What is Attachment?

Attachment is the basis for all early relationships. It is what shapes, forms and influences who we are and how we are with others. It is where we hurt and heal and learn how to manage. Human relationships across society are also the foundations for positive growth and wellbeing; those we have with our parents, children and partners.

Attachment theory is a theory about relationships, based on the idea that human beings evolved in kinship groups and that human survival was enhanced by the maintenance of secure bonds between parents and children and with members of the wider group [i] (Holmes, 1993).  It has been described as the brainchild of two parental figures, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth [ii] (Bretherton, 1995). Bowlby[iii] (1969) defined attachment as an enduring affective bond characterized by a tendency to seek and maintain proximity to a specific figure, particularly when under stress. It is an inborn system in the brain that influences and organizes motivational, emotional and memory processes with respect to significant attachment figures. Based on repeated experiences of interaction with an attachment figure, the child forms internal representations of self and of relationships with others[iv] (Bowlby, 1969). Attachment relationships are critical to the infant’s physical and emotional survival and development [v](Wallin, 2007). Ainsworth’s contribution to attachment theory centred on the development of her concept of the ‘secure base’ which created an important foundation for research methodology in child development[vi] (Ainsworth, 1978).

[i] Holmes, J. (1993) John Bowlby and Attachment Theory. London: Routledge.

[ii] Bretherton, I. (1995). The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. In P. Goldberg, R. Muir, and J. Kerr (Eds), Attachment Theory: social, developmental and clinical perspectives. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Analytic Press


[iii] Bowlby, J. (1969, 1973, 1980) Attachment, Separation and Loss (3 Vols). London Routledge


[iv] Bowlby, J. OpCit


[v] Wallin, D. J. (2007). Attachment in Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

[vi] Ainsworth et al (1978). Patterns of Attachment.  New Jersey: Hillsdale.