Secure attachment and the four conditions for being present originated in the middle of the last century with John Bowlby, a psychiatrist and psychologist who is considered the father of this theory.
The roots of resilience are to be found in the feeling of being understood and existing in the mind and heart of another person who is loved, attuned and self-possessed.
This theory arose because he became interested in the emotional attachments of children growing up in orphanages.
As a curious and vital fact, during his visits to those orphanages, he noticed how the girls and boys had a considerable number of stereotypes (rhythmic-repetitive movements).
During his observations, he concluded that these types of movements were generated by the lack of attention and care on the part of the orphanage staff. This lack of attention and care was associated with simple yet important actions related to touch, movement (cradling, touching, and comforting), lack of affection and bonding.
In order to make up for this lack, children generated these movements, in order to somehow make up for and find self-regulation for these basic needs.
What is attachment theory?
Attachment is the basis from which a child experiences the world.
This theory states that human beings are programmed from the moment we enter the world to establish intense, emotional relationships with several people at once.
At birth, this innate bonding capacity is strengthened between the initial mother and primary caregiver, and for this to occur, the interaction between the baby and these figures is essential.
Paraphrasing Rafael Guerrero, this type of affective bonding that the baby generates with its parents is asymmetrical; in other words, it is the mother and father who are in charge of providing and covering the emotional needs (affection, affection, attention, etc.) and basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) of their sons and daughters, and not the other way around.
All these actions have the mission to provide a safe environment for the child where he/she can experience him/herself in confidence.
There are two main types of attachment, secure and insecure; insecure attachment is in turn divided into three: avoidant, ambivalent-anxious and disorganised.
Here I will describe the one related to the secure attachment style.
This is when mum, dad, caregivers, have responded empathetically to the emotional needs of their children regardless of whether these emotions are pleasant or unpleasant.
When this occurs, a secure attachment style develops. The secure attachment style child is at ease with the world around him or her and in interaction with others. He or she approaches the world with a curious, resilient outlook; it is easier for him or her to take on the various challenges of life and to enjoy and opt for new possibilities.
The 4 conditions of secure attachment
Children with this type of attachment feel seen, secure, comforted and safe. These are the four conditions described by Daniel Siegel in his book The Power of Presence and summarised below.
This means that the child feels protected physically, relationally and emotionally. They need to know and feel that they are safe; that their mother, their father are that safe harbour where they can go, that they can be assured that they can look after their physical, emotional and relational safety.
To be able to tune in to their thoughts, feelings, memories, to that whole inner landscape that unfolds.
Human beings are what they are when they are seen, recognised and taken into account.
For sons and daughters, feeling seen means being physically present, such as attending their events, playing with them, sharing family moments, among other things. However, beyond this physical presence and the time invested, feeling seen emotionally and relationally is also essential.
To be able to tune in to their thoughts, feelings, memories, with all that internal landscape that unfolds.
To be able to really connect with their experiences, their joys, pleasures, dis-pleasures and make them feel that we are there for them in good times and bad, when pleasant and unpleasant emotions arise. To be reliable, not perfect, because it is obvious that we can make mistakes along the way.
This component provides a deep security for children, equipping them with the tools to cope with life and to better understand others.
Life brings many challenges, and as we navigate this vast ocean, there are gentle waves and stronger ones that toss us about. In the upbringing of sons and daughters, of course, they will not be exempt from these movements.
While it is true that we cannot always rescue them from painful and uncomfortable situations, it is vital that we are there in those moments that are most painful for them. To guarantee that presence in difficult moments and to help them to take advantage of that wave when it arises.
They need to know and feel deep down that we will be there even when they misbehave.
As Daniel Siegel says:
We have to let them learn that there is pain in life, but that lesson must be accompanied by the deep awareness that they will never have to suffer alone.
Once we have gone through the previous conditions, we come to the fourth and that is feeling safe. When daughters and sons feel your presence, they know that they can count on you again and again; that you will provide that safe space where they can experience themselves, express themselves and feel seen when it happens; that you will be there in the grey and bright moments to comfort, listen and guide them.
At this point you have contributed to the resilience skill where they can cope with life from a state of security and not in states of prolonged stress.
Advantages of secure attachment
- Increased self-esteem
- Better emotional regulation
- Better interpersonal relationships (mother, father, siblings, peers)
- Better socio-emotional competences
- Greater sense of autonomy
- Increased confidence, less hostility towards life
- Enhanced leadership skills
- Building emotional protections against adversity, increased resilience
Why is it so important for you to know attachment theory?
We learn our first lessons in self-care from how we were cared for in infancy and childhood.
The capacity for self-regulation depends to a large extent on how harmonious our relationships with our primary caregivers were.
Children have secure attachments when their primary caregivers (mother, father, teacher, grandmother, other) have responded responsibly and empathetically to their emotional expressions, both pleasant and unpleasant. This is called emotional attunement.
The style of attachment that one has as an adult conditions the relationships that one establishes on a daily basis during the upbringing of children, the relationship with one’s partner and with others,
Guerrero, R. (2018). Emotional education and attachment. Ed. Planeta
Siegel, D. Payne, T. (2020). The power of presence. Ed. Alba