Secure Attachment: Theory and Biblical Perspective

By Brandon Jones, LPC, MAPC | February 17, 2023 

Arizona Family Counseling is dedicated to consistent growth and being a part of cutting edge research. This academic paper by Christian Family Care/Arizona Family Counseling central region clinical director, Brandon Jones, explores decades of research on Attachment Theory and it’s intersection with Biblical Secure Attachment.

This written work will explore the intersection between the observations of creation through attachment theory and an individual’s attachment to God through Christ as encouraged in the Bible. The hope is this exploration illustrates that what has been referenced as cutting-edge human psychology research for the past five decades was clearly written about in the Bible thousands of years ago. The entire Bible is an invitation for all who read it to have a secure, abiding, and unshakeable attachment to our Creator. (Genesis 17:1-8, 28:10-22; Exodus 3; Deut. 10:12-22; Psalm 27, 25; Revelation 3:20; John 14:17,23; John 15; John 17:21, 24) Yahweh designed mankind to be in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. This is evidenced in the garden in Genesis, throughout the OT, and is emphasized in the New Testament when all people who receive and believe Jesus are given the right to become “children of God”. (Genesis 3, Deut. 10:12-22, John 1:12, 1 John 3:1) The prayer behind this work is that the reader would receive the knowledge and wisdom to comprehend more deeply the immeasurable dimensions of the love of God that surpasses knowledge and grow in security of attachment to God.

German author and poet Christian Morganstern penned, “In every work of art, the artist himself is present.”  Similarly, we see in the Bible that all of creation reflects its creator. Romans 1:19-20 says, 

“…for what shall be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so that they are without excuse.” 

This article will review the foundational understanding of human attachment styles, identify key characteristics of the secure attachment style, and explore how secure attachment to God is encouraged through scripture. 

Attachment theory asserts that as infants, humans are biologically designed to turn to and seek caregiver relationships as a means of survival. Not only does research indicate that the security of a child’s attachment is necessary for survival, but that it is also related to how much the individual will socially and emotionally thrive in life (Bowlby 1969, 1982 as cited in Groh, 2014). This biological design begins to differentiate as the caregiving provided varies for each infant.  These variations were widely studied in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and eventually came to be classified as either secure attachment or insecure attachment.  Further research provided additional insight into variations of insecure attachment tendencies. One of the landmark contributions of attachment theory came in the form of an observational assessment called the “strange situation” experiment.  The strange situation is an experience which looks at the attachment response invoked by stress in parent-child dyads. Out of this attachment response, the infant chooses whether he or she will seek the soothing or protection of the caregiver. 

Mary Ainsworth (1979) found that securely attached infants, when reunited with the caregiver in the strange situation, were consistently more likely to signal the following relational and behavioral expressions: desire for proximity to the caregiver, attempt to maintain contact with the caregiver once reunified, and receipt of comfort from the caregiver (as was evidenced by the infant’s ability to more quickly soothe and return to exploring his or her environment.)  In further research, Ainsworth (1979) noted of securely attached infants that “many infants are able to build up expectations that reassure them of mother’s accessibility and responsiveness even though she may be absent.” (p. 975).  In a later study Bick et al. (2012) explored natural reunion behaviors in relation to the strange situation classification. Bick et al. (2012) found that in addition to the above referenced expressions, securely attached children complied with the caregivers’ requests during transition from one setting to another and they delighted in their caregiver upon reunification significantly more than insecurely attached children.  Bick et al. (2012) asserted that because caregiver’s expression of delight was predictive of secure attachment that securely attached children’s delight was indicative of a dynamic of mutual delight initiated by the caregiver. 

In both the foundational research on attachment and subsequent studies, indicators of secure attachment between a child and his or her primary attachment figure were clearly identified.  Children who are securely attached display the following:

  • desire proximity with attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • maintain contact with attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • receive comfort from attachment figure, are quickly soothed, and return to exploring his or her environment (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • expect that his or her attachment figure will be accessible and responsive (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • Bick et al. 2012)
  • comply with attachment figure’s request during transitions (Bick et al. 2012)
  • delight in attachment figure when reunified (Bick et al. 2012)

Video links which illustrate the indicators of attachment in the strange situation are provided below. Specifically, the videos provide an opportunity to observe expressions of both secure and insecure attachment styles. 

