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Thread: Attachment Theory - Transcript from Radio National yesterday

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    Exclamation Attachment Theory - Transcript from Radio National yesterday

    But before that I want to stay at Rutgers and go back to that theme of how childhood and infancy is a time when we are trained into our way of being in the world. Associate Professor Harold Siegel's special interest is what at times has been a controversial area, it's called attachment. He's looked at the influence how you attach to your parents in early childhood has on you as an adult.

    Harold Siegel: Attachment in children depends upon how parents have raised their children and mothers who are responsive and sensitive to their children's needs are the kind of mother we'd all like to have. Those are secure mothers who presumably will raise secure children. All other styles are insecure of one or another type, there are mothers or fathers who are more hostile to their children, use sarcastic language, don't like things when the child gets upset, don't pick the child up, don't cuddle them, try to distract them, sometimes like what are you crying about, I'll give you something to cry about. Those are the avoidant parents or dismissive parents, they avoid relationships, they dismiss the value of inter-personal relationships and children grow up to be little avoidants who are self sufficient, don't engage in relationships, some might become bullies of other children, they've learned not to bully the secure children, they bully other insecure children. And the third major type are the ambivalent children whose parents are inconsistently responsive and sensitive, sometimes they are, sometimes they're not. So the child never knows if it gets upset whether mum's going to be there for them or not and so their answer to the world is I have to cling to mum's leg all the time to make sure she's going to be here for me.

    Norman Swan: And the fourth style?



    Harold Siegel: The fourth style is something called a disorganised pattern which is a more psychopathological pattern usually born to mothers who have unresolved loss, who have serious mental disorders and these kids really are disorganised, disoriented they might run to mother when they haven't seen her for a while, when they get there they turn away from her. And these kids pRobbably grow up with some degree of issues leading them to some other pathology.

    Norman Swan: And it's been controversial partly because it sounds like a sweeping generalisation when nobody is a perfect mother or father. What's your position in terms of the evidence on exposure to child care because if you believe it's strong then that could perturb the adult results. I mean there's been almost like shots at 50 paces over this one.

    Harold Siegel: It depends on what the parents do with the child when they do have them. I'd be perfectly happy sending my own child to six or eight hours of childcare that I was certain was a reasonable place and I'd make sure that I was a good parent, a secure parent when the child came back. And I wouldn't have any qualms about that.

    Norman Swan: So the parenting you still believe is the dominant force?

    Harold Siegel: Absolutely.

    Norman Swan: Tell me about this line, no matter how zigzag it might be to adulthood.

    Harold Siegel: The evidence suggests that about two thirds give or take of the people who would be classified in childhood as one or another attachment style will keep most of that style into adulthood. Another third will change either as a result of good things happening to them, bad things happening to them, family issues, economic issues, divorce, divorce of parents, mental illness in the family a variety of things like that and they can change. And they can change either way - therapy for example hopefully turns more insecure people into secure rather than the other way around.

    Norman Swan: You are an optimist.

    Harold Siegel: Actually we do have some evidence for that.

    Norman Swan: You've described the behaviour as children, describe the behaviour as adults in those four categories?

    Harold Siegel: Let's just get rid of the disorganised and disoriented because they pRobbably are experiencing if things have not changed along the way they may easily be experiencing some significant psychopathology. Secure adults are unfortunately few and far between but these are the individuals who have a pretty healthy outlook on life, who think the world is not a bad place, who know when they need help from others and ask for it, who are able to be empathetic to others.

    Norman Swan: You're just describing resilience here.

    Harold Siegel: Yes, resilience is I think a big part of it. Everybody knows the avoidance pRobbably more common in some people's fathers and mothers, the guy who doesn't change, he's not emotional, he's stoic, people call him even tempered but it's just on the surface. These are individuals who would rather work late at the office than come home to their families and the ambivalent person are the preoccupied people, these are the people who are calling their boyfriends and girlfriends on their cell phones many times a day, how are you doing.

    Norman Swan: They are feeling insecure?

