This is the first in a series of articles about the critical role of experience in shaping attachment patterns and in healing unhealthy or negative patterns once they have formed. The experience of a healing relationship, whether it is between a therapist and client, or parent and child, is the most change-producing factor. Many studies on therapy outcome, for example, reveal that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the primary factor associated with positive results – more important than any theory or methods used. Positive change requires a relationship in which people experience trust, safety, empathy, support, healthy boundaries, and “limbic resonance” (emotional and mental attunement).
A significant portion of learning, growth and healing is experiential and starts in the early stages of life. A baby’s experience of safe, nurturing, supportive and loving attachments not only affects emotional and social development, but actually shapes the baby’s developing brain.
The baby’s brain is an “open-loop system,” dependent on the parent’s or caregiver’s support, security and emotional connection for healthy growth and functioning.
Early attachment experiences shape the brain’s structure, chemistry and genetic expression in the following ways:
- They activate neuronal firing, creating synaptic connections between neurons (“what fires together wires together”).
- Biochemicals are triggered and released. Secure attachment between baby and parent triggers the release of Dopamine (pleasure, closeness, motivation), Endorphins (reduces pain, enhances calmness and contentment), Serotonin (stress reduction) and Oxytocin (fosters maternal behavior and bonding).
- Early experiences of secure or insecure attachment are programmed into the implicit memory systems (preverbal and unconscious) of the brain’s limbic system and become mindsets and expectations that guide subsequent behavior. For example, you may fear intimacy and dependency as an adult because of experiencing abandonment and betrayal as a child.
Early experiences are a significant indicator of attachment patterns that an individual often carries with them into adulthood. That, however, doesn’t have to mean that a child who has experienced abandonment, lack of love, trauma or abuse in the early years must struggle with the inability to form loving and secure relationships later on. Change is possible. Through healing experiences and with effective experiential interventions unhealthy and damaging attachment patterns can be transformed.
The following articles will go into further depth about:
- transformative relationship and intervention experiences
- examples of effective experiential interventions used at Evergreen Psychotherapy Center