Introductory definition of attachment from the DMM perspective
Attachment theory is complex and it can be hard to find a coherent or consistent definition. As some people know, one important part of attachment is the special relationship between a parent and child, between romantic partners, and between professionals and their clients. Attachment is often described as involving a child who seeks safety from the parent, and a parent who provides safety, and who supports a child’s exploration. The Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM), initially developed by Dr. Patricia Crittenden, centers attachment around danger rather than safety: Attachment involves a person’s (child or adult) need to be protected from danger, and comforted especially after exposure to danger. Focusing on just this aspect of attachment provides tremendous insight into parenting, love relationships, and relationships between relational professionals and their clients. In one form or another, most professionals are protecting clients from some form of danger.
But attachment involves much more than relationship because it contributes significantly to the development of (usually) life long thinking and behavior patterns which tend to be utilized or preferred in the context of danger.
NxR=E. Taking a cue from the simplistic formula GxE (the interplay of Genes and Environment), we can think of attachment as NxR=E: attachment involves the interplay of Needs and Relationship which lead to certain Effects. Attachment involves certain neurobiologically driven Needs, a Relationship between a person (child or adult) who needs protection and a person who can provide protection (Attachment Figure), and Effects which include the development of particular behavior and thought patterns (protection strategies). The Effects of the interplay between Needs and Relationship are on the development of the body’s neural (and probably endocrine) systems. Danger involves a broad array of things, including objective dangers like starvation, but it also leads to subjective perceptions of danger. For example, for some people being alone is dangerous and for others it is safe. (People involved in litigation almost always face danger in the form of some sort of potential loss, and many mental health clients likewise are facing danger, loss, and trauma while lacking strategies to effectively manage fear and loss.)
Because attachment is centered on obtaining protection from danger, one of its effects is to promote Self-Protective (behavior) Strategies. People, including infants and young children, develop behavioral strategies that minimize danger and maximize relative safety. Attachment strategies may provide safety in a child’s parenting environment, but the use of the same strategies at school or in interpersonal relationships may be ineffective or problematic. Of the many SPSs people may develop, some include avoiding (A strategies) or drawing (C strategies) attention to oneself, a tendency to rely on the self (A) or others (C), and distancing/idealizing/caregiving others (A) or oscillating some level of anger with some level of feigned helplessness (C).
More interesting and complex, attachment impacts cognition, leading to identifiable Patterns of Information Processing, or the way in which neural systems manage the process of handling information. Everything in the world represents a piece or set of information. In terms of attachment, information processing involves becoming aware of and processing information in the environment which might present danger. Information is processed in several stages which involve at least perceiving, receiving (allowing it into awareness, or not), evaluating (determining if it is useful to predict danger, or not), retaining (keeping or discarding the information), and recall (which may involve all, parts, none, or transformed information). Information can be distorted or transformed (changed in some way) at any stage of processing. Attachment deeply impacts the development of PIPs. Of the many impacts on PIPs, some include minimizing or eliminating (A) or maximizing (C) negative affect, using an overly narrow and rigid (A) or overly broad and vague (C) set of facts to make decisions, and appearing to lack memory and relying on semantic conclusions (A) or recalling too much and relying on imaged memory and connotative language (C) to describe and analyze issues.
Dr. Patricia (Pat) Crittenden studied under attachment pioneers John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, and spent a career taking their ideas to new heights. Like Bowlby and other attachment and non-attachment theorists, she realized that attachment measures uncover information processing patterns which provide rich insight into many aspects of human functioning. The DMM, consistent with many other theories, describes how information processing can be fundamentally divided into a preference for cognitive (A) and affective (C) oriented processing. Her decades of research in attachment measures led her to gain a unique and deep insight into the detailed facets of SPSs and PIPs, cutting through behaviors and thoughts that are less relevant to decision making and focusing on what matters to provide useful insight for relational professionals to help clients expand decision making ability.
Crittenden’s DMM in part strengthens the basic understanding of the basic ABC patterns of attachment, and also parses them into much finer gradations. (ABC+D, the traditional attachment model parses 11 patterns and the DMM parses 23.) The DMM is a neuropsychological meta-model, incorporating many fields of study such as biology, neurology, genetics, temperament, memory, sociobiology, developmental psychology, learning theory, systems theory, theory of mind, etc., and as such, it provides a robust model for understanding how and why people act the way do when faced with danger and conflict. Once it’s understood that attachment leads to two primary ways of being in the world, it becomes clear that professionals can understand and adjust their own patterns to best work with clients. Likewise, parents can learn to adjust their own parenting styles and techniques to optimize their child’s neural development.
NxR=E is a concept developed within the framework of the Integrative Client Counseling Model (ICCM), and is not part of any traditional attachment approach, yet it seems to capture the essence of what all attachment approaches are generally describing and provides a practical framework to at least help expand thinking about what “attachment” is. (Even Bowlby was looking for a more inclusive term. Bowlby, Attachment and Loss, Vol III, 1980.) The DMM and the ABC+D models expand attachment, but only the DMM offers a comprehensive, published, and coherent model to help professionals meaningfully apply attachment and it’s impacts in adult contexts.
More information can be found at www.PatCrittenden.com (including article access and book references), www.familyrelationsinstitute.com (FRI), www.iasa-dmm.org, and at the Integrative Client Counseling Institute, www.ICC.Institute. FRI and ICCI offer training programs.
Mark Baumann, © 2017