Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children

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How do we develop the ability to connect with others?  Why are some attachments stronger than others?  What are the warning signs that a child has an impaired ability to attach?  What can poor attachment mean and why is it important in our society? 

In considering these questions, we must remember that the combination of variables that may affect attachment ability vary widely from person to person, even among siblings within the same family.  As our individual characteristics and our environmental influences interact, there are innumerable variations in how people approach, perceive, connect, and maintain relationships with others. 

The capacity and desire to form emotional relationships is related to the organization and functioning of specific parts of the human brain.  Just as the brain allows us to see, smell, taste, think, talk, and move, it is the organ that allows us to love…or not.  The systems in the human brain that allow us to form and maintain emotional relationships develop during infancy and the first years of life.  Experiences during this early, vulnerable period of life are critical to shaping the capacity to form intimate and emotionally healthy relationships. 

Just as the brain allows us to see, smell, taste, think, talk, and move, it is the organ that allows us to love…or not.

Empathy, caring, sharing, inhibition of aggression, remorse -- the capacity to love and a host of other characteristics of a healthy, happy and productive person are related to the core attachment capabilities which are formed in infancy and early childhood.

We've learned a lot in recent years about how the brain works. We are learning how significant environmental conditions are in defining an individual's emotional, behavioral, cognitive and social capabilities.

Huge portions of the human brain are devoted to social functions and communication including establishing and maintaining eye contact, reading faces, judgments and more. When a baby is born, their brain houses over one hundred billion neurons that will chart paths and make connections based on the social experiences they encounter. By the age of two and a half, approximately 85 percent of the baby's neurological growth is complete, meaning the foundation of their brain's capacity is in place. By age three, the child's brain is 90 percent of its completed adult size.

In a remarkable cycle of stimulus and response, the budding brain builds itself using chemical signals generated by vision, smell, touch, hearing and taste to activate and organize the neural cells that make up its tissue and determine the brain's capacity to process, retain and respond to information.




Within six hours of birth, infants are capable of distinguishing their biological mother from other people merely by scent.

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