What is Attachment Conditioning?

During the first two years of an infant’s life, an internal impression is created of what a relationship is, and what their “self” is. This impression is shaped by parental responses to, and soothing of the child’s efforts to connect with the caregiver.

These experiences are formed over time into an internal working model that then becomes the foundation on which their sense of self is built and that informs what can be expected in relationship with others.

If the child receives inconsistent care or if its needs are dismissed or not adequately met, or if their caregivers are a source of fear to the child, they can develop what’s called an attachment disturbance. This means that their internal mapping of what relationships are is insecure. This disturbance becomes fixed deep in the subconscious at the earliest strata of the mind in the first 2 years of life. It is pre-verbal and pre-conceptual.

People with healthy attachment are considered to have “secure” attachment. Fully 50% of the US population have insecure attachment. Secure attachment becomes more prevalent in more prosperous societies; in societies that have undergone tremendous upheaval or disaster the rates of secure attachment are less.

People with secure attachment have a coherent sense of self, they trust that they can get their needs met adequately, and generally lead the most fulfilling and successful lives. They trust that the world is full of people they can rely upon, and life is experienced as an adventure. They also explore what they deem as meaningful in life.

People with insecure attachment have to develop various coping strategies to make it through life. Their sense of self is fractured to greater or lesser degree and so it is more difficult for life to be truly fulfilling and meaningful to them. They find it hard to get their needs met by connecting with others, and they will either resort to ineffective substitutes or dismiss their needs entirely.

Doing therapy or self-development is generally very difficult if you have insecure attachment, and if you have put significant effort into these without the expected results, it might be because the underlying attachment conditioning has not been properly dealt with. The foundation of secure attachment is the basis upon which therapy, meditation, exploration, and self-development are best built.

The Four Attachment Styles:

There are four primary types of attachment conditioning, also known as attachment “style”. The first type is secure, the other three are “insecure”.

1. Secure
Securely attached people have a coherent sense of self to which they easily associate positive emotions. They experience the world as full of collaborative, well-meaning people that they can connect with. They also feel that they have a meaningful effect upon the world. The world is a place where they can fulfill their aspirations and they don’t have significant psychological issues that prevent them from doing this. Their sense of self is organized and they feel fundamentally safe within themselves and the world around them. They have the best outcomes in life.

Among the four types, secure people have the highest level of “epistemic trust”, which is a generalized trust in the world and the people in it as being trustworthy, reliable, honest. They feel confidence or trust in the world. Epistemic trust can be seen as the basis for basic mental health. As trust and mental health increase, fear and paranoia decrease.

2. Dismissing (Insecure)
If a child consistently gets its attachment needs dismissed, ignored or inadequately met by their caretakers, the child learns to stop trying to reach out for connection. They shut down their emotional bonding mechanisms, having learnt that there is no point in trying or that it is excessively painful. They dismiss their own feelings and needs and consequently aren’t able to relate to other people’s feelings and needs very well either.

People in this condition tend to focus on acquiring wealth and status so that they can use these to get their needs met through transaction rather than attuned mutual collaboration with others. They often rise to powerful positions within their fields. They are often lacking in warmth and affect.

3. Anxious — Preoccupied (Insecure)
If in order to get their needs met a child learned to be excessively involved within the mind-state of their caregivers, they can develop the anxious-preoccupied attachment style. They learn that the mind-states of others are more important than their own, and learn to ignore their own states and to pay excessive attention to the states of others. Often they had to be constantly vigilant to the mind-state of their caregiver for fear of the caregiver becoming too emotionally dis-regulated to tend to the child’s needs.

Rather than being disinterested in connection and attachment, they are instead excessively clingy and involved in others. Their sense of self is often underdeveloped and mixed up with other people’s. They often feel that they don’t exist outside of their relationships. They can often be good caretakers, but they are in danger of burning out or neglecting their own needs. These people are often manipulative and inauthentic with others as their experience in childhood was that they have to abandon their own free and authentic expression in order to emotionally regulate the caregiver in order to get the care that they needed. “Co-dependence” in adulthood is the quintessential behavioral-personality outcome of anxious-preoccupied attachment conditioning.

4. Disorganized (Insecure)
The bond between infant and caretaker is essential for a child’s survival, and the child instinctively knows this. They instinctively do everything they can to ensure this bond, so that they will survive. If the caregiver is a source of fear to the child, they are put in an impossible dilemma: they need proximity with the caregiver for safety, and protection. But, the caregiver is a source of danger and fear. So the natural impulse to attach to the caregiver is terminally frustrated because the caregiver is the source of fear. This impossible dilemma with out resolution. No good outward behavioral strategy can overcome this impossible dilemma. So, dissociation, paralysis, and freezing is all that is left those children who find themselves in this unfortunate situation.

This dissociation prevents the child from developing a coherent sense of self and agency in the world. As they grow, they develop a fear of connection with people, often accompanied by the problematic traits of both dismissal and preoccupation. Because of their fear, they become very attentive and attuned to the mind-states of their care-takers in order to protect themselves. And because there is a fear of the caregivers, they learn to dismiss their own needs and feelings, since they cannot rely on someone they are afraid of to adequately soothe them.

Being both dissociative and having both traits of dismissing and preoccupied makes the person disorganized and unreliable. Others find it difficult to understand these people, who might swing from being disinterested to being excessively clingy. This makes secure relationships with others less probable. Disorganized people are often lonely and troubled. A disorganized attachment strategy is often associated with personality disorder.