While a summary of the strange situation assessment instructions is presented here, for full assessment instructions, measures and details, please refer to Patterns of Attachment by Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall (1978).  The strange situation assessment protocol has a caregiver and his or her infant enter a strange room where they have not been before. The caregiver is instructed to heighten the infant’s interest in the toys presented. Additionally, the caregiver is instructed to sit in a chair nearby and respond to the infant if the infant initiates interaction with the caregiver. Once the infant is playing, the caregiver is instructed to leave the room. After some time, a stranger comes into the room and attempts to soothe and return the infant to play. The caregiver is then instructed to return to the room and stand at a specific location to determine if the infant will go to the caregiver. The caregiver is instructed to soothe the infant and heighten the infant’s interest in the toys again, and then to return to his or her chair. Documentation of the infant’s behavior takes place throughout the assessment. When watching the following videos, it is helpful to take note of the infant’s behavior. Nuanced expressions, eye contact, body position and posturing, and hand placement are all important indicators of attachment style expression. 

Secure Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/zuX7DMUWCSc

In this video, a securely attached infant is unsettled due to her caregiver leaving the room. Specifically, she is protesting distance and desiring proximity. When the caregiver returns to the room, the infant immediately starts to settle and even smiles as she seeks proximity with her caregiver. This is illustrated by her crawling toward and gesturing to embrace the caregiver. It could be hypothesized that the infant is delighting in her caregiver.  Notice specifically the infant’s facial expression. It seems clear that, due to the historical nature of the child-caregiver relationship, this infant expects that her needs will be met because of the caregiver’s attunement and responsiveness. Once the infant is held, she maintains contact with the caregiver by holding the back of the caregiver’s hair, and she quickly starts to explore the room while maintaining connection to the caregiver.  This infant is fully soothed when the caregiver attempts to redirect her back to playing.  Furthermore, the child quickly complies and begins exploring the environment.

Conversely, in an insecure attachment style, one or more of the secure attachment indicators are absent or are expressed differently.

Avoidant Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/iE4nvWMdpJg

In this video of a child with an insecure avoidant caregiver-child relationship, the infant is not seeking to be close to his caregiver, does not protest the caregiver leaving, nor does he attempt to maintain proximity. When the caregiver leaves the room, the infant’s attention is directed more to the items in the room than the caregiver’s leaving or returning presence. The infant even appears to be somewhat aloof. 

Research suggests that a child with an avoidant attachment style develops emotional suppression as a strategy to avoid rejection. The research further suggests that this behavior is due to a history of experienced rejection by the child within the caregiver-child relationship. (Cassidy, 1994; Abtahi, 2017) Although the need for regulation and comfort is still present in the avoidant child, he or she has learned to seek things, other than the caregiver, to provide comfort. The avoidant child often appears to be more independent and less needy.  The strange situation creates an environment that causes a degree of stress in the infant. In a securely attached child, stress should activate his or her stress response system, which in turn should activate his or her attachment behavior of seeking the caregiver in order to soothe self and seek safety.  

The insecure avoidant caregiver-child relationship is believed to be caused by a caregiver that has not been attuned to the child’s needs for comfort. The caregiver will often disregard the child’s expressed needs when those needs are inconvenient for the caregiver. In cases like this, the caregiver’s approach is consistently one of dismissing the child’s needs more frequently than attuning and responding. As a result, the child develops emotional suppression as a coping skill in order to avoid expressing need and experiencing pain or discomfort related to the felt rejection. Often, observers question if the avoidant child is experiencing less physiological distress than the securely attached child. This way of thinking can lead to the false belief that the avoidant attachment style is ideal. Hill-Soderlund et al. (2008) found that infants with an insecure avoidant attachment experienced multiple physiological symptoms which indicate a greater stress response as compared to infants with a secure attachment. While there appears to be less emotional dysregulation in a child with an insecure avoidant attachment, this is misleading. 

