I utilize the concepts from Circle of Security in so much of my clinical practice. Secure attachment with a child is formed by the parent's ability to support their child's exploration (think of our children getting further away from us on the playground) and then also that parent's ability to welcome their children coming back from the exploration (think of the same child running back to ask their parent if they saw them sliding down the slide.)
A child has a developmental need to connect and then disconnect. When parents respond well enough to these two distinct needs the child feels cared for, understood and secure. These interactions develop a rhythm of coming and going and parents try their best to meet their children's needs which in turn tells the child they are a separate person with needs and those needs are valid and important.
No parents are perfect and there are times when our need to get dinner started overrides the child's needs to keep exploring the playground. These ruptures are expected and even serve to strengthen the relationship as it helps a child develop distress tolerance. Parents can also misread or misunderstand their child's cues and repairs after ruptures help our children understand how to manage repairs in relationships with others themselves.
Sometimes parents due to their own past or fears are not responsive to their children's cues to explore or cues to welcomed back by the parent. A parent who does not let the child explore or disconnect can feel invasive or suffocating and a parent who does not welcome the child back through connection can feel like abandonment or just gone. There can also be some combination of these two patterns.
Children who experienced on-going patterns of their parents not responding appropriately to their cues for connection or disconnection have greater difficulty maintaining their sense of self later in life. They can have a difficult time trusting and listening to their own needs and may struggle with decisions or knowing their own likes and dislikes. Adults may develop more rigid boundaries and remain cut off from their relationships and own emotions or oppositely, adults may have diffuse and vague boundaries with a high need for contact with others. (Schwartz, Maiberger 2018)
Therapy can help parents understand their struggles in meeting their children's needs either to explore or to feel welcomed coming back. It is never too late to start making repair with our children. Therapy can also help an individual slow down and reflect on their relationship with their parents along side strengthening their current ability to be more in tune with their own needs, preferences or limits.
That may be one of the most frequently used questions in therapy. As an attachment focused therapist, there are many reasons why I ask this question so often! I wanted to explore all that is in this question for me.
We are biologically driven to be in relationship with other people and thru healthy connection with others, we achieve emotional balance and regulation. This is a key developmental task for very young children. Our children learn about their emotions by experiencing their emotions with us. Think back to your childhood - how did your parents respond to your anger? Your joy?
Emotions are triggered most strongly by relationship issues and navigating emotions in relationship with another person is the quickest way back to an emotional balance. We have all had emotions we would rather not experience as they are not pleasant. Also, many of us had caregivers that didn't know how to handle certain feelings as a child and we learned that by denying or blocking these feelings we could more safely be in relationship with our caregiver. It makes complete sense then we block or deny those feelings currently.
When I ask, "How does that make you feel?", I am inviting my clients to slow down and engage with that emotion fully. This can be scary, overwhelming or even just feel foreign as we have never spent time feeling that feeling. We achieve balance by engaging fully with our emotions which happens most naturally with another person. In therapy, we add structure to this experience by identifying the elements of an emotion: the trigger, initial perception, bodily felt sense, meaning assignation, and action tendency or motivational urge (Arnold, 1960).
We are designed to be in relationship with other people and how we understand our emotions can make relationships easier or harder. Emotional safety in my therapy sessions is essential and through our relationship we can begin to explore new and difficult emotions together.
I don't remember learning to tie my shoes or how to put on my clothes in the morning yet I am able to accomplish these things each day without thought. I was taught at an early age by my parents and this task was "installed" in my memory.
Many of these physical tasks are routine and happen automatically as our brain is able to bypass a longer process of recalling what was learned and then apply this to the present situation. This is helpful in most tasks during the day so we can get things done efficiently without wondering if we button our shirts differently depending on the color of the button.
Learning how to be in a relationship was accomplished the same way. As a baby, we learn how to be in relationship with others through our relationship with our parents. This idea of how to give love and receive love is installed as a template at a very early age.
There are times where our template doesn't work. You try what you know to express love and are unsuccessful and without another strategy or template, you can begin to feel stuck. This happens in relationships with our loved ones and also with our children. We meet our children's needs, often how they were met for us. These processes, much like tying our shoes, can be reactive and automatic with greater intensity when we are stressed. It happens quickly in our brain without slowing down to determine if this is the best strategy for expressing our love.
Stopping the automatic reactions of our templates can be difficult and often the hardest first step is recognizing when we are reacting from a template we learned early on in life. Just as we learned these templates in relationship, it easier to see them and talk about them in relationships with those we trust. Creating intentional space with others to slow down and examine the templates that were installed early on is a valuable gift you can give yourself.
Infant mental health refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from a very young age. Infant mental health services strengthen a child’s relationship with their caregiver to promote healthy development by supporting family strengths, values and culture. Families can have stressful experiences that impact these important relationships and services can help families heal and grow. Below are some possible reasons for a referral for services:
Infant mental health services are developed to support families with very young children through relationships. By seeking services with an endorsed Infant Mental Health Specialist, families can expect counseling in a safe and supportive environment with a professional that has specialized training and expertise in working with very young children and their families. Schedule an appointment or phone consultation to discuss how these services can help your family.