Attachment & the importance of secure relationships in childhood

In my practice, I have an increasing interest and understanding of the importance of attachments young children experience in their formative years and how they impact on the way we relate to others in adult relationships. In the early weeks and months of life, babies are entirely dependent on those caring for them, they are reliant on their needs and responses being understood and acted upon by those who care for them. Later, we may discover that it is important to understand how we were nurtured in our early years as we question why a relationship is problematic or painful for us.

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Watching my nine-month-old granddaughter develop and grow is a joy. Observing her development over these short months is a marvel to behold, from helpless being to an aspiring bi-ped, communicating all the time about her needs and feelings. She clearly knows her parents and will seek comfort from both of them when she is upset or distressed. She is also developing relationships with others in the family circle – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on. All of these relationships bring her joy and she is able to feel secure in the relationships with her extended family when her parents are not physically present.

In the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth, through observations of infants of around 18 months old, proffered a theory of child development that focuses on the child’s attachment to their primary caregiver, this does not need to be a mother, or indeed a father, but someone who has primary care for that infant and who provides unconditional love. This core relational bond shapes all relationships that the child develops and impacts relationships into adulthood, particularly intimate ones.
 
The unconditional love offered by a loving parent provides the growing child with a safe base or a sense of safety, it is always there and it is always a safe place to return to. When the love is conditional or is in some way erratic this can be seen in the child’s relationship with their caregiver, resulting in a sense of insecurity and lack of trust. It can also lead to an inability to understand needs and how to ask for them to be met, helping others to the detriment of self or remaining in an unsupportive relationship.


Person-centred counselling 

Person-centred counselling can provide an opportunity for clients to discover a safe space to explore their feelings about their relationships growing up and how they might be informing relationships in adulthood. A counsellor can be that safe base for a person to explore and return to and we can all love ourselves unconditionally and self-nurture when we understand our needs and how to ask for them to be met. 
 
When my granddaughter cries or smiles she is communicating her needs and seeking a response that shows she is heard and understood which in turn brings her comfort and an awareness of her value within her family group. Recognising these needs in our adult relationships can be transformational and empowering.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chichester PO19
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Written by Fiona Heard, BA (Hons) Humanistic Counselling
Chichester PO19

I have a genuine passion for understanding others and creating a safe and supportive environment. I will be by your side on your personal journey of self-exploration and growth. I believe that a strong rapport is important in counselling as it allows for a trusting relationship to develop along with feelings of connectedness and validation.

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