Have you ever stopped to think about how humans learn to form close relationships? Or why we need close relationships, and what we gain from them?
It can be easy to take our relationships for granted. After all, they seem to happen naturally. Everywhere we look, we see parents and children, friends, or romantic partners interacting. It’s a universal experience that spans across cultures and languages.
But there’s so much more to forming relationships than we often realize. Psychologists have been studying human attachment for decades. Their studies have led them to formulate what they call the attachment theory.
When an infant is born, it is completely dependent on its caregiver to meet all of its needs. In the early days, babies typically communicate their needs through crying. As they grow older, of course, they begin communicating in other ways: laughing, cooing, smiling, throwing things, giving hugs, etc.
When healthy emotional attunement is on board kids feel understood, cared for and important. Through their parents’ quick and appropriate responses to their needs, children learn to trust. They learn that they can rely on other people to be there for them.
The way in which a baby’s parents respond to it in its first five years is vital for helping the child create lasting, healthy relationships. Babies and young children, like all humans, seek comfort and reassurance when they are upset. They thrive on gentle physical touch, laughter, and playful give-and-take.
These early interactions help establish a template of safety and belonging in their nervous systems that will later allow that child to develop meaningful and enduring emotional bonds with others as they grow into adulthood.
When All Goes Well
When children’s needs are fulfilled in this manner, they start to develop their self-esteem and sense of security. And they can begin to calm themselves down when they get upset, this is called emotional regulation.
With the knowledge that their parent is a safe place for them, little ones begin to venture out on their own toward other people, other children, and new experiences. But they keep a close eye on their caregiver and always return to check in. With healthy emotional attunement on board, kids develop an implicit sense of safety, belonging and ease in their relationships with their caregivers. This leads to what is called secure attachment, which is vital for future overall health, positive esteem and meaningful connections with others.
When All Doesn’t Go Well
Unfortunately, though, not all babies receive the type of attunement and attention from their parents that they need. This can happen through outright cases of abuse and neglect and/or unintentional acts of misattunement such as a parent struggling with mental health issues of their own, extended absences in care due to medical issues or incarceration, and systemic issues of poverty and racism.
Take a look at the diagram below:
As you can see, the negative impacts of early caregiver failures affect nearly every area of that child’s life. Without treatment, support, intervention and/or positive shifts in that child’s family system, that child who grows into an adult will continue struggle throughout their lifetime.
Personal Growth and Development
As you can see, having a healthy attachment to caregivers as a young child really sets the stage for healthy relationships and self-esteem as an adult. Likewise, attachment issues created in early childhood go on to interfere with personal growth and development in adulthood.
Children who weren’t able to form healthy attachments can struggle with a number of things. They often feel lonely, unsure of themselves, and out of touch with their emotions. Because they are trying to fill the hole created by not getting enough loving attunement as a baby, they may become people-pleasers and/or turn to retail therapy, gambling, drugs or alcohol.
Somatic symptoms can also appear as a result of poor childhood attachment, the body itself stores these experiences. The brain and nervous system responds to the lack of proper care during infancy by creating patterns of tension and stuckness in the body that can eventually lead dis-ease and poor physical functioning. As such, we often see clients who struggle with digestive issues, low immune responsivity, fatigue and other physical ailments.
Fortunately, though, there are ways to find healing from childhood attachment disruptions. Co-Regulating Touch is a therapeutic touch method that directly addresses attachment related issues. If you suspect you have been negatively impacted by attachment issues in early childhood, please reach out. Together, Somatic Therapy Partners can help you move forward.
If you’re interested in trying somatic-based trauma therapy or you have more questions, please reach out or make your first appointment for a Co-Regulating Touch session.