Ambivalent Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/QDmRmyaDUeI

In this final video, the infant is classified as having an insecure ambivalent caregiver-child relationship. Although the infant protests the caregiver leaving, which indicates desire for proximity, she is not comforted by the caregiver upon her return. While the infant reaches toward and allows the caregiver to hold her, the infant places a hand on the caregiver’s chest and turns away from her as an expression of ambivalence. This indicates that although the child is dysregulated and needs soothing, she is not physically seeking or desiring to maintain proximity with the caregiver.  The infant maintains a prolonged protest and is not soothed by the caregiver’s attempts to comfort her.  

The insecure ambivalent caregiver-child relationship is believed to be caused by a caregiver that has been inconsistently attuned to the child’s need for comfort. Because of the inconsistency, the insecure ambivalent child does not expect to be soothed consistently. The child then develops strategies utilizing ambivalence and negative behaviors to keep the caregiver more consistently engaged and attuned to his or her needs. 

At an early preverbal age, infants develop an attachment style that is adapted to the type of caregiving received. Although these adaptations are practically effective in either reducing the experience of rejection and emotional pain, or increasing proximity to the attachment figure, meta-analytic research has indicated insecure attachment styles are related to diminished relational competence throughout life. (Groh et al., 2012) The Groh et al. (2012) study also indicates that this association does not decrease in magnitude with age, further indicating that insecure attachment can have lifelong negative effects. 

According to the McConnel and Moss (2011) meta-analytic review of attachment stability research, 64%77% of the children in low-risk living situations maintain the same attachment style classification throughout their lives. Conversely, the review found that when children are living in moderate to highrisk living situations, the stability rate is reduced to 25%-38%. McConnel and Moss (2011) summarize that difficult life experiences that fall within the high-risk category, often considered to be traumatic or significantly stressful for children throughout their lives, are most often related to changes from security to insecurity. However, Steele et al. (2003) assert that when an insecurely attached child is placed (through adoption or foster care) in a home where parents or caregivers exhibit a secure attachment style, the child is more likely to shift toward behavioral indications of attachment security. In general, research supports the idea that most infants maintain their attachment styles and tendencies even into adulthood. 

Some important conclusions can be made by reviewing the research related to secure and insecure attachment styles. Infants who are securely attached generally manage stress more effectively, leading to greater emotional regulation. This regulation is largely the result of their consistent contact with an attuned and responsive caregiver when facing difficulty.  Although it appears that an avoidant attachment style might be more desirable in infants, it leads to more physiological distress and dysregulation, which has adverse effects on long-term physical and emotional health. Attachment styles are relatively consistent throughout life, and trauma can contribute to attachment insecurity. When an individual with an insecure attachment classification is in relationship with a securely attached individual, there is a greater likelihood that the insecurely attached individual will experience an increase in secure attachment behaviors over time, although this is not always the case.

This paper now turns to a consideration of whether attachment theory aligns with, and was presaged in the Word of God.  Specifically, this writer would like to consider Biblical indicators of Christ’s attachment to God, what type of attachment, if any, the Christian is instructed to align with, and any examples that might reveal an individual or group’s secure or insecure attachment to God. 

The identified secure attachment indicators will be applied in evaluating Jesus’ relationship and the encouragement of New Testament writers because the Bible clearly presents God as a parent figure (most often Father) and His people (Israelites and Christians) as His children.  At His baptism and transfiguration Jesus is introduced by God as God’s “beloved Son”. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5) In all four gospels Jesus refers to God as His Father. This relationship dynamic of son and father fits the parentchild dyad observations in the strange situation assessment from which the secure attachment indicators were gleaned. Similarly, all humans who believe in Jesus are given the right, by Jesus, to become children of God (John 1:12). Believers are encouraged to use the term “Father” when praying to God (Matthew 6:9). Furthermore, the New Testament encourages Christians to use the Aramaic term of intimacy, Abba, which is a child’s word for their father. (Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6-7). Author John Frame states, “We would not dare speak to God with such familiarity, except that Jesus has given us permission.” (p. 976). Christians are not only given permission but encouraged to interact with God as a child would toward their attachment figure. Christ’s relationship with his Father will be reviewed first.

