• Tricia Thornton

Home: How is Attachment and Home Related?

Home. This simple four-lettered word is not exactly simple. T.S. Eliot (1970) suggested, "Home is where one starts from." Home encompasses more than a physical location. Being "at home" refers to an emotional state and a sense of belonging. This word can conjure up many thoughts, memories, feelings, images, and emotions. Our brains were created for connection. We all seek to be heard and seen and feel that we belong. We go about our day seeking out those connections and searching for a sense of being "at home". John Bowlby, a British psychologist, developed a theory about attachment based on, "All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s)" (Bowlby, 1988, p. 62).

Depending on the model you are using, there are several different attachment styles. "Attachment behaviors are the seeking out of others for the comfort of security and/or maintaining proximity to one who is 'better able to cope with the world'" (Bowlby, 1988). There is a spectrum of attachment going from chaotic to secure. No one is 100% securely attached or 100% chaotically attached. Dr. Susan Johnson developed Emotionally Focused Therapy (also known as EFT). In EFT, attachment patterns are identified within families and with partners to continue the process of healing. Speaking of the word, "home", Sue Johnson uses the idea of a framework for building a home to understand the key concepts of attachment (Johnson, 2019). There are four key concepts: Secure Base, Safe Haven, Proximity Maintenance, and Separation Distress.

Secure base: We can think of this as the foundation of a home. The foundation is what the home is built upon. In "The Scaffold Effect", Harold S. Koplewicz, MD states, "Parents are the scaffold that provides structure and support for the child as he or she grows up. They are there to protect and guide, but they don't impede learning and risk-taking....Your scaffold exists to provide structure and support, not to control or rescue." Balance is key when you think of providing structure and not setting too many limits that the child is inhibited to explore. We desire our children to feel secure in the base enough that they will see the world as safe rather than a scary place.

Safe haven: The floor of the home is what gives us a safe place to stand upon. When the safe haven floor is established, the child will be able to go to the parent to be soothed in the face of fear and anxiety. If the parent is not a safe haven for the child to receive comfort, the child will then live in an anxious state and will not feel safe to trust their world.

Proximity Maintenance: The foundation is firm, the floor has been laid, and now for the walls. The idea of proximity maintenance is present when the child can physically be near the attachment figure who can provide security. In today's world, this can be difficult due to many factors; therefore, technology may actually provide a way to have proximity maintenance for a limited amount of time. Unfortunately, when there is an extended period of time of absence, the child will feel that their attachment base is indifferent and avoidant.

Separation Distress: Now for the roof of our home. The roof is a protection that holds all within it safe. Separation from the parent is a given. There will be play dates, going to school, parents going out for a date night, and going to sleepovers. A child will have times away from their attachment figure. The key is that the child will know that even if they are separated from their parent, that they are still safe and secure.

Based on these 4 concepts of attachment, there are 4 patterns of attachment that exist in relationships: Secure, Insecure, Avoidant, and Chaotic/Disorganized.

Secure Attachment: In terms of our home metaphor, a secure attachment would be when the foundation, the floors, the walls, and the roof are well constructed and balanced. Certainly, this type of home exists, yet it is not 100% perfect, but yet it is still secure. In other words, we are not equating a securely attached family to perfection. Secure attachment exists when the parents themselves have their buckets full and are then able to fill their child's two buckets. The first bucket, "being seen and heard", refers to being accepted and acknowledged. This does not necessarily mean you agree with all that the child is doing, but you are seeing and receiving their feelings. A parent does not have to praise a negative behavior to see and hear the child. The conversation could go something like, "I see and hear that you are feeling something when I told you that you could not have a donut for breakfast." The parent is not communicating it is okay for the child to throw his plate on the floor, but is acknowledging the emotion. The second bucket of positive power is then filled, giving the child a sense of security to explore.

Insecure Attachment: This type of attachment is developed when a child does not feel that the caregiver is consistently able to meet their physical and emotional needs. Many times this style can be developed when the child feels that the parent literally and emotionally may not return upon separation. The child will not feel secure to explore and cannot create a sense of autonomy. A child that feels insecurely attached may then exhibit attention-seeking behaviors in order to gain validation and acceptance. This type of negative attachment can actually cause enmeshed relationships within in a family.

Avoidant Attachment: This type develops because of an insecure attachment that is characterized by avoidant and withdrawn behaviors from the caregivers. There is a lack of consistency. "In avoidant attachment, there is a an attempt to 'deactivate' the attachment system and suppress the emotions and attachment needs of the individual" (Johnson, 2004). There may be too much of a focus on tasks and not enough focus on an expression of feelings or self. The parent's buckets are not usually full enough to engage with the child, so the parent chooses to avoid emotional intimacy with the child. Unfortunately, a pattern of rejecting behaviors from the parent becomes the norm. Therefore, the child will not be able to feel secure going to the parent for emotional support. A pattern of avoidance is established that creates a negative loop between the parent and child.

Disorganized and/or Chaotic Attachment: This style is developed due to an unpredictable and traumatic upbringing at a tender age. The child may learn that not only is the parent unreliable but may also be frightening and even violent. The lack of the parent being able to provide organized and stable caregiving may abuse and/or neglect the child. In order for the child to create some structure and a sense of organization, they may exhibit highly controlling behaviors toward others as a protective measure to prevent further trauma. This child may develop a sense of being a victim without the ability to self-regulate. A child in this type of family may then engage in self-destructive behaviors in order to seek out attention.

Remember that there is a spectrum of attachment. We all land somewhere in the middle or tend to fluctuate on the spectrum. Being able to identify your attachment style from your family of origin is a way to not fall victim to the patterns and loops that occur in relationships. Taking a quiz can be a quick and easy way to identify your attachment style. Once you are able to identify your pattern, then you can learn to avoid some of the pitfalls and triggers.

Home. As I mentioned earlier, this simple word is not actually simple. There are many images and feelings that flood our brains when we think of home. While I was in school, I tended to use acronyms to help me study and learn. I recently have developed one for the word "HOME".

H - heart

O - open

M - mind

E - energized

In our homes, when we feel seen and heard, acknowledged, and accepted, our hearts become open; therefore, our minds become energized. A securely attached individual will feel "at home" within themselves. Their buckets are filled giving them the energy to fill another's bucket.


Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base. Parent-child attachment and healthy human development, London, England: Routledge.

Johnson, S.M. (2019). Emotionally focused family therapy, New York, NY: Routledge.

Johnson, S.M. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couples therapy, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Koplewicz, H.S., MD (2021). The scaffold effect, New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Mellenthin, C. (2019). Attachment centered play therapy, New York, NY: Routledge.

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