The opposite of addiction is connection

Could it be that almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong? Simply, exposure to illegal drugs will not necessarily, absolutely result in addiction in every person.

What if addiction isn’t about the chemical hook? What if addiction is actually about a lack of human connection?

Humans are born wired to bond — ideally, with another human. But humans who cannot bond with another person, due to emotional trauma, for example, will still bond with something. We know these human bond substitutes as addictions…to substances like alcohol or drugs, social media, gambling, shopping, and any number of other compulsions.

In this 2015 TED Talk, English journalist Johann Hari challenges us to look at addiction — and recovery — from a whole new angle:

As Johann shares, addiction recovery is not about punishing the addict for his or her need for connection. It’s not about threatening jail time if the addict will not stop using heroine. It’s about coming alongside the addict and healing the wound under the Band-Aid. Lasting, effective addiction recovery is about social rehab, not just individually but culturally — through how we are conditioning the next generation to reach out to virtual social connections more than in-person, human connections.

We need to get real with what addiction actually represents — a cry for help for people who never experienced a healthy human-to-human connection. In essence, Johann’s work shows us that addiction prevention and recovery starts with attachment.

Editor’s pick: How your childhood shaped your adult personality

Parenting is largely undervalued in our society. So much discussion among politicians and policymakers centers on public education, gender equality, and poverty alleviation. These are all important areas, but parent support is glaringly missing from the list.

When I refer to parent support, I mean research-backed parenting education for all parents regardless of income class or at-risk group.

Relatively few parents seek out parenting classes when they’re not court-ordered. Many parents do pick up a parenting book from time to time, or seek out support from Facebook groups, or search for specific parenting questions on the Internet. But there is much to be considered whenever any parent solicits advice in how to raise their child. Most parents don’t feel they have the time do the homework necessary to make sure their references are up-to-date, accurate, and aligned with their family values and personal parenting goals.

Media Analysis Guidelines for Parents

It’s important that we all learn how to read between the lines on any media report about parenting, so we can make informed decisions on how to raise our children. Attachment Parenting International (API) created these guidelines to help parents to be able to better discern appropriate resources amid the clutter of information that bombards us everyday:

What’s fact or fiction in parenting news?

Get the most out of a scientific study

Trusted resources

API supports parents in raising their children in a way that meets all of their needs for healthy development, not only physically but also socioemotionally. Growing up without a close, warm, trusting, and sensitively responsive attachment to the parent can have serious, lifelong consequences for a child. These children grow into adults who then struggle with raising their own children in a way that is warm and loving. In many ways, we could view this as a mental health crisis.

Not only that, but research also demonstrates that certain childhood events can alter our biological stress responses, translating into physical health problems not only in the affected individual but in his or her DNA with the possibility of being passed down the family tree through epigenetics. From this perspective, the lack of consistent parenting education available and promoted to all parents is a public health crisis on many levels.

Attachment Matters

API explores the effects of insecure childhood attachment on adults in-depth in our latest ebook, Attachment Matters. Receive your copy of this ebook with a donation of $25 or more to API.

To get a better feel for the specific effects of parenting that is not in line with research, this API Editor’s Pick highlights the Psych Central post, “Unloved in Childhood: 10 Common Effects on Your Adult Self” by Peg Streep, a parenting book author from New York City, USA. It’s important to note that while this post refers specifically to mothers and daughters, the effects of a son feeling unloved is much the same. These 10 effects include:

  • Insecure attachment
  • Undeveloped emotional intelligence
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Lack of trust
  • Difficulties with boundaries
  • Tendency toward toxic friends and partners
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Inner conflict.

What I particularly like about this post is how it draws attention to the fact that the problem is not so much how well the parent perceives he or she loves the child, but rather, what’s important to that child’s development is the sense of love from the child’s perspective. It’s all about how the child perceives he or she is loved her by the parent. That’s an important distinction.