    Harold Siegel: They are doing it out of insecurity but they're convincing their boyfriends and girlfriends that they care about them and it's amazing how many college students take that as a sign of love from their boyfriends and girlfriends when really it's the insecurity in their boyfriends and girlfriends that's causing the phone calls. And so these are individuals who must be in a relationship, can't be alone are really troublesome.

    Norman Swan: So tell me of some of the work you have been doing.

    Harold Siegel: So we're interested in these attachment styles, these secures and the avoidance and the ambivalence and we've done some work on mothers and their babies and we've done some work largely on college students. We know that when we ask college students to talk about illness, psychosomatic illnesses for example, it's the ambivalent college students who express much greater symptomatology.

    Norman Swan: Things like headaches, tummy aches that sort of thing?

    Harold Siegel: Yes, we give them a list of 50 symptoms by far and away it's the ambivalent college students who report the greatest number of these symptoms and the greatest severity of these symptoms.

    Norman Swan: And these are the ones who didn't know what their parents were going to do when they approached them.

    Harold Siegel: Inconsistent parenting right. And one way to get attention from a parent who is inconsistently there is to be ill and the parent may have to be there more often.

    Norman Swan: What else have you found out about college students?

    Harold Siegel: We are doing a study now on college students and their attachment styles reading court cases, actual court case transcripts because a lot of court cases really are attachment cases. All custody cases are attachment cases, or all spousal murders, spousal abuse are custody cases and the nice thing about court cases is that we have nice controls which are check fraud or things like that which are presumably non-attachment related. And so we bring people in, we ask them about their attachment styles, we have them read real court cases and then they talk about guilt and innocence and they decide on some degree of punishment. And again it's these ambivalent people who are so preoccupied with having relationships, can't live without them, and if they see a relationship being disturbed they are the most punitive of all.

    Norman Swan: To the party who has perpetrated the destruction?

    Harold Siegel: That's right.

    Norman Swan: What's the message if you take the broad spectrum of your research in terms of our being in the world?

    Harold Siegel: I think parents really owe it to their children to try to raise secure children as best they possibly can and a secure parent is not a perfect parent. I think you have to give the child a sense that you're going to be there for them and children are forgiving and they are resilient.

    Norman Swan: But the other thing that interplays here is a child's temperament and parents will respond to children differently according to their temperament and indeed what later will be defined as their personality. A study in Victoria, Australia has shown that temperament is incredibly sticky, it lasts, the crying, difficult child becomes the difficult toddler, becomes the difficult adolescent and surely that affects attachment.

    Harold Siegel: There's no doubt about it but I give greater weight to the attachment issues than the temperament issue and a securely attached parent can do pretty good things, wondrous things with a difficult temperamental child.

    Norman Swan: And they're testing ways of changing young adults into more secure styles before they become parents. And of course some Australian researchers are doing the same kind of work.

    Associate Professor Harold Siegel's in the Psychology Department at Rutgers University in Newark New Jersey.

  2. #2

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    wow- fascinating. It's probably going to get bandied around as buzz words in the media and completely confused with attachment parenting etc. and all mixed up.
    But I have read before that consistency is SO important, even if you are consistently not there(!)
    I really liked his comment about the parenting being more important than the temperament. IT's the old nature/nurture and as any parent will tell you there are no clear cut boundaries between them.

  3. #3

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    Hi,

    This IS the theory behind attachment Parenting

    Barb

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    I enjoyed reading that. Makes me wonder what kind of parent I am. I mean I hope I am the 'kind of mother we'd all like to have' but it's hard to step back and really see for yourself.

    I feel like DH can sometimes be 'avoidant' or 'dismissive' in a way and so DD hasn't attached to DH like she has with me. This has been great to read because before I found it hard to explain to DH how I feel about his relationship with DD. Don't get me wrong, DH loves DD very much and is wonderful with her, I can just see that she doesn't feel as secure with him as she is with me, although of late their bond has become closer.

    When I think about it, Dh's parents were the 'avoidance' and 'dismissive type' so I guess it makes sense.

    I think DH can see how wonderful DD is and is/has come around more to the attachment parenting style without even realising it.

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