surprise, his blood sugar was up to normal levels.They were no longer concerned if he nursed or not for the remainder of our stay.

After two days without one drop of nourishment, Nicholas was in perfect health! His blood sugar levels were normal, he was healthy, and he was gaining weight right on schedule. How was this possible?

This is a firsthand, real-life experience I had with Nicholas shows how important attachments are for humans. Attachments, touch, and love are the most basic of all human needs. The connection and attachment an infant has with a caregiver is more important for their health and development than the food required for physical nourishment.

Over the last few decades, there have been numerous studies to show the importance of human attachments and connections early in life. It used to be thought that all a baby needed was food and basic care. We used to operate under the assumption that a baby would connect to whoever fed him or her. That is until Rene Spitz in the 1940’s, discovered the failure to thrive syndrome while studying orphans in sterile institutions. The orphans he studied were provided with what was thought to be all their basic needs. The young children were bathed, fed and clothed, however, due to the nature of sterile institutions, they were not held, hugged, played with or otherwise touched.

The intention behind such care was to prevent the spread of germs and thereby keep the children from getting sick. Yet, in their attempt to keep these children healthy the opposite happened. The children became sickly, thin, withdrawn, and depressed. Their development became retarded, meaning they were unable to sit, eat, or even play anywhere near their developmental level. The children were sickly looking and began to withdrawal to such an extreme that on the rare occasion they were touched, the children acted as if it was painful.

In fact, the lack of human contact had such dire consequences that the mortality rate of these institutions was between 75% and 100%! (Orlans & Levy, 2006).

Isn’t it interesting how without eating for several days, my son not only survived, but he thrived, gained weight, and developed right on schedule from only skin to skin contact? Yet the children who were provided all but human contact, not only, failed to grow and develop, but almost all of them died.

This kind of need for human affection and contact has been shown over and over again in research studies, from Harlow’s study in 1958, where his monkeys showed a strong preference for a surrogate mother covered in terry cloth over a wire surrogate mother, even when it provided milk, to Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation (1969) that went on to discover different patterns of attachment based on the interactions a baby has with his or her mother. Research continues to find more and more prevalence of the attachments we had early in life to how we perceive, operate, and function as adults. Or in other words, how our reality is created.

What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory first introduced by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth during the 1960s is the concept that the first relationships we have impact our view and concept of the world and ourselves; in other words, how our personal reality is created.

John Bowlby (1969) described the term attachments as the emotional bond that develops between an infant and a primary caregiver. Attachments are the bonds and connections we make with other people in our lives. Throughout life, the attachments with primary caregivers shape reality, determines how we interact in the world and, impacts the quality of relationships we have as adults.

If in infancy and childhood, if those attachments were strong and secure you were able to grow and develop, learn independence, and gain confidence. As an adult, you tend to have healthy relationships with yourself and others and have a healthy view of life and the world around you. But when the attachments you had in infancy and childhood were anything less than secure and healthy an assortment of issues and problems occur.

Research studies and theorists have shown for a long time now that people need other people. We need the security, comfort, and touch of loving caregivers throughout childhood. Caregivers who, when we are dependent and unable to care for ourselves, are able to fulfill our needs and consistently take care of us. If you perceived your caregivers as being absent, neglectful, or uncaring your view of the world is vastly different from those who perceived their caregivers as always attentive, caring, and supportive. The results are the attachments patterns that develop. These attachment patterns continue into adulthood and have an impact on several areas of life.

Why is it important for you to understand attachment theory and your own attachment patterns on your spiritual journey? Those who are able to integrate their past and present in an honest and realistic way that are able to break free from the blocks and emotional baggage that past experiences carry with it. Such coherence between your past and present frees you to have secure attachments, including that with your higher power. It frees you from emotional baggage and blocks that get in the way of co-creating and manifesting the life you are supposed to have.

Those who develop secure attachment patterns, be it secure attachments from caregivers in childhood or an “earned secure attachment” developed as an adult, are able to be proactive in their life purpose, goals, relationships, and ability to manifest and co-create their lives.

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Written by Sarahdawn Tunis, MA  2015

***The information provided by this blog/website/discussion forum is intended to provide general guidelines and recognizes that individual issues vary. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem.***

Resources

Bowlby J. (1969). Attachment and Loss.Vol.1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Levy, T. & Orlans, M. (2006). Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust & Love. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, Inc.

Watch videos on the studies referenced in this article

Psychogenic Diseases in Infancy Renee Spitz 1952: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvdOe10vrs4

Ainsworth Strange Situation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s608077NtNI

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Sarahdawn

Sarahdawn is no stranger to depression, anxiety, and negative thinking. That is until her life hit the proverbial rock bottom and an angel whispered in her ear. Since then, Sarahdawn has been dedicated to helping others discover the power of angels and spirituality. She has a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in counseling psychology from the University of Colorado at Denver.

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