The author has so much to impart on this subject, so be sure to read the entire post, but here’s a quote I found especially enlightening:

“Because the culture stubbornly believes that all mothers are loving and that mothering is instinctual, the unloved daughter mistakenly believes she’s the only child on the planet to find herself in this predicament. As a result, she feels isolated and afraid, and is likely to continue to self-isolate because of her deep shame. She’s not likely to tell anyone. More than anything, she wants to belong to the tribe — those girls who hug their moms and laugh with them.” ~ Peg Streep, Psych Central

Parents, I urge you to be the parent whose children — no matter their age — finds it easy to laugh with you and who feels completely comfortable in seeking out a hug with you anytime. Don’t be afraid to be warm toward your child, don’t be afraid to offer comfort to your child night and day, don’t be afraid to use positive discipline rather than spanking or timeout, and don’t be afraid to be different from your friends and family. Seek out your free parenting support from a local API Support Group or the API Warmline.

True sportsmanship

Human nature is inherently competitive. We see this in sports, politics, the arts, even parenting. No matter how much we try to instill a sense of cooperation in our children, we see their competitive natures peek out in sibling rivalry and playground peer interactions.

Competition doesn’t have to be negative. It can be fun, and it can include cooperation. We can win and lose in good spirits, keeping in mind that the activity was for enjoyment and learning, and that our competitor is human and, like us, wanted to win. And, like us, deserves empathy.

Good sportsmanship is a tough skill to learn — for both children and adults. It’s best learned through parents and coaches modeling to children.

This Today video demonstrates an example of good sportsmanship in action among preteen soccer players. It serves as a lesson to us all.

Parenting for peace in a war zone

Most of us are fortunate to have never known war up-close. Most of us have never spent time as a refugee. Most of us have never tried parenting for peace in a war zone.

Just how do parents protect their children — physically and emotionally — when their homes are ripped apart by war and terrorism? What is the best way to parent children into a sense of security once again?

Humanitarian psychologist Aala El-Khani, PhD, with the University of Manchester in the UK, has done extensive work in protecting and restoring mental health to children of families affected by armed conflict. She has been instrumental in the development of family skills programming in Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.

In this TED talk, Aala shares about her work specifically in Syria with refugee families. What she prescribes for war-zone families is essentially Attachment Parenting.

Still Face: A lesson in responsiveness and relationship repair for ALL caregivers

How important is it that we give our infants and children intentional presence?

The third of API’s Eight Principles of Parentingrespond with sensitivity — is one of two common threads that run through all 8 principles. The other is to provide consistent and loving care.

Research that began with the late psychologist John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory back in the 1950s has shown the critical need for consistently loving, sensitive responsiveness to develop a secure parent-child attachment — that component that forms the foundation of how our babies and toddlers go on to relate to others…in all relationships…through the rest of their lives.

“That initial responsiveness, that interaction between the father and baby, are keys to the baby’s success as a child and an adult.” ~ Richard Cohen, PhD, director of Project ABC at the Children’s Institute

So, yeah, it’s important.

Picture Alternatives has partnered with the Children Institute in Los Angeles, California, USA, in replicating the famous Still Face Experiment developed in 1975 by Ed Tronick, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts’s Infant-Parent Mental Health program in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

This new video is the first-ever application of the experiment on fathers and their babies — clearly showing that infants need sensitive responsiveness from all caregivers:


Just as important as consistently responding with sensitivity is relationship repair as needed:

“The infant can overcome it. After all, when you stop the still face, the baby starts to play again. …When you don’t give the child any chance to get back to the good, there’s no reparation and they’re stuck in that really ugly situation.” ~ Ed Tronick, PhD, featured in this 2009 Zero to Three film:


No parent is perfect, and there will be situations that arise that take our attention away from our children. Life happens, and sometimes we may be less responsive than we wished, but it’s OK. Babies and children can recover quickly when their caregiver works to repair the relationship when needed.

In short: How you respond to your child’s expressed needs when you make a mistake makes a big difference in what they’re learning about with the give and take, and repair, of relationships.

How an insecure childhood attachment affects a marriage…and what you can do about that

This summer, my husband and I will celebrate 15 years together. It has been a wild, sweet, frustrating at times, unforgettable ride through the years. I thought it would’ve grown easier over time. In some ways, it has. In other ways, it hasn’t.

