Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Attachment to God and Church Family: Predictors of Spiritual and Psychological Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Attachment to God and Church Family: Predictors of Spiritual and Psychological Well-Being

Article excerpt

Internal working models informed by early attachment experiences play a pivotal role in the development of attachment relationships throughout life (Bowlby, 1969)- While attachment has been examined in several domains, including familial and romantic relationships (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987), more recent work has investigated the usefulness of conceptualizing God as an attachment figure (e.g., Granqvist, 1998; Kirkpatrick, 2005). Church family, defined as those individuals with whom a fellow believer attends church, has not been examined within a specific attachment context. The primary purpose of these two studies was to investigate the possible extension of attachment theory to include the Christian believer's attachment to their church family. A secondary purpose was to determine what relationship, if any, exists among attachment to church family, attachment to God and well-being. In the first study, 117 individuals from local Protestant churches completed self-report measures of attachment to God and church family as well as spiritual and psychological well-being. In the second study, 185 participants from local Baptist churches completed questionnaire packages that included measures of attachment and emotional well-being. Results offered preliminary support for the usefulness of conceptualizing church family as an attachment process. Further research, examining the differences between general social support and attachment processes, is needed.

Over four decades have passed since Bowlby's seminal work on attachment theory and internal working models. According to Bowlby (1969), internal working models developed out of early attachment experiences and were central to the development and experience of attachment relationships throughout one's life. Hazan & Shaver (1987) extended Bowlby's theories to include attachment in romantic relationships. Further developments in attachment theory led to the examination of God as an attachment figure (see Granqvist, Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010). Whereas empirical links among various domains of attachment and well-being have been established (e.g., Ellison, Bradshaw, Kuyel, & Marcum, 2012), there is a dearth of research in regard to the relationship among the specific constructs of attachment to God and attachment to church family (i.e., the individuals with whom a fellow believer attends church) and their ability to predict wellbeing. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was two-fold: 1) to investigate the possible extension of attachment theory to include attachment to church family and 2) to examine individual differences in the attachment to God and attachment to church family constructs and their relationship to well-being.

Attachment Theory

Originally construed by Bowlby (1969), attachment theory was premised on a dyadic caregiver-child relationship. This dyadic caregiver-child relationship consisted of at least three main components. The first component was behavioral; a child sought contact and comfort from the caregiver especially in situations that were threatening or stressful. How the parent responded to the child helped develop the bonds that form attachment. As attachment theory posits, a child would become attached to the parent regardless of the quality of parental response. The quality of the parental response may be partially responsible to the individual differences in attachment (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar & Waters, 1978). Thereby a second component, cognitive-affective, was introduced; these parental responses were internalized by the child and determine a future pattern of relating to self and others, which may be different for different relationships (Sedikides & Brewer, 2001). These mental representations are known in the cognitive field as internal working models. Bartholomew (1990) proposed four different attachment styles that represent the behavioral manifestations of these internal working models in adulthood; secure (positive self and other), preoccupied (negative self, positive other), dismissing (positive self, negative other), and fearful (negative self and other). …

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