The positive interaction (needs-arousal) cycle

May 29, 2020 – 10:44 am

Psychoanalyst John Bowlby, drawing on concepts from ethology, cybernetics, information processing, developmental psychology, and psychoanalysis, formulated the basic tenets of attachment theory. He defined attachment as the affectional tie between two people. It begins with the bond between the infant and mother. This bond then represents how the child's life relationships will be formed.

Bowlby stated, "The initial relationship between self and others serves as a blueprint for all future relationships." In other words, it is at this beginning stage that a baby learns how to relate to others. Initially, his or her world is very small and focused only on the parents or primary caretakers. Their response to the baby will determine the baby's ability to attach.

In attachment interactions between baby and mother, the secure mother regulates (calms) the baby's shifting arousal levels, which affects the baby's emotional states. If, during stressful events, a sustained calm stage can be reached due to parental soothing, the child develops self-regulation skills. The child begins to learn how to self-soothe, and these skills form the building blocks of healthy and significant future relationships. The ability to self-regulate and be regulated is a prerequisite to the ability to form healthy attachments.

This process is easy to observe when a mother rocks, holds or bounces her child; perhaps coupled with a shushing sound while the baby calms. Some babies settle down just at the touch, smell or sound of their mothers.

Babies, children and youth who did not experience this soothing process find it difficult to calm down in moments of stress. These are the individuals who may react with only a minor provocation. An adolescent who begins yelling, cursing or crying when asked to complete a task or chore provides an example of someone who is not able to self-soothe. Attachment can thus be defined as the dyadic regulation of emotion.

Bonding involves a set of behaviors that leads to an emotional connection, (which is also known as attachment). Understanding this process is key to helping a child with attachment disorder.

As we've mentioned, attachment occurs when the caregivers, primarily parents, provide stable and consistent responses to the child's distress. Distress occurs when a baby or child experiences hunger, fatigue, illness or any other type of discomfort.

An emotionally healthy adult delights in taking care of his or her baby or child. The mother and father respond to their child with eye contact, cooing sounds, physical snuggling, and rocking movements. In turn, the child responds with smiling, gurgling, clinging, sucking, and playing. This reciprocal interaction creates the basis for attachment. See the diagram below.

Healthy Attachment Cycle

Healthy Attachment Cycle

The safety and security that a strong attachment builds creates healthy cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual development for the child as he matures.


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