I’m learning that is exactly how marriage is. It’s a relationship, and all relationships — as we know from our parent-child relationships — take work. Marriage isn’t something you can just get to a plateau and let it slide from there. If you’re not working on your marriage relationship — just as if you’re not working to continually strengthen your parent-child attachment relationship — it immediately begins to fall away. You always have to make it a priority and problem-solve to keep it a priority, despite whatever our lives throw our way.

However, there is a key difference between a marriage attachment bond and a parent-child attachment bond. With children, they are hard-wired to seek attachment with us and so learn to adapt how they seek that attachment from how we teach them — intentionally or inadvertently — to do so. This is why children who are overtly abused continue to feel love toward their abusive parents — the children are adapting out of their need for survival, and attachment to parents is as much a component of survival as air and food.

With our spouses, the attachment bond is different. One spouse doesn’t need the other for survival as strongly as we need air and food — we each have grown into an adult who is able to self-assure our survival — so each spouse isn’t subconsciously adapting to the other’s cues for what is acceptable or not in that relationship.

This means our adapting to one another’s attachment-seeking and keeping style has to be much more intentional. If we are not mindful about how to consciously adapt to one another’s style of relating, our subconscious attachment styles developed in childhood will reign in the relationship. Much of the time, this may not be a problem. Especially if you developed a secure attachment style as a child, relating to your spouse may be relatively easy.

But, especially if you developed an insecure attachment style as a child, you may have difficulty in relating to your spouse — and vice versa — particularly during conflict, while distressed, or when stressed-out. This is when the very common anxious and avoidance traits of insecure attachment are most prominent, and can be hardest to overcome.

When our ingrained attachment needs are triggered, such as during a conflict with our spouse, it can be difficult to rise above our knee-jerk, subconscious reflexes to shut down/run away or worry/cling — relating tendencies that insecurely attached children learn to be able to maintain attachment with their parents, but these same tendencies don’t work so well in other relationships like marriage.

Spouses, especially those who grew up with insecure attachments with their own parents, have to learn how to rise above those ingrained attachment reflexes to be able to adapt healthily to their spouse. The more we practice it, the more it rewires our brain in new, healthy ways to seek and strengthen attachment with our spouse without resorting to the insecure attachment tendencies from our youth.

This takes hard, hard work. But it’s so worth it.

As we observe Marriage Week, February 7-14 in the United States, Attachment Parenting International (API) reminds you of the incredible importance of seeking out like-minded support not only for parenting but also for your marriage. API offers many resources for couples, including these favorites:

Photo source

Children communicate their needs through behavior…what is your child communicating?

Attachment matters, but how exactly?

Attachment parenting is often — to those unfamiliar with the term — viewed as simply a fad, but in truth, every parent is involved in a form of parenting that is associated with attachment, whether healthy or not.

Read more about how insecure attachment affects us from childhood through adulthood, and how it may be affecting your relationships today, and what to do about that — both for yourself and for your children — in the new ebook, Attachment Matters, available only through Attachment Parenting International (API).

With your donation of $25 or greater, you’ll receive this ebook.

Attachment parenting, as a collective of parenting behaviors, is a research-backed approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment between parents and their child.

“Attachment” is the scientific term for the emotional bond in a relationship, born out of Attachment Theory developed by the late psychologist-psychiatrist Dr. John Bowlby. The attachment quality — or the quality of the emotional bond — that forms between parents and children, learned from the relational patterns with caregivers from birth on, correlates with how a child perceives — and ultimately is able to experience — relationships.

While the basis of Attachment Theory is rooted in infants and toddlers, the effects of attachment quality is an important feature of lifelong human development, affecting a child’s relationships within and beyond the immediate family through childhood and through adulthood.

Attachment Quality Affects Child’s Happiness

Attachment quality has profound effects for each child over the lifetime, often much more of an impact than is realized outside scientific and clinical circles. A person with a secure, or healthy, attachment is generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways and establish more meaningful and emotionally close relationships.

A person with an insecure attachment is more susceptible to stress and less healthy relationships, and is more at risk for serious mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders.

