Family Support

How to Meet Personal Needs: The Attachment Cycle

The Attachment Cycle is based upon having our needs met by our caregivers. We can develop different styles of attachment as we grow up. When we grow up in a safe and predictable environment, we are more likely to develop a “secure attachment style.” When children grow up in households where their needs (not just the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, but belongingness and esteem needs as well), they develop a greater amount of trust in the world around them. They feel that the world values them and is there to help them. They value themselves and understand how to build healthy boundaries. They can connect well with others and form happy, healthy relationships. Essentially, what happens in this ideal environment is this:

  • A child has a need
  • They express their need or are encouraged to do so
    • In the early stages of development, children may not have the skills to express their needs
    • Children struggling with emotional or behavioral issues may also be having a difficult time communicating their needs
    • Parents will engage with their children to problem-solve and figure out what the need is
  • Parents or caregivers then meet the need or seek a compromise
    • The child’s need is met 
    • (Or) the child is heard and agrees to another solution 
  • Finally, the child feels that the world is a safe place when their needs are met.

Disruptions in the Attachment Cycle

As parents, we always try to do our best. We are frequently meeting our child’s needs. We are provided a safe and supportive environment. They have predictability and routine. There is a structure in the home and our children are shown that they are loved and valued. Expectations are clear. Yet, our child still struggles with their emotions. They are still acting out and having behavioral issues. We are doing all that we can and they are still making bad choices. Where did we go wrong?

Unfortunately, there are “hijackers,” who disrupt the attachment cycle. Our child may have an unmet need or are going through a struggle that we are not able to help with. We might have missed some need or we disagreed with them about meeting a need. We might be unable to meet all their needs, despite our best efforts. These needs may be things that our child is having difficulty expressing or they are dealing with an underlying issue that needs clinical attention. For example, if our child is depressed, then despite our best efforts, we may not be able to provide a solution to the problem. They may need some kind of specialized therapy or medication to help them. Without support or intervention, our child might then turn to the “hijackers” to meet their needs.

Hijackers can come in many forms. They provide temporary relief to the discomfort felt due to the unmet needs. Unfortunately, hijackers do not provide a permanent solution and their effect loses strength over time. This leads to more hijackers or more extreme usage of the hijackers. These can include things like:

  • Cutting or self-harm 
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Promiscuity
  • Anger
  • Eating disorders
  • Running away
  • Manipulation
  • Isolation
  • Codependencies and other relationship issues

When the “hijackers” step in to fulfill needs, they come at a cost. They create more needs and start a cycle. Our kids might use alcohol to cope with depression. Then the alcohol creates a new need due to its addictive qualities. Now, they have a new “need” to fulfill: getting drunk. Other hijackers will do the same thing. Cutting and self-harm often lead to more cutting and self-harm. Drugs lead to more drugs. Promiscuity leads to more risky sexual behaviors. 

When we start to see these “hijackers” appear in our child’s life, we need to intervene to get them help. They are likely experiencing some type of underlying issue and are using the hijackers to meet their needs. Seeing our kids engage in these activities and behaviors can bring about judgment or blame. We may feel like our kids are not grateful for all that we have provided. We may feel like we have failed them as parents. However, this is not true! They are not bad kids and we are not bad parents. We may just need to get some additional support to rebuild our happy and healthy family. There is hope for us to get our families back. Let’s meet our kids with compassion and understanding. Let’s find solutions to fix our families. 

The attachment cycle is about how we get our needs met and whether or not we feel secure in our homes. When we grow up, we have the same expectations about the world as we developed in our homes. If we live in a supportive environment with predictable expectations, feeling valued and loved, we transfer these feelings to the world outside. We believe that there is good in the world and seek healthy attachments to others. As parents, we try our best for our kids. We provide for them and try to meet their needs. Some kids, however, may have underlying issues that we are unaware of or we are unable to help with. We may feel guilty or upset seeing our kids struggling. Our kids may have turned to “hijackers” like self-harm, drugs, or alcohol to meet their needs. We can seek support for our kids when they are struggling with these issues. At Fire Mountain Residential Treatment, we understand that you “want your kid back.” We’re here to help you restore your family. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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