According to attachment theory, originally formulated by John Bowlby and later refined by Mary Ainsworth, adults’ relational patterns are formed according to the model of the close relationship they formed in early childhood with their primary caregiver, who is usually the mother.
Attachment theory has its limitations, including the fact that, in its early form, it excluded the attachment patterns formed in adolescence and adulthood, or that it fails to recognise the role that other people or cultural, social, and economic factors play in the development of a child’s personality. However, the theory manages to draw attention to how our relationships with the significant people in our lives influence the evolution of our attachment patterns.
A person’s identity, which is expressed, among other factors, through personality and character, is not formed in isolation. We are social beings and we get to know ourselves, evolve and express ourselves in relation to the people around us. Understanding how these relationships, with their traumas or benefits, affect our relational and thinking patterns is extremely helpful to each and every one of us.
A dysfunctional relationship with a primary caregiver can lead to insecurity, anxiety, jealousy, avoidant behaviour, disorderly conduct, substance abuse, and violence. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a secure attachment, as the result of a relationship in which the primary caregiver has managed to instil security, helps individuals develop autonomy, trust, optimism, balance, good communication, and healthy relationships.
Psychology talks about how vicious circles of insecure attachment patterns can be broken, as well as how a secure attachment can be strengthened. What I want to emphasise now is how God can become a primary caregiver in someone’s life and how the relationship with Him, founded on an understanding of His character, can become an incredible source of change in our attachment patterns.
The Bible says that God is fully interested in our lives and our destiny, that He answers our prayers (in contradiction of the idea that we can never know whether God will answer or not), that He loves and cherishes us, that He finds pleasure in keeping in touch with us, and that He is never absent or indifferent to our lives. Once internalised, these ideas become a powerful source of secure attachment. I have seen people whose ability to relate to others has been radically changed by the trust they have gained in God’s character and His way of relating to people.
God knows us, and that is more important than the fact that we know Him. He knows our deepest needs and our thinking and behavioural patterns, and the way He relates to us is customised and conceived to meet our needs. The role of the Church in general, in its biblical mission, is primarily and essentially this: to help people to know the truth about God, about His character and His way of relating to us. Only a correct understanding of His perfect character and of His well-intended actions changes people’s lives. Apart from this central, guiding idea, whatever the Church does is redundant or even harmful and unfounded.
Norel Iacob is the editor-in-chief of Signs of the Times Romania and ST Network.