The Essence of Attachment and Bonding

Attunement, Resonance and Synchrony

Allen Schore’s use of language from quantum sciences to describe what happens in a parent-child relationship is helping people bridge between the “hard” or quantifiable sciences and the “soft” or experiential/relational sciences. This is allowing people who work on both sides of this “fence” to find common ground both theoretically and clinically.

While there is an abundance of things I could say on this topic, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This video shows the essence of attachment and bonding. It’s an incredible example of a mother and child experiencing attunement, resonance and synchrony.

You can also see the essence of attachment and bonding in these images:

MM front coverAttachment








What You are Seeing

These images are filled with information that illustrate the essence of attachment and bonding: full sensory engagement (eye-to-eye/skin-to-skin contact), faces that reflect each other’s expression of happiness, right-brain to right-brain synchrony, limbic brain resonance, and a shared field of affect energy. At a neurobiological level, this shared experience is being wired into the child’s orbital prefrontal cortex and the autonomic nervous system.

The essence of attachment and bonding is very somatic, a true MindBody experience that helps a child build an internal working model of reality. Young children use this model to organize their inner world, to make meaning out of their experiences, and to interact with the larger world.

Attachment and The Internal Working Model

Schore says that the developing brain’s ability to become self-organizing occurs in the context of a relationship with the brain of another Self–primarily the brain of the mother. The synchronization between their two brains, he says, involves more than their behavior and thoughts. Their synchronization is on a biological level that energetically links together their brains and nervous systems. This attunement requires that mothers learn how follow the very subtle cues from their children. This helps them regulate not only their emotional states but modulate the production of stress related adrenal hormones such as cortisol.

This mother-child biological and energetic attunement helps babies quiet themselves after an upsetting emotional experience. This moment-by-moment matching of emotion helps both mothers and babies increase their internal experience of emotional connection. This is the essence of attachment and bonding.

When the Bough Breaks

Schore and others found that it is extremely important for mothers to be able to recognize when the attunement process has broken down for the infant. If there are interruptions in the bonding and attuning process that are not noticed and repaired by the mother or adult care-giver, the experience can easily register in the infant’s nervous system as Developmental Shock.

During an experience of Developmental Shock, infants become emotionally dysregulated and need the mother’s attention in order to re-attune and self-regulate their emotions. Without that help, infants can dissociate and spiral into a psychological “black hole.” From an attunement perspective, here’s what the energetic break looks like between the mother and child.

schore + shock

The Black Hole is a term commonly used in psychotherapy to describe a dissociative place that people go to when they experience a loss of reality during shock experiences. People may regress into the past during psychotherapy and re-experience unconscious or split-off memories of Developmental Shock that involve experiences of early abandonment, neglect and abuse.

Healing experiences involving developmental shock, trauma and stress requires that clients have both internal and external resources to help them process their early memories. Clients should have built intrapsychic structures that provide them with a safe place to go, to do self-soothing and self-organizing. Therapists must have done this kind of healing work themselves so that they can serve as a safe “constant object” and avoid the possibility of projecting counter-transference issues on their clients.

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