Our early attachments to our primary caregivers may have significant implications for our ability to perform throughout our lives. The good news is that there are mindfulness techniques that can help integrate the information and energy associated with the various attachment categories so that as adults our performance does not have to be limited by the early learning associated with these attachments.
Siegel & Hartzell, M.Ed., (2003, p.102-112) in their book, Parenting from the Inside Out, describe four patterns of attachment derived from the work of researchers such as Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main, and Erik Hesse, among others. As infants we most likely have one of the following patterns (which can vary by caregiver): Secure, Insecure-Avoidant, Insecure-Anxious/Ambivalent, or Insecure-Disorganized.
Secure attachments are described as having a parental interactive pattern characterized by the parent being emotionally available, perceptive, and responsive. The child sees the parent as being a source of comfort during times of distress, a safe haven, being available, and a secure base. This creates a sense of well being from which the child can go into the world to “explore and make new connections with others” (p.104).
Insecure-Avoidant patterns are associated with parents who are emotionally unavailable, imperceptive, unresponsive, and rejecting. These children avoid closeness and emotional connections to the parent (p.104).
Insecure-Ambivalent patterns are described as having parents who are inconsistently available, perceptive, and responsive and intrusive. The child cannot depend on the parent for attunement and connection. The child develops a sense of anxiety and uncertainty about whether they can depend on their parents (p.105).
Insecure-Disorganization patterns are created by parents who are frightening, frightened, chaotic, disorienting, and alarming to the child. This pattern is often associated with abuse. This creates a situation in which abuse is incompatible with a sense of security. The child develops coping responses that lead to difficulties in regulating emotions, trouble in social communication, difficulties with academic reasoning tasks, a tendency toward interpersonal violence, and a predisposition to dissociation – a process in which normally integrated cognition becomes fragmented (p. 106).
The good news is that for those with insecure attachments there are mindfulness techniques described in Siegel’s book, Mindsight, that can help the individual integrate the insecure attachment memories, patterns, and information in a manner that frees them up from “automatically or habitually” engaging in the pattern in their adult relationships.
The implications of early attachment for the psychology of performance are significant. Secure attachments allow for a base of security which in adulthood can manifest in collaborative interactions in the business environment, for example. The social psychology of group performance is enhanced when members can communicate directly and problem solve from a position of trust. Contrast this with an avoidant attachment pattern in which a team member has a fundamental approach to relationships that is one of distrust and self-reliance. This team member is there in name only and will be perceived as not cooperating, being a maverick, and “not playing well in the sand box.” The anxious attachment style may show up as an accommodating or pleasing style. This person sacrifices their own opinions so as to fit in, may frequently be checking in with the “boss” for approval and reassurance. The group loses this person’s gifts as the person may give in rather than be proactive on a decision point. The disorganized attachment style may contribute to significant disruption in a work group or team’s performance because the person will become overwhelmed during a conflict with either a chaotic or rigid response, either of which can disrupt the flow of energy and information needed for higher performance.
The culture of an organization often is set by the leader of the organization. Part of the definition of culture is the shared set of assumptions as to how we do business. From this, it is possible to see how the impact of the leader’s attachment could influence the culture of the organization. For example, if the leader has an anxious attachment, the organization may have a strong press to accommodate customers, resulting in a high emphasis on customer service which could range from being useful to problematic if taken to a dysfunctional level.
Have a day filled with mindful integration,
Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.
CEO & Psychologist