Attachment the gradually developing quality of a bilateral reciprocal affectionate relationship between the infant and mother/primary caregiver. Bowlby derived the term attachment from ethology observation of primates and infants with their parents or caregivers. A secure attachment is a specific kind of relating between infant and primary carer (the attachment figure) whose availability, proximity, and a predictable response, provides the child with a sense of safety. The child seeks proximity to the ‘secure attachment’ figure when sick, emotionally upset, frightened, or in danger, for instance, running to mother when hurt, or a baby ape clinging to mother when a predator appears.
The term derived from observation of infants with their parents or caregivers in which the infants seek proximity in varying degrees to their caregiver for safety when upset, frightened or in danger. Bowlby called the interaction between the infant and caregiver at such time attachment behaviours and patterns; he identified different caregivers’ responses to the child’s need for proximity as either offering ‘secure attachment’ or ‘insecure attachment’.
Secure attachment in human infants is linked to reliable parental emotional responsiveness, which offers recognition and comfort of distress. A reliable ‘secure attachment’ acts as a ‘safe base’ from which to explore and return to as children become independent. From an early age, these children develop the capacity to trust others, recognize other’s distress and to offer comfort, and to trust their own emotional reactions.
‘Secure attachment’ is not only found in the infant-caregiver relationship. Children and adults can later ‘earn’ secure attachment with a close friend, a teacher, a grandparent, or a group which offers a reliable secure base and attachments, and through many other experiences.
These patterns are often repeated in social attachments to groups and community.
Secure attachment in human infants is linked to emotional responsiveness, especially to being able to rely on the parent figures to respond to distress. Babies who are securely attached protest at separation, as when the parent leaves them but are able to reunite comfortably and be consoled or soothed. Children use secure attachment as a secure base to return to as they become independent. They develop the capacity to trust others and their own emotional reactions. When experienced in infancy and childhood, seeking proximity to a secure attachment figure when distressed becomes a lifelong pattern.
Insecure attachment is linked to experiences of unpredictable parental behaviour, lack of responsiveness and soothing, rejection of bids for reassurance and closeness, or even aggression by the parent. Infants can be disorganized, avoidant or clinging in response to such experiences and later exhibit mistrust toward others, either with over-reliance or inability to trust.
Social attachments can also demonstrate some of the patterns described above; for instance, secure or insecure social connection in relation to the community.