Project BrainHeart

Illustrated brain development research

Attachment

“People are not interchangeable. The price of love is the agony of loss, from infancy onward.” – Dr Bruce D Perry

The brain of an infant needs a mature brain to latch on to. It is through this close symbiosis that it begins to develop. This latching on, if it happens as a secure attachment relationship with at least one caring adult, provides safety and calm to the infant for it to later free its mind for exploration.

We are born with an innate instinct to bond, a curiosity about the world, and a certain sensitivity to stressors, called reactivity.

The dyadic relationship that we establish with our first caregivers tunes up or down that reactivity, and thus impacts the safety we feel in exploring the world. At a minimum, the dyadic relationship requires contact comfort and movement. Ideally it is characterized by attuned responses: timely, accurate, positive, and collaborative.

The first thing that happens with attachment, before becoming a safe haven from which to explore the world, is that human contact becomes associated with joy and soothing. “It is through the thousands of times we respond to our crying infant that we help create her healthy capacity to get pleasure from future human connection.”

Attuned care in a stimulating environment leads to secure attachment which is the foundation of how calm we manage to be in the face of life’s stressors (self-regulation.) This foundation guides our experiences with the outside world  (awareness and consideration of others, affiliation, tolerance and respect). The most extreme type of stress is relational stress during early childhood.

“Attachment can be understood as how parents have come to integrate their own inner self-awareness with their relationship with their children – honoring differences, cultivating compassionate linkages [connection]” – Daniel J. Siegel

Research shows that people who in infancy could not latch on to a reliable mature carer – those who grew up in chaotic, violent, abusive or neglectful environments – incur sustained, major stress levels that curb the brain’s development. “Children who don’t get consistent, physical affection or the chance to build loving bonds simply don’t receive the patterned, repetitive stimulation necessary to properly build the systems in the brain that connect reward, pleasure, and human-to-human interactions.

The result is an emotional disconnection. “Like people who learn a foreign language later in life, they will never speak the language of love without an accent.

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