The Attachment Dilemma

“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

The quandary of relational desires, unrealized hunger for a beloved, frustrated dependency needs and the blight of loneliness infiltrate psychotherapy sessions on a daily basis. At the heart of the matter is the irrefutable fact that human beings require secure connections to others.

Yet, the unbearable frustration and pain of approach-avoidant dynamics and power-submissive relational patterns seems to make the quest for bonding an impossible feat. It often feels as if one requires an elaborate blueprint to guide one towards healthy love and nurturing.

Indeed, this euphemistic blueprint could be likened to the secure regulating attachment template cultivated within the infant-caregiver relationship. The work of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby established that the capacity for adult intimacy and love is largely predicated on the emotional bonds prevalent within the child-parent relationship.

Precursor to Mature Love

Essentially, it tells us that healthy early attachment is the precursor to mature love. In fact, researchers Hazan and Shaver (1987) pointed out the parallels in child-parent and mature romantic partners:

  • Both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsive
  • Both engage in close, intimate, bodily contact
  • Both feel insecure when the other is inaccessible
  • Both share discoveries with one another
  • Both play with one another’s facial features and exhibit a mutual fascination and preoccupation with one another
  • Both engage in “baby talk”

When there is consistent and predictable parental nurture and support, the child develops a secure attachment, affording her safety, a cohesive sense of self, emotional resiliency, self-love, receptivity and trust.

The adult with a blueprint of secure attachment is more likely to create sustaining loving relationships.

On the contrary, when there is a blueprint for anxious/ambivalent attachment, nervous dissatisfaction and suspicion with either, separateness in relationships prevails.

Symptoms of obsessive preoccupation, clingy behavior and unpredictable mood swings permeate relational dynamics.

With an avoidant attachment style, emotional constriction and avoidance of closeness in relationships ensues. The avoidant will exhibit aloofness, emotional distance and an absence of support and responsiveness.

Furthermore, the profound despair and depression evidenced in children with insecure, ambivalent and anxious attachment permeates adult relatedness, further mitigating the potential for collaboration.

If severe chronic abuse and neglect characterized the parent-child relationship, traumatic enactments will also infiltrate adult bonding in a subconscious effort to master the core injuries.

Theory of Life Span Development

Erik Erickson’s theory of life span development asserts that the development of the capacity for romantic intimacy is one of the major markers of late adolescence and young adulthood.

Erickson contended that in order for individuals to achieve intimacy without fearing the loss of their identity, they first had to develop an autonomous coherent sense of self. Hence, the mature capacity for intimacy involves a delicate balance between emotional closeness, separateness and individuality.

For those who incurred developmental disasters because of  ruptures in bonding and parental abuse and neglect, actualizing a loving sustaining bond with another will require healing from irreparable losses so that the derailed individuation process can occur and a cohesive self can emerge. This achievement necessitates a mourning process.

Since we are biologically programmed to form emotional bonds in order to survive and thrive, the disruptions in early bonding catalyze protective psychological defenses, which impede the integration of grief.

Allowing the complicated mourning process to unfold facilitates acceptance and restoration, so that developmental milestones, life skills, and individuation can eventually be attained.

Fundamentally, to evolve from the desperate place of attachment rooted in developmental need and survival fear, to volitional intentional intimate bonding, a mature adult self must emerge.

As Erich Fromm, wrote in The Art of Loving:

“Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you’.

Once a cohesive individuated self emerges, the chance for experiencing mature love becomes a viable reality, and with that a reclamation of vulnerability, freedom, creativity\ and growth.

As Plato wrote in The Symposium:

“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”

Plato reminds us that this fusion through love is the birth of wholeness, the innate human drive for balance and the quest for meaning discovered through complete authenticity. It is here, through the actualized potential to love, that we come full circle and return to our Source.

Dad and son photo available from Shutterstock

The Attachment Dilemma

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2015). The Attachment Dilemma. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Jul 2015
Published on All rights reserved.