Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Attachment to God: Differentiating the Contributions of Fathers and Mothers Using the Experiences in Parental Relationships Scale

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Attachment to God: Differentiating the Contributions of Fathers and Mothers Using the Experiences in Parental Relationships Scale

Article excerpt

Research on attachment to God has suggested that relationships with primary caregivers are reenacted in the type of attachment relationship experienced with God. However, this research is limited by the language used to investigate the constructs of interest as well as a lack of differentiation of the contribution of attachment to fathers and attachment to mothers independently. Thus, the primary purpose of the current study was to investigate the independent contributions of attachment to mother, attachment to father, and attachment to romantic partners on attachment to God. In addition, the study examined the association between attachment to God and spiritual well-being using a sample not chosen for religious characteristics (and thus, more generalizable). Attachment to fathers predicted attachment to God. Moreover, attachment to God predicted both religious and existential well-being.

Over the past few decades, research on attachment has investigated its development in infancy (Ainsworth, 1973; Ainsworth, Blehar, Walters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969), transition to adult romantic relationships (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Simpson, 1990), and most recently, the relationship between attachment and issues of faith (Beck, 2006; Hart, Limke, & Budd, 2010; McDonald, Beck, Allison, & Norsworthy, 2005; TenElshof & Furrow, 2000). Research on attachment to God has suggested that relationships with primary caregivers are reenacted in an idea of the characteristics of God as well as the type of attachment relationship experienced with God. However, this new direction of research is limited by the language used to investigate the constructs of interest as well as a lack of differentiation of the contribution of attachment to fathers and mothers independently.

Image of God

Despite large variation in the designs of the studies, researchers have agreed upon a number of positive characteristics (e.g., "loving" and "protective") and negative characteristics (such as "remote" and "uninterested") used in describing images of God (Gorsuch, 1968; Spilka, Armatas & Nussbaum, 1964). Lawrence (1997) suggested that a positive image of God consists of eight characteristics: presence, challenge, acceptance, benevolence, influence, providence, faith, and salience. Importantly, experiences with both parents as loving have been linked to a loving God image (Granqvist, Ivarsson, Broberg, & Hagekull, 2007). That is, as children begin to form an idea of "God," memories that were originally associated with primary caregivers (often involving both parents) are attributed to an image of God (Lawrence, 1997). In fact, these important relationships with parents may actually provide the necessary context for successful socialization into religion (Reinert& Edwards, 2009).

Attachment to God

Although the conceptualization of God and a relationship with God should be related, Bradshaw, Ellison, and Marcum (2010) found that there was only a small correlation between a loving image of God and a healthy relationship with God, supporting the idea that these are separate constructs. In fact, there is a small but growing body of literature that has worked to extend the theory of attachment to individuals' relationships with God, suggesting that this type of intimate relationship meets the criteria of attachments, including proximity-seeking behavior, a safe haven, and a secure base among a variety of populations (e.g., Beck, 2006; Cicirelli, 2004; see Granqvist, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2010, for a review). The ability to create a secure base in God provides the foundation to explore issues of faith and display tolerance to others with different religious views (Beck, 2006).

But how are attachment relationships with God created? Kirkpatrick and Shaver (1990) proposed that the correspondence model suggests that attachment patterns with humans correspond to, or are reflected in the attachment patterns in individuals' experiences of or relationships with God. …

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