Christ’s Attachment to His Father

How did Christ respond to situations that were stressful? How did He encourage and instruct believers who were experiencing stress or anxiety? Is there any agreement between the seven indicators of secure attachment found in research and Christ’s behavior?

In Mark, chapter 14, Jesus experiences feelings of sorrow “to the point of death.” His immediate reaction is to remove distractions of others and fall to the ground to seek out His Father in proximity and prayer. Jesus’ words in verse 36 indicate that He is confident in His Father’s ability to meet His every need. Further, He trusts that His Father’s will for Him is most important, and His actions are based upon that trust.  It appears that because of this closeness with His Father, He is quickly comforted and returns to carrying out God’s will for Him. This verse seems to indicate that Christ behaved in like manner to those who have secure attachments. Like a securely attached child, Christ managed His stress by seeking closeness with His Father. 

In multiple gospel accounts Jesus commands his disciples not to be anxious. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat; nor about your body, what you will put on.” (Luke 12:22) He gives a reason in verses 30 and 31 which exemplifies Jesus’ expectation of His Father’s attunement and responsiveness: “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” In the exhortation to “seek His Kingdom,” Jesus is encouraging the disciples to seek proximity to God. Jesus’ statements of “your Father knows that you need them” and “these things will be added to you” indicate an expectation that His Father is attuned and responsive. 

Similarly in Luke, chapter 12 and Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus addresses mankind’s temptation to fear others. To encourage listeners not to be anxious, Jesus gives a profound truth about His Father’s attuned awareness of seemingly intimate and insignificant details about the listeners. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

In John 15:10 Jesus states, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Not only is Jesus seeking to maintain proximity to His Father, He is also compliant with His Father’s commands. In turn, He is inviting us to do the same. In the gospel of John we are taken into intimate conversations between Jesus and His Father. Here we find multiple situations where Jesus is describing His obedience to His Father, unity (proximity) with His Father, and knowledge of His Father’s attunement: 

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) 

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21) 

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’” (John 11:41-42) 

In the book of Matthew when a disciple attempts to experience safety and handle a stressful situation by using violence, Jesus responds by emphasizing the reality that God is attuned and can respond to His needs: 

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew 26:52-53) 

In the book of John, Jesus tells a group of Jews, “And He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29) 

The above examples illustrate Christ’s secure attachment to His Father. They demonstrate that His reason for acting with faith, obedience, and lack of fear is God’s attuned and responsive presence. We are invited to follow Him, imitate Him, and live like Him (John 15, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6, Philippians 2:3-8). It is because of Christ’s secure attachment, perfect obedience, and perfect sacrifice for our sins that we can have a secure attachment with God. 

Thus far the characteristic of delight in the attachment figure has not been addressed. There are not specific examples where Jesus uses a word such as “delight” in the gospels referring to his response to His Father that this author can recall. However, in John 12: 27-28 Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” Jesus purpose was to glorify His Father. Jesus’ life work to glorify his father recalls the passage in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Jesus’ life and work is how we worship the Father in “spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24, 14:6) 

Throughout the gospels Jesus is observed speaking glorious truths about His Father. Jesus’ work of revealing the Father’s glory is in itself an act of delight or worship. C.S. Lewis explained it in this way,

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed…The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” 

Jesus came to earth and expressed God’s glory to mankind. Like the mutual delight that is expressed in securely attached parent-child dyads John 17 gives a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer of the Father and the Son glorifying each other. Jesus’ life on earth expressing truth about the Father is an act of delight. 

New Testament Writer Exhortation of Secure Attachment Indicators

How did the New Testament epistles encourage believers who were facing various challenges to live out a secure attachment to God? How did they caution those that were exhibiting an insecure attachment to God? 

The author of Hebrews implores us to live according to what we have in Jesus–the sacrifice for our sins and a new covenant with God– which allows us a unique closeness with God. In Hebrews 10:19-25 we see words and phrases which show elements of secure attachment (underlined). 

