Attachment Theory and Emotion Regulation

Posted on August 12, 2014 by Harmony Administrator

Halifax Psychologist, Brad Peters, talks about attachment theory and emotion regulation, as it relates to emotional intelligence, connection in relationships, and psychological resilience.

Attachment is a term that describes an emotional bond – initially in childhood, with the parent or caregiver, but then later in life as well, with close friendships and romantic partners.

When an infant is in distress, it will be almost instinctual for most adults or caregivers to provide comfort. We do this through our physical touch, soothing tone of voice, and eye contact. Research suggests that these kinds of behaviors promote the release of dopamine (neurotransmitter involved in pleasure/elation) and endogenous opiates (the body’s natural painkillers).

It is also useful to remember the axiom: “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The parent finds the infant in a state of nervous system distress or chaos, and then uses their body, to move the body of the infant, into a state of calm or equanimity. When this happens with repetition and consistency, over time, the nervous system of that infant will ‘learn’ (like muscle memory for neurons) to more readily shift from a state of distress to a state of relative calm – this marks the very beginnings of what we call Emotion Regulation: the ability to tolerate, and ultimately regulate, high levels of emotional distress, without being flooded by feeling, or having to engage in various forms of psychological repression.

Fast-forwarding into childhood, we can imagine a child feeling sad. The tears are streaming down their cheeks, facial expressions suggest that they are in emotional pain, and their body posture is slumped over. In a perfect world (which only happens about 50% of the time), a parent will meet the child at eye level (dropping to one knee), will comfort them physically, and will offer that familiar tone of voice that the child intuitively recalls from childhood – and for all the reasons described, it feels good. But with language, now parents are ideally ASKING their child what they might be feeling, and the circumstances that led to them.

When the parent guesses correctly, the child feels like their parents understand, and if the parent is moved by their hurting child, the child feels themselves being felt by another. When this happens, it makes these painful emotions, which are almost unbearable in isolation, now bearable.

If we have these kinds of experiences in childhood, we tend to grow into adults with high emotional intelligence, who are able to experience and express their feelings, and who feel comfortable relying on others for psychological support. Those who receive less than that, because parents were perhaps not very good with feelings, took a problem-solving approach to addressing emotion, or used distraction or guilt to suppress them, tend to develop into adults with avoidant or anxious-ambivalent styles of attachment.

The important point to keep in mind is that while attachment styles are programmed early and unconsciously, once they are identified and made conscious, they can be changed. It is hard work, for sure, but this ‘earned secure attachment,’ will mean an end to maladaptive emotional patterns, that prevent us from dealing effectively with feelings, and that keep us stuck in unhealthy relationship dynamics.

If you found this video helpful, please take a moment to subscribe to our channel.

CPS YouTube Channel:

CPS Mental Health Blog:

CPS Facebook:

Brad Peters’ Website:

Our video content is intended for general public use and knowledge. We have the best of intentions in doing so, and derive our information from material thought to be reliable, valid, and supported by relevant research at the time of production. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the viewer to assess and evaluate this information, and the statements provided, in light of their own situation or individual circumstances.
We offer information that is both general and broad; it is not intended to, nor should, replace a qualified mental health practitioner who is able to make judgments and decisions based on first-hand knowledge of an individual and their situation.

You may also like

DBT Body Scan
Posted on July 15, 2020 by Therapist Nicki
A Body scan meditation is a powerful Dialectical Behavioral Therapy [...]
Body Scan Meditation
Posted on July 15, 2020 by Therapist Nicki
Able takes you through body scan meditation. Kids love this and so do [...]
The Repair of Early Trauma: A Bottom Up Approach
Posted on June 18, 2020 by Therapist Nicki
Told to us through the voices of children, this unique animation [...]
5 Things Not To Say To Someone With Depression
Posted on April 3, 2020 by Harmony Administrator
Do you know someone struggling with depression? Is it your family, [...]
5 Ways You Are Self Harming
Posted on October 31, 2019 by Harmony Administrator
Self-harm comes in many different forms and shapes including emotional [...]
Everyday mindfulness
Posted on October 22, 2019 by Therapist Nicki
This video explains what everyday mindfulness is, and how being aware [...]
Triangle of Safety
Posted on September 6, 2019 by Harmony Administrator
Therapist Nicki discusses how to work with emotional containment and a [...]

Page 1 of 6