Understanding Attachment and Attachment Disorders: Theory, Evidence, and Practice

By Vivien Prior; Danya Glaser | Go to book overview

5 Affectional Bonds and
Attachment Figures

In all but the most exceptional circumstances, children form attachments to their primary carers1 and typically to others who regularly care for them and with whom they have enduring relationships, such as grandparents. These caregivers are attachment figures. Whether professional caregivers in settings such as day-care centres and nurseries can be defined as attachment figures remains an issue of some debate and the definition of an attachment figure is discussed in this chapter.

An individual can have more than one attachment figure and often has several. Bowlby was clear in his formulation of this. A plurality of attachment figures by 12 months of age, he states, is probably the rule. Given this, the question arises, how are multiple attachment figures internally represented in relation to each other; that is, how are they structured?2 This is also discussed in this chapter. Before doing so, it is necessary to consider affectional bonds.


What are affectional bonds?

An affectional bond is a social bond which involves intense emotion. According to Bowlby, the term 'social bond' 'is applicable only to those few social relationships to which both parties are committed' (1969/1982, pp. 376–377). Bonds, therefore, are founded on commitment.

In terms of subjective experience, the formation of a bond is described as
falling in love, maintaining a bond as loving someone, and losing a
partner as grieving over someone. Similarly, threat of loss arouses anxiety
and actual loss causes sorrow; whilst both situations are likely to arouse
anger. Finally, the unchallenged maintenance of a bond is experienced as
a source of security, and the renewal of a bond as a source of joy. (Bowlby
1979, p.69)

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