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 

This passage indicates that, because we have the ability to expect God is accessible and responsive, we should draw near to Him. We can draw near to God with unwavering confidence that depends upon our hope in Christ alone to bring us to Him. In response to this reality, we are to live lives that delight in God’s goodness, therefore imitating Christ, and encouraging others to seek Him. Consider the potential attachment style of the recipients of the letter of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews is appealing to those that are tempted to shift their trust from God to the traditions established in their religion. This tendency is similar to the characteristics of the child of an avoidant attachment: seeking things instead of their caregiver. It might be believed by the audience that the adversity being experienced was an indicator that God was not attuned or responsive. However, the author of Hebrews clarifies that hostility being experienced is God’s attuned discipline which He provides to all of His children. (Hebrews 12:3-11) Throughout Hebrews the author encourages: proximity seeking and maintaining, an expectation that the attachment figure (in this case, God) is accessible and responsive, and compliance with the attachment figure.

In his letter, James writes to a group of believers experiencing persecution which caused them to flee their homes.  This dispersion likely created stress and trauma through actual or perceived threat which can create attachment insecurity. In chapter four, James explains to his audience that their desire for things other than God was not only causing fighting, quarreling, and murder among them, but was also creating enmity with God. James goes on to explain that God yearns jealously over the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us, that God gives grace, and invites us to draw near to Him instead of the things of this world. The problem identified this passage is that we seek proximity, we delight in, and we desire the world more than we desire God.  James confronts the audience telling them that their desires are not met because they do not ask, and that when they do ask, they ask for something other than Him. They are seeking “created things” instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). This profile is similar to the profile of those with insecure-avoidant attachment styles. James’ invitation is directed to those that are not securely attached to God to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (4:8)

Earlier in chapter two, James encourages his readers when they ask God for wisdom “…let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.” (2:6-8) The child with an insecure-ambivalent attachment style doubts that his or her caregiver will be consistently attuned and responsive, and so does the person that James warns about in these verses. We must always approach God trusting His steadfast love and goodness. This is encouragement to have faith and trust in God, which is the way that a securely attached child responds. An additional example of this is Romans 8: 32 where Paul asks the reader, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Paul is encouraging the reader to reflect on how God’s consistent history of meeting our needs is clear evidence that should result in our trust that He will meet our future needs. Paul goes on in verses 38 and 39 to state that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ.

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to an audience who was being encouraged to follow the law (through circumcision). Paul makes a powerful statement which emphasizes his desire to seek and maintain proximity, and delight in Christ by faith.  He communicates the expectation that the attachment figure (God) is accessible and responsive in Christ. This results in the imitation of Christ.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:7-10)

In 2 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul provides the clearest example of receiving comfort from God and in turn providing comfort to others around them. As Paul explains the reason behind the difficulty faced it was to increase reliance on God which results in a confident expectation of God’s attuned responsiveness.

The New Testament is filled with encouragement to Christians to exhibit the characteristics of secure attachment toward God. Every indicator of secure attachment is encouraged throughout the New Testament.  Often the audience of the letters are experiencing adversity or trauma that could create an insecurity with God. The instances of encouraging delight are most often reflected in giving praise, glory, or proclaiming God’s excellencies to others or imitating Christ. 

Old Testament Examples of Secure and Insecure Attachment

Did Old Testament believers model indicators of secure attachment to God? Are there examples of insecure attachment to God?

One of the most beautiful qualities of the Psalms is the reflection of God’s goodness. Seeking and reflecting on God’s goodness the psalmists appear to exude desires that are core indicators of secure attachment. The most famous psalmist, David, is described in Acts 13:22 as a man after God’s heart who does God’s will. In the first sentence of Psalm 16 David desires to seek and maintain proximity, has an expectation that His Father is attuned and responsive, and knows that he will be comforted rather than shaken. In the second sentence, he writes out of a place of delight, soothing, and security in the Lord. “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:8-11

In Psalm 37 David exhorts doing good and delighting in the Lord. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3-4) Psalm 119 provides a most thorough example of a psalmist delighting in God and His commands. 

