Entropy Rules

Total Wellbeing Works:

Securely Attached Healthy Connections

    Maltreatment exerts its deleterious effects on physical, emotional, and psychological development by disrupting the development of healthy, secure attachment between child and caregiver. The primary function of the attachment relationship is to meet the needs of the child; the primary goal of attachment related behavior is to maintain the proximity and availability of a responsive caregiver. Consistent availability of the caregiver helps the baby (child, or adolescent) to regulate distressing states such as anxiety, fear, frustration, and anger that arise in response to physiology and unmet needs (e.g., for food when hungry; for comfort when a diaper needs changing; for comfort and reassurance in the presence of a startling stimulus in the environment). Secure attachment is more likely when parents use developmentally appropriate, effective, and compassionate verbal and nonverbal communication in response to their children's difficult mental, physical, and emotional states (e.g., Siegel & Hartzell, 2014). To promote secure attachment, contact and interaction with the parent ideally reduces stress in the child, promotes and prolongs positive states, and maintains supportive social connections with the caregiver and other important people. Over time, consistent, predictable, and positive experiences give rise to cognitive schemas of the self, other, and world that are optimistic, affirm the essential goodness of the self and others, and foster a sense of self-efficacy in interaction with the world (Belsky & Pasco Fearon, 2008). The ability of a caregiver to respond to a child in an emotionally attuned and effective way is closely linked to the caregiver's ability to be aware of and monitor their own emotions, especially negative affect. It is also crucial that the caregiver has empathy for the child and is able to differentiate their affective experience from that of their child (Feldman, Greenbaum, & Yirmiya, 1999; Spanglar, Schieche, Ilg, & Ackerman, 1994).
    The reciprocal, attuned interactions between child and caregiver that characterize secure attachment help develop and integrate connections in the developing child's brain, establishing essential linkages between the limbic system, the autonomic nervous system, and higher regulatory systems in the right prefrontal cortex and midline prefrontal regions (Siegel, 2007; Schore, 2003a/2003b). The integration of these systems eventually equips the child with the neurobiological circuitry necessary for successful affective and behavioral regulation (Spence, Shapiro, & Zaidel, 1996; Schore, 2003a/2003b). It allows for integrated processing of multiple modalities of information, especially socioemotional information, in a way that supports functionally realistic evaluations of threat, and modulates nervous system responses such as the fight or flight activation of the sympathetic nervous system (Craig, 2002; Schore, 2003a/2003b; Siegel, 2007/2012). Key brain areas affected by early attachment experiences underlie the automatic, subconscious processing of potential threats and rewards, and are thus closely linked to regulating related negative and positive affect (Baxter, Parker, Lindner, Izquierdo, & Murray, 2000; Elliott, Dolan, & Frith, 2000; Savage et al., 2001). Additionally, these brain regions are linked to moral reasoning and empathy (Perry et al., 2001; Bigler, 2001). Adaptive, functionally integrated capacities can be promoted by an environment characterized by secure attachment, while children in maltreated environments lack the early socioemotional experiences necessary to weave this neural architecture together in a beneficial way (Siegel, 2012).

⇲ definitions

  This review will frequently refer to several key measures of attachment: infant attachment; adult states of mind with respect to attachment in childhood; and adult attachment (i.e., adults' states of mind with respect to attachment relationships in adulthood). Key attachment constructs are defined in Appendix A.

⇲ About The Author

Robin Hertz, MA is currently in the process of completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon.