Childhood and Attachment Concept in Therapy

What comes to mind when you think of childhood? To hypnotically remember a memory from our childhood by closing the eyes? Or lie down on a sofa and tell our therapist about random memories from our childhood? Both yes and no. So, why is “going down to childhood”, which is popular with everyone, is an important part of the therapy process?

To understand this better, let’s first touch on Bowlby’s (1995) attachment theory. According to attachment theory; The first relationship model that a person establishes in his life is the relationship he establishes with his mother and father (or primary caregiver), and it is critical for all relationship models to be established in the rest of his life. Children learn from relationship experiences with their parents and form some relationship models and patterns for themselves and begin to internalize them at an early age. Based on this relationship, they form an attachment style. There are three basic attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, and avoidant attachment. Let’s first look at what these attachment styles are.

Secure connection

A secure attachment is formed between the parent and the child as a result of consistent care of the child, meeting his needs consistently, and approaching with love and compassion. The child perceives the outside world as an environment that is sensitive to his own needs and in which he can trust. This builds trust in others. He knows that there is someone to comfort him when he is afraid or worried.

Anxious (Preoccupied) Attachment

An anxious attachment is seen in the child when the parent cannot establish a stable and stable area of ​​trust. Because the child is afraid of being deprived of the mother’s love and affection, he tends to develop an overly clinging and dependent relationship. The child both wants to be very close to his parent and resists close contact, exhibits an ambivalence image.

Indifferent / Avoidant Binding

In childhood, this attachment style occurs when the parents do not receive the necessary love and affection and their needs are not met. The child learns to keep his expectations at the lowest level in order not to be disappointed. He cannot develop a sense of trust and establish a close relationship. Prefers to ignore the caregiver. It is very possible for this attachment style to occur as a result of any kind of abuse or neglect.

Why are attachment styles important?

According to Attachment Theory, the child develops a “model of self” and “model of others” through the experiences he has with his parents and the relationship he develops with him from infancy. The “self-model” is the extent to which a person sees himself or herself as a valued individual worthy of love. The “others model” is the extent to which one perceives other people as trustworthy and ready to offer care and love. Attachment style established with parents; It is a determinant in shaping the basic beliefs of the individual towards himself and people and affects his feelings, thoughts and behaviors in his relationships in adulthood. These attachment styles and behavior patterns are passed on to other people in contact.

For this reason, it is very important to address childhood years in therapy. “Going down to childhood” is not just remembering random childhood memories, but discovering the connection between one’s current relationship patterns and childhood relationship patterns based on the context of the subject complained about today. It cannot be handled independently of the relationship that a person establishes with his/her environment, therefore, whatever the problem that causes the application to therapy, the relationships of the individual are always on the agenda, and since the source of these relationships mostly depends on childhood experiences, “going down to childhood” is one of the important elements of therapy.

How do we see attachment styles reflected in adult life?

Features of secure attachment

Individuals with this attachment style have high self-confidence and strong social relations skills. They enjoy close relationships and can form stable and secure relationships. They tend to view both themselves and others positively. They value close relationships, but they maintain a balanced relationship model, while maintaining their personal autonomy during these relationships. Securely attached individuals are individuals who can balance their own needs with the needs of others.

Features of Anxious (Preoccupied) Attachment

Individuals with this attachment style have self-confidence problems in their adulthood. They are uneasy about approaching others, they are worried that their feelings will not be reciprocated. By valuing the other person more than themselves, they tend to exalt and devalue themselves. They are very likely to draw a dependent pattern in their relationship. They always get the approval of the other person and they sacrifice more than necessary in order not to lose him. Usually, when they have children, they try to meet their attachment needs by being dependent on the child.

Characteristics of avoidant attachment

Individuals with this attachment style do not trust anyone and establish distant relationships. Generally, there are efforts to protect the self against possible rejections that may occur in close relationships. They view both themselves and others negatively and perceive the outside world as insecure. They avoid emotionally investing in close relationships and feel very little negative emotions when there is a breakup.

Is attachment style destiny?

Theories about attachment are widely accepted today and have a place in child development. “The importance of secure attachment” has become a concept known to almost everyone who has a child. So is attachment style destiny? Or is it possible to change this? Does someone who does not have a secure attachment style need to have unhealthy relationships for life? Of course no.

Although it is argued that attachment styles formed in childhood form a decisive basis for relationships in adulthood, it is not correct to generalize this under all conditions, since human relationships have a very complex structure. In some cases, it is seen that the attachment style of people who were securely attached in childhood changed due to the traumas they experienced in the later years of life, or on the contrary, a person with an insecure attachment pattern changed this pattern and switched to a secure attachment style thanks to their adult relationships.

In addition, people who want to raise awareness about their attachment style and who question these patterns in their current relationships in adult life and try to improve the areas they complain about are very useful in therapy. Attachment style should never be seen as a concept that will never change. The important thing is that the person realizes that he or she has unhealthy relationship patterns, has the motivation to change it, and gets the right help.

Today, you cannot get out of a relationship model that you are uncomfortable with or ask yourself, “Why do people like this always find me?” If you are asking, the answer to the question is; it may lie in the relationship patterns you have learned in childhood and the behavioral patterns you have internalized at the time. If you feel that these relationship patterns are now damaging, therapeutic support is needed to change them. Since the therapy relationship will also create an attachment pattern, change occurs when the individual reflects his feelings, thoughts and behaviors in this relationship and deals with them in the safe environment created by the therapist.

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