4 Reasons Why Spiritual Formation Needs Attachment Theory
And I pick a little fight at the end with the origins of psychology...
When it comes to a “neuroscience-informed spiritual formation”, why focus on attachment theory?
In the last post, I talked about “what I’m not talking about when I’m talking about attachment theory.”
After spending hours and upon hours learning attachment theory specifically, and Interpersonal Neurobiology generally, here are my top 4 reasons (+ a bonus) why attachment theory is essential for spiritual formation.
Each one could be elaborated extensively.
But I’m just keeping it short for today.
1) Links Genetics and Experience
Attachment relationships are the primary developmental context in which our genetic material is shaped by our social environment.
As Lisa Feldman Barrett says, we are creatures that by nature require nurture.
Attachment theory and research focus on the developmental processes acting as the link between the genetic “hard-wiring” of our brains and the epigenetic, experience-dependence organization of our individual brains, leading to healthy or maladaptive formation.
For Spiritual Formation: This is important for a view of spiritual formation because takes the development of our physical bodies and brains seriously (i.e. an embodied faith).
2) Relationships are Essential
While not unique in focusing on relationships as essential, attachment theory explores how mutual, co-creative relationships foster the capacities for pursuing intimacy in relationships and independence in one’s agency.
Attachment research shows how the communities we are part of (the “we”) is formative of who we are (the “me”).
For Spiritual Formation: This is important for a view of spiritual formation that is collaborative, developmental, and non-individualistic (in relation to God and to others).
Learn about the ATTACHING TO GOD Beyond Anxious and Avoidant Spiritualities Learning Cohort (new ones forming soon).
3) Implicit and Explicit
Attachment theory and research help connect
the implicit, preverbal, and preconscious parts of us, and
the explicit, verbal, and conscious parts of us…
giving priority to the former over the latter.
Attachment theory, and interpersonal neurobiology, effectively update the Freudian understanding of the “unconscious” aspects of our mental and spiritual lives.
For Spiritual Formation: This is important for a view of spiritual formation that seeks to emphasize the affective and relational as a counter-balance to the overly cognitive and will-focused spiritual formation approaches.
4) It is all about family.
BONUS REASON: Focuses on health, not pathology
This one is tricky.
And I could use an entire post to fill out.
Basically, attachment theory began by observing what actual children do in actual relationships with actual parents.
The roots of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychology started with patients in psychiatric wards and clients struggling with mental health issues talking about their lives and then reconstructing their “childhood” experiences.
Because of this difference in origin and data, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that
attachment theory developed by seeking to understand normal, healthy interpersonal relationships, and
psychiatry and psychology started by seeking to understand abnormal, pathological interpersonal relationships (neurotic or psychotic).
Or said differently:
Attachment theory moves from health to pathology.
Psychiatry and psychology move from pathology to health.
John Bowlby, one of the principal founders of attachment theory, wanted to know what healthy, “good enough” parent-child relationships looked like. And from this place to understand what maladaptive processes (pathology) look in the parent-child relationship. So he and Mary Ainsworth went and observed how children actually live and behave (which was revolutionary in the 50’s and 60’s).
This move to using the data of observing children, as well as animal studies from monkeys and birds, was the cause of a major break between attachment research and psychoanalysis (because in the 40s and 50s psychiatrists and psychoanalysts thought the “subjective” data from clients and patients was more important than the “objective” data of observation and experimentation).
For Spiritual Formation: This is important for spiritual formation because attachment theory and research have an understanding of health that is grounded in a scientific view of our developmental processes (dare I say, how God designed us).
More could be said about that, and in a sense, I am picking a fight with certain strands of psychology and their understanding of mental illness, mental health, and even trauma and how to overcome it.
Why we focus on being neuroscience-informed…
All of this is basically to say, that I’m focused here on being “neuroscience-informed” — not vaguely “psychologically-informed” or even “trauma-informed” because it think attachment theory specifically, interpersonal neurobiology generally, offers some helpful corrective.
Thoughts? Questions? Scathing Criticism?
Please leave them in the comments.
All of this just means you should join our ATTACHING TO GOD Beyond Anxious and Avoidant Spiritualities Learning Cohort (new ones forming soon). ;-)
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