“So tell me about your mother.”
It’s become somewhat of a cliche in pop psychology: if you want to better understand your relationship patterns and improve your capacity to connect with others, you have to take a close look at the very first relationships you ever formed — your relationship with your parents and/or caregivers.
As Dr. Keith often reminds us, “Everything is relationships.” And these early relationships often set the tone and cadence for all the other relationships we will ever form in our lives. The coping strategies we learn in preadolescence become our inner compass later in life, and our efforts as grownups can often be seen as expressions, compensations, or substitute gratifications for the sense of security we may or may not have felt as children.
In other words, the ways our parents or caregivers respond to our needs as children result in a number of core assumptions about who we are, how others see us, and our overall sense of self-worth. We typically carry these unexamined core assumptions with us for the rest of our lives, which in turn influence how we go about seeking intimacy and fulfilling our needs as adults — not only in our romantic relationships, but also in our work, in our creative pursuits, in our own approach to parenting, and even in our spiritual life.
These underlying patterns and dynamics are best described by a psychological framework known as “attachment theory”, yet another essential tool to help us more fully understand, uncover, and unlock the promise and potential of the Integral mind.
What is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is a psychological framework that seeks to understand how our early relationships with caregivers, particularly our parents, shape our emotional and social development throughout our lives. It was first proposed by British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and has since been expanded upon by other researchers.
According to attachment theory, the quality of the bond that develops between a child and their primary caregiver has a profound impact on the child’s emotional and social development. This bond is formed through repeated interactions between the child and caregiver, in which the caregiver responds to the child’s needs for comfort, safety, and affection.
Attachment theory identifies three primary attachment styles: secure attachment, insecure-avoidant attachment, and insecure-anxious attachment. Children with a secure attachment style have caregivers who are consistently responsive and emotionally available, and they tend to be confident and trusting in their relationships. Children with insecure-avoidant attachment have caregivers who are emotionally distant or unresponsive, and they tend to avoid seeking comfort or support. Children with insecure-anxious attachment have caregivers who are inconsistent in their responses, and they tend to be anxious and uncertain in their relationships.
Attachment theory has been applied to a wide range of fields, from developmental psychology to psychotherapy to organizational behavior. It has been used to inform parenting practices, to help individuals understand and improve their relationships, and to develop interventions to help those with insecure attachment styles.