Posted by: icmadoptionnetwork | January 9, 2013

The Attachment Dance

One of the main concerns pre-adoptive families have is concerning bonding and attachment. Many families express to us their worry regarding their adoptive child’s ability to attach to them as parents, and also in attaching to other children in the home. This is a legitimate concern, as we know that many children are adopted from difficult circumstances. Many children adopted internationally have had numerous broken attachments in their short little lives. Worse yet, some of these children have never in their lives made an attachment to someone. These children are aching for attachment; and every child has in their genetic makeup the desire to be close to someone.

There are many ways to reenforce attachment, and assist your child in making a strong attachment. We will attempt to give a great deal of information on this blog regarding attachment. However one of the most important things for families to understand is that their own attachment style will largely affect their child’s attachment style. Every person has an attachment style, and your child will view and respond to how you act with those you are attached to. For instance, if a child is in a home where physical affection is prevalent, and attachment is expressed through lots of hugs and kisses, they will learn to mirror that attachment style.

So what is your attachment style, which was likely formed by mirroring the attachment styles of your own parents? According to Mary Ainsworth, there are three main types of attachment styles.

The first is Secure Attachment. This is exactly what it sounds like. These individuals are confident in their relationships, and trusting of one another. They are sure of the other’s love for them, and do not fear abandonment. Relationships with others outside of the primary relationship are seen as healthy. For instance, a husband and wife with a secure attachment will be completely comfortable with and encouragement that their significant other have friendships outside of their own marriage. Those with secure attachments have very strong and healthy boundaries in their relationships.

The second type of attachment style is Avoidant. Individuals with an Avoidant attachment style shy away from deep connections and relationships. Oftentimes their relationships are superficial. These individuals find discomfort in being emotionally or physically close to another person. They often find complete trust in another individual difficult. Individuals with this type of attachment style have difficulty relying on someone else for a need.

The final attachment style is Ambivalent. Individuals with this type of attachment style are typically extremely dependent upon a primary attachment, and reluctant to form other attachments. For instance, a child that struggles with this will be very clingy to mother and father, and very untrusting of any other individual. Adults that have this style of attachment typically have a great deal of anxiety regarding relationships. They also typically experience a great deal of dependence upon their primary attachment, but also a great amount of fear in that relationship ending.

What type of attachment style do you think you have? What type of attachment style do you think your spouse has? Do you see these attachment styles in your parents or in your children? It is important to know your attachment style, because that will in turn affect the attachment style of your children. You might not be happy with your attachment style (I wasn’t when I first did this), but there is good news…

You can transition your attachment style. While attachment style is ingrained deeply in a person, it is not impossible to change. Here are some keys to changing your attachment style:

  • Be aware of your interactions with others. Go out of your way to encource strong bonds with people. My grandfather never said “I love you.” So while in college, I decided that he and I needed to say it at the end of every phone call. It was a simple step, but my father was utterly flabberghasted one day when he heard his father tell me that he loved me.
  • Make a diagram of your relationships, listed in order from most important to least important. How much time are you putting into those relationships that are most important?
  • Keep a Relationship Journal. Many of us aren’t even aware of the depth of our relationships with others. How are your relationships with those that you listed as most important in your diagram from the previous step?
  • Receive feedback from trusted individuals. One day a close friend jokingly stated that I give “fake hugs…” that I don’t really put any effort into it. That is all that it took for me to ensure that when I hug someone, I do so with meaning.

These are not easy experiences, and change does not happen overnight. You will often find yourself creeping back into the attachment style that comes naturally for you. But I can assure you that if you can exemplify for your child a secure attachment, then prayerfully your child can possibly develop secure attachments in their own life.

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