How can secure attachment help my family and me?

Families are often described as the cornerstone of society. But what builds a family?

“The building blocks of a family are emotional bonds and the confidence one has in the security of these is a resource of resilience for an individual but also for the family as a whole.” (Furrow et al., 2019).

When we talk about being at home we refer to a feeling and an experience of belonging. It is a safe place from which to explore the world. The originator of attachment theory, John Bowlby, mentioned that “ all of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s).

Going into the world knowing that our loved ones are there for us gives us a secure basis from which to explore the world. The confidence in these connections gives family members more resilience and allows them to face challenges in life better.

Maintaining good family ties helps to keep these connections as life situations change over time. Once these connections are disrupted it can cause distress to the individual family members and to the family as a whole. If that happens then Emotionally Focused Family Therapy can provide support. It focuses on transforming the family’s insecure pattern into positive cycles of security (Furrow et al. 2019).

A key component is learning to regulate emotions. Emotion regulation describes the ability to influence emotion and its expression (Gross, 1998). This is a complex skill that is learned automatically in families when children feel safe. Accepting children, validating them, and assuring them they are cared for and loved, is what parents can do to make children feel secure. So that they can have that secure base from which to explore the world. Throughout our lives, we all need this support though. So do include older family members as well. 

Once we can regulate our emotions better we connect more deeply with significant others. A simple way that can help you be more emotionally responsive to others is by making use of the acronym A.R.E. It stands for: 

Accessibility: Can I reach you? This is about staying open, even if you feel insecure and have doubts.

Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally? This is about tuning in to your loved one.  About accepting and prioritizing their emotional cues.

Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close? This is about being emotionally present.

A good way to remember A.R.E. is the phrase “ Are you there, are you with me?” (Johnson, 2008). Knowing that loved ones are there for us calms our nervous system and makes us feel safe. It provides a secure base from which we can explore the world. 

References:

Furrow, J., Faller, G., Johnson, S. M., Palmer, G., & Palmer-Olsen, L. (2019). Emotionally focused family therapy: Restoring connection and promoting resilience. Routledge. 

Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271–299. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.271

Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of Love. Little, Brown Spark. 

Written by:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

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