Unlike David’s expressions of secure attachment in the Psalms, other books display the insecure attachment of the nation of Israel.  Instead of seeking and maintaining proximity to God, they stray far from Him. Instead of expecting God to be attuned and responsive and being soothed by God, they run to idols. In Jeremiah 2:13 God creates a clear image of the futility of Israel’s insecure attachment to him. “For my people have committed to evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” In Jeremiah 9: 23-24 the Lord invites Israel to reflect and boast in His character. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’” 

Throughout the Old Testament, prophets invite Israel to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near…” (Isaiah 55:6) However, the Bible illustrates that Israel often struggles to love, trust, and obey God. After a child’s traumatic experience, he or she moves toward insecure attachment.  Similarly, Israel’s experience of slavery and loss is outlined in the book of Exodus. In chapter six, God communicates His plan of blessing to Israel through Moses, but verse nine states, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” The people did not trust God. They did not want to draw near to Him or obey Him, and the Bible states that the reason for this was because of their “broken spirit and harsh slavery”. Regardless, God faithfully demonstrates His steadfast love for them by providing powerful works to free them, the faithful representation of His presence through pillars of cloud and fire, and His consistent provision for their needs of food, water, clothing and protection. Eventually we see a group that grows in their trust of God and accepts the peace and rest that only He can provide.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 9, Daniel realizes that Israel is experiencing desolation and oppression due to consequences of sin. In this case, an insecure attachment results in the lack of faith, love, and obedience to God. Daniel prays a prayer which indicates a secure attachment to God out of his desire to seek and maintain proximity. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and please for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules…’”(Daniel 9:3-6)

Throughout the Bible, there are examples of individuals struggling with sin and the consequences of sin as they have insecure attachments to God.  There are also examples of individuals thriving as they seek a secure attachment to God through faith. Scripture also encourages self-awareness of our tendencies, as in Psalm 139. After reflecting on God’s intimate knowledge of David and God’s sovereign power, David asks God to “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In the same way, all are invited to ask God to search and test the heart, and to reveal the deepest ingrained tendencies for insecure attachment.  All are invited to ask Him to lead in the “way everlasting.”  Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) God sent Jesus so that all might know God, and knowing God leads to eternal life. 

God’s word, written so long ago and by so many authors, clearly demonstrates the truths only ‘recently’ discovered through attachment research:  those who can delight in, trust and stay close to a reliable attachment figure flourish.  Those who do not have that reliable attachment figure pay a price. Although this written work provides a brief overview of scripture which reflects secure and insecure attachment behaviors toward God, further research is recommended to explore the interconnectedness of secure attachment indicators, the quality of relationship with God, and the outcomes associated with both.

As we seek to grow closer to God, through a relationship with Jesus, being cognizant of the tendencies we have toward attachment insecurity will allow us to acknowledge areas where we may be tempted to mistrust God. Paul explained that the law is what creates knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 and 7:7) Acknowledging where we fall short in trust and security in relationship with others, and especially in relationship with God, will help us seek Jesus.  Seeking Jesus will naturally move us from insecurity to security, because He is the source of consistent provision. 

 

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Arizona Family Counseling is dedicated to consistent growth and being a part of cutting edge research. This academic paper by Christian Family Care/Arizona Family Counseling central region clinical director, Brandon Jones, explores decades of research on Attachment Theory and it’s intersection with Biblical Secure Attachment.

This written work will explore the intersection between the observations of creation through attachment theory and an individual’s attachment to God through Christ as encouraged in the Bible. The hope is this exploration illustrates that what has been referenced as cutting-edge human psychology research for the past five decades was clearly written about in the Bible thousands of years ago. The entire Bible is an invitation for all who read it to have a secure, abiding, and unshakeable attachment to our Creator. (Genesis 17:1-8, 28:10-22; Exodus 3; Deut. 10:12-22; Psalm 27, 25; Revelation 3:20; John 14:17,23; John 15; John 17:21, 24) Yahweh designed mankind to be in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. This is evidenced in the garden in Genesis, throughout the OT, and is emphasized in the New Testament when all people who receive and believe Jesus are given the right to become “children of God”. (Genesis 3, Deut. 10:12-22, John 1:12, 1 John 3:1) The prayer behind this work is that the reader would receive the knowledge and wisdom to comprehend more deeply the immeasurable dimensions of the love of God that surpasses knowledge and grow in security of attachment to God.

German author and poet Christian Morganstern penned, “In every work of art, the artist himself is present.”  Similarly, we see in the Bible that all of creation reflects its creator. Romans 1:19-20 says, 

“…for what shall be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so that they are without excuse.” 

This article will review the foundational understanding of human attachment styles, identify key characteristics of the secure attachment style, and explore how secure attachment to God is encouraged through scripture. 

Attachment theory asserts that as infants, humans are biologically designed to turn to and seek caregiver relationships as a means of survival. Not only does research indicate that the security of a child’s attachment is necessary for survival, but that it is also related to how much the individual will socially and emotionally thrive in life (Bowlby 1969, 1982 as cited in Groh, 2014). This biological design begins to differentiate as the caregiving provided varies for each infant.  These variations were widely studied in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and eventually came to be classified as either secure attachment or insecure attachment.  Further research provided additional insight into variations of insecure attachment tendencies. One of the landmark contributions of attachment theory came in the form of an observational assessment called the “strange situation” experiment.  The strange situation is an experience which looks at the attachment response invoked by stress in parent-child dyads. Out of this attachment response, the infant chooses whether he or she will seek the soothing or protection of the caregiver. 

Mary Ainsworth (1979) found that securely attached infants, when reunited with the caregiver in the strange situation, were consistently more likely to signal the following relational and behavioral expressions: desire for proximity to the caregiver, attempt to maintain contact with the caregiver once reunified, and receipt of comfort from the caregiver (as was evidenced by the infant’s ability to more quickly soothe and return to exploring his or her environment.)  In further research, Ainsworth (1979) noted of securely attached infants that “many infants are able to build up expectations that reassure them of mother’s accessibility and responsiveness even though she may be absent.” (p. 975).  In a later study Bick et al. (2012) explored natural reunion behaviors in relation to the strange situation classification. Bick et al. (2012) found that in addition to the above referenced expressions, securely attached children complied with the caregivers’ requests during transition from one setting to another and they delighted in their caregiver upon reunification significantly more than insecurely attached children.  Bick et al. (2012) asserted that because caregiver’s expression of delight was predictive of secure attachment that securely attached children’s delight was indicative of a dynamic of mutual delight initiated by the caregiver. 

In both the foundational research on attachment and subsequent studies, indicators of secure attachment between a child and his or her primary attachment figure were clearly identified.  Children who are securely attached display the following:

  • desire proximity with attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • maintain contact with attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • receive comfort from attachment figure, are quickly soothed, and return to exploring his or her environment (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • expect that his or her attachment figure will be accessible and responsive (Ainsworth, 1979)
  • Bick et al. 2012)
  • comply with attachment figure’s request during transitions (Bick et al. 2012)
  • delight in attachment figure when reunified (Bick et al. 2012)

Video links which illustrate the indicators of attachment in the strange situation are provided below. Specifically, the videos provide an opportunity to observe expressions of both secure and insecure attachment styles. 

While a summary of the strange situation assessment instructions is presented here, for full assessment instructions, measures and details, please refer to Patterns of Attachment by Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall (1978).  The strange situation assessment protocol has a caregiver and his or her infant enter a strange room where they have not been before. The caregiver is instructed to heighten the infant’s interest in the toys presented. Additionally, the caregiver is instructed to sit in a chair nearby and respond to the infant if the infant initiates interaction with the caregiver. Once the infant is playing, the caregiver is instructed to leave the room. After some time, a stranger comes into the room and attempts to soothe and return the infant to play. The caregiver is then instructed to return to the room and stand at a specific location to determine if the infant will go to the caregiver. The caregiver is instructed to soothe the infant and heighten the infant’s interest in the toys again, and then to return to his or her chair. Documentation of the infant’s behavior takes place throughout the assessment. When watching the following videos, it is helpful to take note of the infant’s behavior. Nuanced expressions, eye contact, body position and posturing, and hand placement are all important indicators of attachment style expression. 

