Parental Attachment and the Development of Self-Compassion

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Parental Attachment and the Development of Self-Compassion
The Positive Psychology movement focuses on identifying protective factors that promote wellbeing and protect people from the negative psychological effects related to life’s everyday challenges. Research increasingly supports self-compassion as a key component in positive mental health outcomes. However, very few studies have examined factors that lead to the development of self-compassion. Attachment is known to contribute to the development of healthy social and emotional development (Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). Theoretically, parental attachment should promote the development of self-compassion. Attachment is described as the socio-emotional bond between individuals (Wicks-Nelson & Isreal, 2009). Healthy parental attachment develops in the first year of life through consistent, sensitive, and responsive parenting from a stable caregiver (Ainsworth, 1979; Barnas & Cummings, 1994; Sroufe, 2005). The attachment relationship with a caregiver is an essential component in helping to form the foundation for healthy personality and functioning in society. For example, attachment is known to influence cognitive ability, development of conscience, coping skills, relationship skills, and the ability to handle perceived threats and negative emotions (Sroufe et al., 2005; Wicks-Nelson & Isreal, 2009). In a review of the Minnesota study, Sroufe (2005) highlights the importance of early attachment in the developmental course. The Minnesota study was a 30-year longitudinal developmental study, commencing in the 1970’s, which followed individuals from before birth until adulthood. The main purpose of the study was to evaluate the “major propositions of attachment theory” (Sroufe, 2005, p. 349). The primary goal of the study was to test Bowlby’s hypotheses that (1) quality of caregiver-infant attachment is influenced by the interaction history with the caregiver, (2) individual differences in personality can be explained by variations in the quality of early attachment, and (3) secure attachment is related to the development of self-reliance, emotion regulation, and social competence. The quality of infant-caregiver attachment was assessed through observation at 12 and 18 months, using Ainsworth’s Strange Situation procedure. Many outcome variables, or patterns of behaviour, were extensively measured using various methods (questionnaires, observation, standardized testing, parental and teacher reports) at several ages including infancy, preschool years, childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood. During the preschool years outcomes such as self-regulation, curiosity, and effective entry into peer group were measured. In middle school, measures of real-world competence, loyal friendships, coordination of friendship, and group functioning were examined. During adolescence identity, intimacy, and self-reflection were assessed. The findings from the Minnesota study provided support for Bowlby’s hypotheses (Sroufe, 2005). First, it was demonstrated that secure attachment is directly related to a history of sensitive, emotionally engaged, and cooperative interaction with a caregiver. Also as Bowlby suggested, secure attachment predicted the development of self-reliance such that individuals who used their caregiver as a secure base to explore during infancy, were later more independent. Moreover, secure attachment predicted adaptive emotion regulation as demonstrated by securely attached individuals having more self-confidence, higher self-esteem, more ego-resiliency (ability to adjust), persistent and flexible coping strategies, and displaying affect appropriate to situations. Finally, strong links were found between secure attachment and measures of social competence from early childhood through adulthood. Individuals with secure attachment were assessed as significantly better on measures such as expectation of relationships, engagement with others, skill in...
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