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The Beginnings Of Attachment

November 2, 2010

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In her 2002 book Attaching in Adoptions, Deborah Gray goes into great detail describing how attachments are formed and disrupted.  Based on the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, it is accepted that secure attachments are developed during an infant’s first year of life.  During the first twelve months outside the womb (attachment actually begins way before a baby is born), an infant will learn either trust or mistrust in his environment and caregivers.  Trust that the world is safe.  Trust that her needs will be met.  This trust is the basis of a secure attachment, which is essential to developing a positive self-concept, empathy, and a healthy conscience.

So how does an infant develop trust in her caregivers and environment as opposed to mistrust?  Deborah Gray describes an “Attachment Cycle” on page 20 of Attaching in Adoptions.

Imagine what you know about an infant.  It’s commonly held that infants do three major things: eat, sleep, cry.  Consider that crying is an infant’s only method of communication.  The child’s only way to tell his caregiver that he is hungry, tired, wet, or bored.  Crying communicates that something is wrong. In a healthy attachment cycle, when an infant communicates a need, an adult or caregiver responds.  When the caregiver fixes the child’s need, the child has now learned that the world is a safe and good place.  She has also learned that her parent or caregiver can meet her needs and brings satisfaction.  She knows that her needs are important enough to someone to respond, and that she can trust someone else to meet those needs.

Rounding out this cycle is the extremely important time when the infant is calm and content.  When a baby calms and is soothed by his parent, the parent has learned that she is competent and can take care of her baby.  The parent’s confidence increases and he believes that he knows how to take care of his baby after all!  It is during these times of calm and content that a baby and his daddy can gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes.  The parents and infant become more in tune with each other, which in turn only increases the caregiver’s confidence.  The cycle of attachment begins all over again, each time the caregiver feeling more confident he can tend to his baby’s needs, and the baby feels more confident his needs will be met.

A secure attachment is born.

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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.

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