Understanding Attachment

“Intimate attachments are the hub around which a person’s life revolves” (Bowlby 1988)

The requirement of secure positive attachment has been understood in the world of the infant and the world of the adult as the precursor for adequate creative functioning in the day-to-day life of the individual. So what is attachment?

Infants are born with the ability to attach to parents or caregivers.

When they are close to their attachment figure they feel “good” i.e. safe and protected, and when they are away from their attachment figure they feel “unsettled” i.e. sad distressed lonely and anxious. The second noticeable outcome of having a secure base or attachment is that the child now feels safe enough to explore his or her environment, play and learn. And thirdly it has been shown that attachment needs extend into adulthood and can be seen as the person seeks bonds of affection and love within a relationship. When this occurs the person experiences security, nurturing and comfort in the relationship, and like the child with its secure base, can move out into the world engaging in creative explorative activity.

The reality is that not everyone experiences the advantage of a secure attachment as a child. This means that different and less useful attachment systems are developed. For example, Insecure Attachment where the child is fearful of either abandonment or of being overwhelmed. The outcome is that the child learns to either avoid any closeness or lives in fear of being left. This constant watchfulness creates ongoing anxiety and difficulties with closeness. In adult life this emerges as difficulties with intimacy and self worth, self-development and creativity.

Secure attachment is linked with the ability to engage in successful intimate relationships in adulthood and encompasses “the ability to seek care, to give care, to understand ones impact on another and the capacity to negotiate.” Dr Joan Haliburn.2

How Does Attachment Relate to Psychotherapy?

Here is where the importance of the therapeutic relationship cannot be overstated. It becomes the environment where a secure and trusting relationship can be developed. Within this relationship the person becomes able to reflect upon their experiences rather than being caught up in them or completely distant from them. This enables them in time to form positive intimate attachments in their own worlds.

Which Psychotherapy?

The aim of “The Conversational Model” of Psychotherapy is to assist the person to live more and more within a secure stable “self” a position where one is alive, adaptive, reflective, creative and able to engage in positive intimate relationships. Perhaps more than any mode The Conversational Model has been able to achieve this. (Refer to article on this site “Benefits of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy”)


1 Bowlby. J (1988) A Secure Base: Clinical Application of Attachment Theory. London Routledge.

2 Haliburn. J

If you are worried that understanding attachment is an issue for you or someone close to you and would like to start to make changes you can contact Talking Therapy.

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