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‘Homo vinculum’ – the one who bonds with others

‘Homo vinculum’ – the one who bonds with others

I had been trying to figure out what the first post for the EFT Clinic blog should be about for a while now until my cat finally gave me the perfect idea: What a better way to start a blog for a therapy clinic that is based on attachment than attachment itself. But what does my cat have to do with it, you may wonder?

Well, let me tell you what I observed in the past week. This weekend, as I was watching my cat Ivy, climb up on top of a pillar in the house, I could see all the parallels with attachment theory. Attachment theory proposes that we can explore our environment optimally only when we feel safe and secure with an attachment figure. In the beginning of the week, I was busy and out of the house all day. During those days, Ivy had been sleeping most of the day, did not do much and kept my husband awake most of the night playing after I’d gotten home (I sleep well so I was none the wiser). Then as I’ve been home the latter part of the week, she has been up most of the day playing and exploring her environment even finding a new place she has never been before. I know I’m anthropomorphising her but it was impossible not to notice that having her primary attachment figure at home allowed her to feel safe and happy to explore her environment.

Attachment theory was first proposed in the 1960s by John Bowlby who was a psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst (yes, all the Ps!). He described the emotional bonding that occurs between babies and their primary caregivers (in his time it was mostly mothers) that, he proposed, enhanced the baby’s chances of survival. There are Four main characteristics of the bond: proximity maintenance, separation distress, safe haven and secure base. Infants are motivated to maintain proximity to their primary caregiver and experience distress upon separation. They also use a caregiver as a safe haven to which to return to for comfort and reassurance when they experience distress and a secure base from which they can explore the environment and later go out into the world and become independent knowing that they can always return should they need support. In childhood, the attachment bond is usually between a primary caregiver and a child with secondary attachments to others. In adulthood, the primary attachment figure often becomes a romantic partner. At times, other people who an individual sees as stronger and wiser may become an attachment figure if a primary attachment figure is unavailable. These can include, for example, teacher, therapist, or even a deity, or a cat, or a dog.

Bowlby suggested that early childhood experiences with caregivers help shape our experiences of ourselves, others and the world. These early experiences form what are called internal working models, or mental representations, of self and others. Internal working models of ourselves pertain to our view of self as worthy and lovable (or not). Internal working models of others, on the other hand, are focused on whether other people are reliable and trustworthy, whether we can count on others in times of need. Our worldview can also include a world as being safe and full of opportunities or as one that is scary and full of threats. These internal working models begin forming in the first year of life and become more stable over time but remain open to revision with new experiences of interpersonal relationships. Bowlby suggested that these internal working models are important from cradle to the grave and will be used across relationships throughout one’s life.

Today, we generally see these internal working models across two dimensions: Anxiety and Avoidance. The Anxiety dimension is more concerned about our view of ourselves, whether we see ourselves as worthy of love. Individuals who are high on attachment Anxiety often doubt their own abilities to cope in situations, worry about loved ones leaving and often seek excessive closeness and reassurance. On the other hand, individuals higher on attachment Avoidance don’t see other people as trustworthy and reliable meaning that they often avoid getting too close to people and rely on themselves. In conflict situations, Anxious individuals will usually want to maintain connection and may want to continue the argument until it is resolved as the fear of losing the other person takes hold. Avoidant individuals often avoid conflict and withdraw from arguments. Both strategies ultimately try to preserve the relationship: Anxious individuals have learnt that they can only get comfort and reassurance if they are vocal about it whereas Avoidant individuals have learnt to soothe themselves and not trust others to help soothe them.

But what about individuals who feel lovable and worthy and had caregivers who were Available, Responsive and Engaged (A.R.E.) in childhood? These individuals often become Securely attached. In adulthood, Secure individuals feel that they are worthy of love and relationships and trust that other people will be there for them if needed. They also view the world as relatively safe and just. They are able to seek reassurance and comfort when needed but can also self-soothe if an attachment figure is not available in that moment. They are able to remain available, responsive and engaged in relationships and therefore provide support and comfort to others. They can ask for their needs to be met and can meet their partner’s needs or provide support, empathy and love toward partner and/or children.

One of the primary goals in attachment-based therapies is to increase this feeling of security in individuals and to create more secure and close bonds with others. In early stages of therapy, the therapist often assumes the role of a stronger wiser attachment figure to help clients safely explore their inner experiences and to create connections with others. In later stages, the attachment relationships with attachment figures from a client(s) environment can be strengthened. In Emotionally-Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT), the purpose is to move a client from insecurity towards a felt security. Once a client feels more secure, they are often able to relate to others in a whole new way and develop bonds outside of therapy. In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT or EFCT), the focus is on strengthening the bond between partners and in Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), the purpose is to strengthen the bond between parents and children. The main difference between EFCT and EFFT is that the bond between two adult partners is reciprocal and therefore the purpose of the work is to help both partners become available and responsive toward each other and able to discuss their fears and ask for their needs to be met. In EFFT, the focus is to help parents become available, responsive and engaged and children to feel safe enough to express their fears and needs and trust that their parent(s) will be responsive to those needs.

When you understand attachment you often start seeing it everywhere. You may notice certain behaviours that you exhibit to seek comfort and reassurance. You may notice that you either need a moment and a space to breathe when a discussion becomes more heated or you may notice that in those moments you need closeness. You may notice that when you are A.R.E. with others that they open up to you. Or you may be like me and notice the difference in your pet when you’re home compared to when they are alone. At the end of the day, we are a not just ‘homo sapiens’, we are ‘homo vinculum’, the one who bonds with others (Sue Johnson).


With love,

Laura Vowels

  1. If after reading this post you feel like you would like to explore your own attachment(s), and those of your closest persons, please get in touch with our EFT Clinic and we will be happy to pair you up with a suitable therapist.

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