Looking at the Families in Your Practice Through the Attachment Lens
By Debra Wesselmann, MS, LIMHP
©2019 Debra Wesselmann
The Advantages of a Secure Attachment
Attachment security develops when our children experience us as their primary source of comfort and security. Children with attachment security have several advantages. They tend to grow up feeling good about themselves and others. Their relationships are a buffer to stress, and they have a strong capacity for empathy. Secure children naturally form other healthy, close relationships as they go out into the world.
Nancy and Nate
Nancy brought her six-year-old son Nate to therapy due to frequent and severe meltdowns. She became aware that she had never been comfortable with physical closeness with Nate. Nate had picked up on her discomfort and had stopped seeking comfort from Nancy. She gained insight into how her childhood experiences had led to her discomfort with closeness. Individual therapy helped her overcome her blocks and show more affection. Over time, the increased security calmed Nate’s meltdowns.
Obstacles to Security
There are several situations that can create roadblocks to attachment security. Chronic pain or separations due to hospitalizations may block children’s ability to trust. Sensory defensiveness or other in-born conditions can cause discomfort or dysregulation that may prevent them from feelings of comfort and security with their parents. Abuse or neglect leads children to associate love with pain.
In high-stress circumstances, parents may become preoccupied and unable to respond to their children’s needs. Addictions add additional roadblocks to the parent-child connection. Parents who don’t feel safe while growing up may have an excessive need to control to feel safe, and closeness may not feel comfortable or natural.
Consider Mental Health Therapy
Mental health therapy (such as EMDR therapy) can help parents break generational patterns, become sensitive and attuned to their children, and develop strategies for strengthening the parent-child connection. When parents feel better, their children feel better. When children view their parents as a source of comfort, they tend to trust their guidance and their advice, and their behaviors improve. Conceptualizing the problems of parents and children through the attachment lens can lead to effective clinical interventions for families.