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How do we use relationships? Attachment dynamics between parents and teens Joanna Bettmann Schaefer, Ph.D, LCSW Research Director Re.

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Presentation on theme: "How do we use relationships? Attachment dynamics between parents and teens Joanna Bettmann Schaefer, Ph.D, LCSW Research Director Re."— Presentation transcript:

1 How do we use relationships? Attachment dynamics between parents and teens Joanna Bettmann Schaefer, Ph.D, LCSW Research Director Re

2 Agenda Defining attachment Attachment dynamics in adolescents Attachment dynamics in parents Attachment dynamics while teens are in wilderness treatment

3 What is Attachment? John Bowlby developed attachment theory out of his work with abused children in England His ideas grew from: evolutionary biology, ethology, developmental psychology, and cognitive science Primary proposition: the infant’s tie to the mother emerges out of evolutionary pressures–a biologically based desire for proximity Infants predisposed to seek proximity to parents in times of distress (survival, biological function)

4 Bowlby’s Attachment Theory A child is born with a predisposition to become attached to caregivers. The child will organize their own behavior and thinking in order to maintain those attachment relationships, which are key to psychological and physical survival. The child will often maintain such relationships at great cost to his/her own functioning. The distortions in feeling and thinking that stem from early disturbances in attachment occur most often in response to the parents’ inability to meet the child’s needs for comfort, security, and emotional reassurance.

5 Internal working models Why does the past so often predict the future? Why do abused children tend to go into abusive relationships as adults? The internal working model reflects one’s relationship history, including expectations for relationships and beliefs about them The internal working model is not a reflection of reality, but of the internalization of it

6 Basic Principles of Attachment Relationships Proximity maintenance (seeking closeness) Separation distress (protest when separation is involuntary) Safe haven (returning to the attachment figure when faced with threat) Secure base (greater ability to explore in presence of attachment figure)

7 Parent-child Attachment Patterns (as defined by Mary Ainsworth) Insecure-avoidant child = avoids mother when distressed, seems blase’ Disorganized child = mix of the previous attachment styles Secure child = distressed at absence of mother, able to be soothed at reunion Insecure-anxious child = very distressed at absence of mother, seeking contact at reunion but also angry




11 Attachment Changes Over Time Infants Seek the mother primarily Need to be fed, held, diaper changed, rocked to sleep Rely on caregivers entirely Importance of one primary caregiver Toddlers Need high level of care and also some freedom School-Aged and Latency Children

12 Attachment Changes Across the Lifespan Adolescents Seek peers more obviously Still need attachment relationships with parents Often resist being held by parents, want to be held by boyfriend or girlfriend Shifting from family of origin to romantic relationships outside of family Often appear in flight from familial attachment relationships Adults Need attachment relationships too: usually found in spouse/partner/close friends

13 Parents’ Own Attachment Styles Are you secure (autonomous)? Anxious (preoccupied)? Avoidant (dismissive)? Disorganized (unresolved)? Fearful? A. It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me B. I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me. C. I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them. D. I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.

14 Attachment Behaviors in Adolescents and Adults Comfort with closeness (secure vs. avoidant attachment style) Trust Relationship satisfaction Commitment Closeness and interdependence Self disclosure Anxiety over relationships (anxious attachment style) Lack of trust Relationship dissatisfaction Jealousy High levels of conflict Coercion, domination and distress in response to dyadic conflict Lack of compromise (Feeney, 1999, in Handbook of Attachment)

15 Attachment dynamics which might emerge during wilderness treatment How do you respond to your child’s distress calls? Notice how your child uses his/her relationship with you: avoidant, seeking care, mixing affection and anger Notice: are you able to be sensitive to your child’s feelings, as well as your own?

16 Attachment dynamics which can emerge during wilderness treatment (continued) How accurately can you sense your child’s motives and feelings? How has your child’s ability to use the attachment relationship with you changed over time? How do you personally respond to separations and reunions? What gets triggered for you?

17 Basic principles of attachment relationships applied to parents and teens Proximity maintenance Separation distress Safe haven Secure base

18 Re-conceptualizing adolescent attachment behaviors Re-conceptualize acting out in terms of attachment needs Observe separations, reunions, attachment triggers, relational needs Preoccupied adolescents: seeking more from attachment figures, demanding, dependent Dismissive adolescents: rejecting of help, diverting attention, difficult time with emotional content

19 Supporting parent and adolescent attachment needs Honor importance of relationship transitions: goodbyes, losses, changes Allow time to process their changing relationship with you Peer and staff departures Allow time to process aftercare Prepare adolescents for relationship losses Garner support for your own relational losses Transitional objects as reinforcers of positive attachment experiences Transition to wilderness Transition out of wilderness

20 Thank you! Contact Info for Joanna: Her office:

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