However, the effects of insecure attachments don’t wait until adulthood to show. Every relationship is influenced by a child’s attachment pattern, from the earliest peer interactions to that with school teachers. Secure children tend to earn higher grades, be more cooperative, and are more goal-oriented.

Insecure infants and toddlers are less curious and more inhibited and withdrawn than secure children, who are better able to master their environment and perform related motor actions. Insecure preschoolers have poorer social skills, adjust to school slower, and tend to have problems paying attention, focusing, and learning in school.

Overall, insecure children tend to have low self-esteem. Secure children have high self-esteem, prefer to be challenged in class, and are motivated to learn because they enjoy learning.

While attachment is one of many contributing factors of child and adult well-being, it cannot be overestimated how important attachment quality is to the health of a child’s future relationships, both with peers and with eventual romantic partners.

Parenting Determines Attachment Quality

Parents develop a secure attachment by fulfilling that child’s need for trust, empathy, and affection by providing consistent, loving, and responsive care. By demonstrating healthy and positive relationship skills, the parent provides critical emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory abilities.

The attachment bond that a person had with his or her primary attachment figure — usually the mother — as a child is that person’s model for how any relationship should work for the rest of that person’s life. For people who developed a secure attachment as a child, adult relationships are relatively easy, loving, and nurturing.

For people who developed an insecure attachment as a child, there may be great difficulty with adult relationships, especially related to trust.

What Kind of Parenting Creates an Insecure Attachment?

Insecure attachment develops when there are inconsistencies in the sensitive responsiveness of a child’s primary attachment model — or no responsiveness at all.

Because humans are social beings, having emotionally close relationships is essential. Without healthy relationships, humans are at a definite risk for social and learning disabilities, mental illness, and unhealthy, risky behaviors used to fill the void left by the unmet needs in the first attachment relationship — that with each child’s primary caregiver.

The success of this first attachment bond is what shapes the neural pathways in each child’s brain, influencing the way that child learns to cope with stress, perceive him-or herself, create expectations of others, and navigate relationships all through not only childhood but as adults.

Children who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional communication — verbal and nonverbal — may grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the emotions of others. This creates serious relationship deficits.

Whether secure or insecure, the parent-child attachment quality determines that child’s ability to maintain emotional balance, enjoy being his- or herself, enjoy being with others, and rebound from disappointment, discouragement, and other life stress.

The relationship skills required by both people in a healthy adult relationship include the ability to manage stress, to stay tuned in with emotions, to communicate nonverbally, to be playful in a mutually engaging manner, and to readily forgive without holding grudges. Each of these skills is most easily learned when modeled by a person’s first primary attachment as a child and that attachment quality is secure.

While overtly abusive or neglectful parenting may unsurprisingly influence attachment quality, insecure attachment also develops out of parenting approaches that promote isolation and loneliness.

An insecure attachment produces an adult who has difficulty with maintaining healthy relationships, as indicated by the 3 insecure attachment patterns:

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied — These people hunger for attachment, but because they don’t understand real trust, they are seek a partner who will rescue or “complete” them. They tend to be clingy, desperate, demanding, and possessive.
  2. Dismissive-Avoidant — These people are emotionally distant, self-centered, and insensitive. They seek not only independence but isolation, and in conflicts, they tend to shut down emotionally and easily detach from others.
  3. Fearful-Avoidant — These people are disorganized in their relationships, being afraid of becoming too emotionally close and too distant, at the same time. They are both anxious and emotionally distant. As a result, they are moody and unpredictable, often overwhelmed by their reactions, experiencing frequent emotional storms. While they understand that they need to have emotionally close relationships to have their emotional needs met, they have a strong, underlying fear of getting hurt or being abandoned when they get emotionally close to others, so they struggle with being emotionally intimate. Their relationships tend to be rocky, and there is a greater tendency toward abusive relationships.

Very simply, a child’s primary attachment bond is what determines success in all future relationships — romantic, family, work, friendship, and so on — through childhood and adulthood, unless and until an adult with an insecure attachment quality is able to work with a professional therapist to overcome attachment challenges and learn healthy relationship skills.

*Excerpt published with permission.

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