The Elements of Attachment

by , under attachment, conversations to have with your spouse, kids, love, parenting, relationships

attached familyParents of young children are often preoccupied with how best to establish strong bonds with their little ones. We long for meaningful interactions. We hope that our children will both initiate and positively receive these interactions, which we also hope will be a source of strength for both parties. The mental health world uses the word “attachment” to describe this type of essential bond. Years of research shows that secure attachments are essential to our health and well-being. When we have it, we thrive. When we lack it, we suffer. Simply put, we are wired for this connection.

Attachment becomes a huge focus in our lives when our children are small. The innate desire to protect and nurture our children is primal. Yet, at the same time, attachment can be vague and ambiguous. It is hard to know if we are accurately reading the signals of our babies and children and to know just how to respond. It is difficult to know how to create that special bond and how to know when we have it. The truth is, attachment isn’t something that is ever so simply established in infancy. It is molded and modified throughout any individual’s life. The early stages of marriage and parenthood are a wonderful time to begin a journey through our own attachment world as we embark on the creation of a solid family unit.

There are a host of ideas on how to approach attachment, particularly with infants. Some of them are even contradictory. It can be confusing and overwhelming. Truth is, there isn’t one right way. Our particular methods of establishing and maintaining connection are as unique as our fingerprint. The key is to discover it, learn what it feels like, and then create our very own love map. The next step is to learn to apply it with those in our inner circle. Following a formula simply won’t work. Connection depends on authenticity.

I encourage young couples and parents to approach this with a mindset of exploration and discovery. A good starting point is learning the basics of the widely accepted baseline theory of attachment, which has been researched over and over again since Bowlby first approached it in the 1950s.

The basic elements of attachment theory are as follows:

  • Attachment is an innate driving force throughout life.
  • Healthy dependency complements autonomy.
  • Secure attachment anchors us.
  • We seek out and try to maintain a secure connection with loved ones.
  • We reach for loved ones in times of uncertainty and distress.
  • We miss loved ones when they are physically or emotionally remote.  Isolation and loss are traumatizing.
  • Accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement foster security.
  • Insecurity leads to behaviors which basically fall into 2 categories: anxious and avoidant.

I encourage you to begin exploring your attachment world. Here are some resources that can help. Since most young parents are extremely busy, I’ve listed them shortest to longest. I’ve also indicated which are available in audiobook format.

  • Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson – Part I
  • Love Sense, by Sue Johnson
  • Becoming Attached – First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, by Robert Karen

If you have additional recommendations that educate on attachment theory please email me at  As always, feel free to leave a comment.