Dismissing or preoccupied people can still lead a relatively successful life due to the fact that their coping strategies are consistent and reliable, however this is not the case for disorganized people, who will experience the most difficulties, fear, and the least satisfaction in life.

We offer services to assess attachment style.

How to Repair Attachment Conditioning?

Re-creation of the developmental arc.

A person’s mind grows along progressive developmental stages. The later stages grow out of the prior ones, and are stacked “on top” of them. For this reason, its crucial to address the most fundamental stages first, since without healthy foundations, later developments won’t take hold properly.

For this reason, it is recommended that repairing attachment conditioning has to come before other treatments. After the attachment conditioning has been successfully treated, the patient will have reliable and effective emotional regulation strategies and a coherent sense of self, which serves as a reliable foundation upon which to do further work with trauma, therapy or self-development.

The IPF and Three Pillars Treatment Plan

The first and central method for repairing attachment conditioning is the Ideal Parent Figure (IPF) protocol. This is the first of the Three Pillars treatment plan. The other two are the development of meta-cognition and of collaborative behaviors.

1. The Ideal Parent Figure visualization

This is a visualization meditation in which the client learns to use the advanced parts of their mind – the imagination and the rational conceptual mind – to create the experiences of an ideal childhood, and to sow these experiences deep into the early unconscious mind, in order to re-program it. It is possible to transform the earliest impressions and internal working models, so that the adult client can experience their life with all the benefits as if they had received an ideal childhood.

This is possible due to two main reasons: The first is something called “psychic equivalence”, and the second is due to research into what the optimal conditions are to establish secure attachment in infants, known as the “five factors”.

Psychic Equivalence

The emotional content of the internal working models are stored in what are called “procedural memory”. This memory is based entirely in behavior: procedures based on the interactions of the caregivers soothing the child’s distress and delighting in their happiness. It is pre-verbal and pre-conceptual, and so it operates exclusively in images and feelings. This is what is developed and established within the first two years of life. This level of the mind doesn’t know the difference between “real” and “imagined”, since those differentiations didn’t exist yet.

Because of this, you can use imagination and the generation of positive emotion to re-program these procedural memories. This is the only way, because this early level of the mind exists prior to, and is inaccessible by, the conceptual and verbal layers of the mind.

By visualizing in great detail ideal parents who supply you with a perfectly ideal childhood, your procedural memory gets replaced by these new “memories”, and because it doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, you experience the real benefits as if you had received such a childhood.

Ordinarily, psychic-equivalence is a negative thing, and it implies a collapse in the ability to see what is happening in your own mind (for example if you think of a ghost and get scared, and don’t notice that your own mind generated the image). However, it is possible to use it to our advantage with the IPF.

The Five Factors

In research of infant development, five primary factors have been found that are essential to creating a secure attachment bond between the parent and infant. Each one of these parental behaviors serves to establish a feeling of safety and trust within the infant, and to encourage the development of a secure sense of self, that feels cared for and loved. The infant becomes aware of their own mind states, and also aware of the minds of others, without an excessive imbalance or tuning-out in either direction. Each factor generally depends upon and develops from the previous one.

1. Safety and Protection
Through physical touch, verbal cues, attentive eye contact and facial gestures, the parent ensures that the child feels safe and protected. This safety is crucial, as development can’t happen properly unless that trust and safety is established. This protection also provides the proper foundation from which independence can emerge; true independence cannot emerge if the child does not feel safe to venture out and explore due to excessive fear.
2. Soothing and Comfort
The parent soothes and comforts the emotional upsets and distresses of the child. They attune to how the child is feeling and provide measured support for them with touch, affection and comforting words. The child learns that their well-being matters to the parents, and that if they communicate their sincere distress that they will be taken care of. They learn that no matter how distressed they become, their emotions can become regulated and return to a baseline. This also helps them feel safe to venture out, knowing that they can recover from any distress when they come back.
3. Expressed Delight
The parents express their delight, joy, and loving affection to the child. They learn that they are valued and cared for, and that their parents want to spend time with them and enjoy the presence of the child, simply for who they are. They learn to feel intrinsically good about themselves.
4. Mentalizing and Attunement
Knowing that the parents delight in the child, the child trusts them to know their mental state. The parents pay attention to the child’s mental and emotional state, and they reflect this interest to the child, wondering out loud what the child is thinking and feeling. This helps the child pay attention to their own state, and to know what their states are. The more attentive a parent is to the child’s mind state, wondering out loud, the more nuanced an understanding the child can develop of their own minds.

They know that their parents know them, and that they are interested in whatever the child is doing, thinking, feeling, or learning. They experience themselves as existing within the minds of others, and being valuable in the world of others.

5. Encouragement and Support
The parents, knowing the mind of the child, encourage and support the child in their exploration, interests, learning, and curiosity. Seeing the child’s interests and struggles, the parents expertly encourage and support the child in whatever form it takes. This helps strengthen the child’s agency and supports their self-development.

2, 3. Developing meta-cognition and collaborative skills

The early training in meta-cognition is designed to offset the deficits that occur in people with damaged attachment conditioning, by helping them to pay more attention to what states their minds are in, and what states other people are in.

To succeed as an individual within a complex society requires team-work, so this pillar helps people learn the benefits of team work and shows them how to develop it.

Later stage meta-cognition involves deeper contextualizing of life’s meaning in a bigger picture, and developing an awareness of interdependence and interconnectedness, and tracking how these are operating within ones life.