Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Who's Your Daddy? Family Structure Differences in Attachment to God

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Who's Your Daddy? Family Structure Differences in Attachment to God

Article excerpt

Recent research has demonstrated that individuals' relationships with God are attachment-based. However, research has not yet investigated differences in attachment to God by parents' marital status. Thus, the goal of the present study was to examine these links. To do so, 288 undergraduate students completed measures assessing family structure, attachment to fathers, attachment to mothers, and attachment to God. Results suggest support for the correspondence theory of attachment to God (i.e., individuals project their attachment to parents onto their attachments to God) for participants with married parents. In contrast, the compensation hypothesis (i.e., individuals seek relationships with God to fulfill unreliable relationships with parents) was supported for participants with divorced parents.


Previous research on attachment has spanned the human developmental lifespan. Research on early childhood has focused on the genesis of attachment and attachment patterns (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). Studies on young adulthood have focused on the manifestations of attachment styles in young adults (e.g., Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). Among adults, research has mainly focused on the concept of romantic relationships as an attachment process (e.g., Collins & Read, 1990; Freeney & Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; van Ijzendoorn, 1995). More recently, research has also demonstrated individuals' relationship with God as attachment-based, conceptualizing God as a secure base (Beck, 2006c; Beck & McDonald, 2004; Cassiba, Granqvist, Costantini, & Gatto, 2008). Similarly, matters of faith--such as how individuals' faith development occurred relative to the types of attachment bonds they manifested with others (Hart, Limke, & Budd, 2010) and the link between psychological health and bonding with God (Miner, 2009)--have been investigated.

However, the focus on bonding with God has not addressed whether parental marital status predicts variability in attachment to God. That is, although attachment to God seems to correspond to attachment to fathers (but not mothers) in Christian samples (cf. Limke, Amin, Poojar, & Kamble, 2015; Limke & Mayfield, 2011), it is possible that access to father figures (through divorce or other circumstances) may moderate this relationship. In the current study, we expected that individuals from divorced homes (in which they lived primarily with their mothers) would report higher attachment anxiety towards God than those with present fathers.



The seminal work in attachment theory originated from observations of orphans during the Second World War (Bowlby, 1973, 1988). Bowlby observed that infants and children who had been deprived of their mothers' attention and care for a prolonged time eventually developed "detachment." Demonstrating what he termed the protest/despair/detachment sequence, Bowlby (1973) suggested that following such a separation, the infants manifested protestations (e.g., cried inconsolably, stomped their feet, and longed for a reunion with their mothers); then, they gave in to despondency (e.g., stopped crying and expecting the return of their mothers); and finally, they embraced detachment (e.g., exhibited disorganized behaviors due to failure to find suitable substitute mothers). Bowlby observed that when the separation from mothers had been prolonged, whether reunion between the mothers and infants occurred or not, infants' detachment from their mothers persisted (Bowlby, 1980). Based on these observations, Bowlby proposed that mother-infant attachment was preprogrammed and innate, ethological/evolutionary in nature, and served an adaptive function; that is, attachment was important for the protection and survival of the human infant and, by extension, was central to the survival and psychological wellbeing of the human species. …

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