LightHouse Counseling Services

...focusing on the special needs of adoptive families

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Attachment Issues
The term attachment is used to describe the deep emotional bond between the child and the caregiver.  This attachment relationship evolves over the first two years of life and beyond.  The quality of attachment has profound effects on how the individual views himself and the world around him and is the bedrock upon which all other relationships are formed. 

Infants are “pre-wired” for attachment, possessing behaviors which are designed to draw and keep the mother close such as sucking, clinging, crying, and smiling.  Attachment does not instantly develop between mother and child but is fostered through continuous repetition of the cycle (as pictured below) by the same caregiver.  When the caregiver interprets and responds to the child’s signals, meeting his or her needs, the child begins to develop trust that the caregiver will be available to care for him and keep him safe.  As he grows, he will begin to see the caregiver as his “safe haven”, venturing out to explore and quickly retreating when he begins to fear or senses danger.   A securely attached child will begin to internalize that image of safety and as he increases his exploration.

When there is an interruption of the cycle of trust due to a separation, a traumatic event, or the unavailability or inability of the parent to interpret and care for a child’s needs, the child is unable to develop a secure attachment.  The child may anxiously cling to his caregiver, withdraw emotionally, or quit expressing needs altogether and totally detach.  

While not all adopted children have severe attachment issues, most are somewhere along the spectrum between detached and securely attached.  In Nancy Verrier’s book The Primal Wound she contends that all adopted children suffer to some degree from the trauma of being removed from their birth mother.  Scientific study has proven over and over that infants are not the “blank slate” we used to think they were, but begin in utero developing an awareness of their environment, particularly their mother.  They can recognize her voice, smell, heartbeat, and sense her feelings.  At birth, an infant is able to discriminate between his or her mother and a stranger.  In the past, it has been assumed that if the child does not have words to express his or her feelings, they do not remember or were not aware of being taken from their mother.  However, infants are not only aware, but go through a process of grieving their loss or even stop from reaching out entirely, making attachment to adoptive parents difficult.  As they get older, they exhibit signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) such as control issues, hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance, sleep disorders, incessant chatter, arguing, lying, etc.