Attachment theory

Attachment theory began to take shape in the 50’s with the work of English psychiatrist, John Bowlby, and American pychologist, Mary Ainsworth. Attachment theory is based on the belief that the mother­ child (or caretaker) bond is the primary force in infant development.

Bowlby’s premise was that the relationship between infant and the primary caretaker is responsible for:

· shaping all future relationships
· shaping our ability to focus,
· an awareness of our feelings
· an ability to calm ourselves and
· the ability to rebound from misfortune

Bowlby distinguished four patterns of attachment:

  • Secure attachment
  • Avoidant attachment
  • Ambivalent attachment
  • Disorganized attachment


The child who experiences severe emotional neglect or abuse early in life will experience profound attachment problems later in life.

While deprivations and lack of specific sensory experiences are common in the neglected  child, the traumatised child experiences developmental insults related to patterns of over­ activation of neurochemical cues. Rather than a deprivation of sensory stimuli, the traumatized child experiences over­ activation of important neural systems during these sensitive periods of development.

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