Secure Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/zuX7DMUWCSc

In this video, a securely attached infant is unsettled due to her caregiver leaving the room. Specifically, she is protesting distance and desiring proximity. When the caregiver returns to the room, the infant immediately starts to settle and even smiles as she seeks proximity with her caregiver. This is illustrated by her crawling toward and gesturing to embrace the caregiver. It could be hypothesized that the infant is delighting in her caregiver.  Notice specifically the infant’s facial expression. It seems clear that, due to the historical nature of the child-caregiver relationship, this infant expects that her needs will be met because of the caregiver’s attunement and responsiveness. Once the infant is held, she maintains contact with the caregiver by holding the back of the caregiver’s hair, and she quickly starts to explore the room while maintaining connection to the caregiver.  This infant is fully soothed when the caregiver attempts to redirect her back to playing.  Furthermore, the child quickly complies and begins exploring the environment.

Conversely, in an insecure attachment style, one or more of the secure attachment indicators are absent or are expressed differently.

Avoidant Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/iE4nvWMdpJg

In this video of a child with an insecure avoidant caregiver-child relationship, the infant is not seeking to be close to his caregiver, does not protest the caregiver leaving, nor does he attempt to maintain proximity. When the caregiver leaves the room, the infant’s attention is directed more to the items in the room than the caregiver’s leaving or returning presence. The infant even appears to be somewhat aloof. 

Research suggests that a child with an avoidant attachment style develops emotional suppression as a strategy to avoid rejection. The research further suggests that this behavior is due to a history of experienced rejection by the child within the caregiver-child relationship. (Cassidy, 1994; Abtahi, 2017) Although the need for regulation and comfort is still present in the avoidant child, he or she has learned to seek things, other than the caregiver, to provide comfort. The avoidant child often appears to be more independent and less needy.  The strange situation creates an environment that causes a degree of stress in the infant. In a securely attached child, stress should activate his or her stress response system, which in turn should activate his or her attachment behavior of seeking the caregiver in order to soothe self and seek safety.  

The insecure avoidant caregiver-child relationship is believed to be caused by a caregiver that has not been attuned to the child’s needs for comfort. The caregiver will often disregard the child’s expressed needs when those needs are inconvenient for the caregiver. In cases like this, the caregiver’s approach is consistently one of dismissing the child’s needs more frequently than attuning and responding. As a result, the child develops emotional suppression as a coping skill in order to avoid expressing need and experiencing pain or discomfort related to the felt rejection. Often, observers question if the avoidant child is experiencing less physiological distress than the securely attached child. This way of thinking can lead to the false belief that the avoidant attachment style is ideal. Hill-Soderlund et al. (2008) found that infants with an insecure avoidant attachment experienced multiple physiological symptoms which indicate a greater stress response as compared to infants with a secure attachment. While there appears to be less emotional dysregulation in a child with an insecure avoidant attachment, this is misleading. 

Ambivalent Attachment Video Link https://youtu.be/QDmRmyaDUeI

In this final video, the infant is classified as having an insecure ambivalent caregiver-child relationship. Although the infant protests the caregiver leaving, which indicates desire for proximity, she is not comforted by the caregiver upon her return. While the infant reaches toward and allows the caregiver to hold her, the infant places a hand on the caregiver’s chest and turns away from her as an expression of ambivalence. This indicates that although the child is dysregulated and needs soothing, she is not physically seeking or desiring to maintain proximity with the caregiver.  The infant maintains a prolonged protest and is not soothed by the caregiver’s attempts to comfort her.  

The insecure ambivalent caregiver-child relationship is believed to be caused by a caregiver that has been inconsistently attuned to the child’s need for comfort. Because of the inconsistency, the insecure ambivalent child does not expect to be soothed consistently. The child then develops strategies utilizing ambivalence and negative behaviors to keep the caregiver more consistently engaged and attuned to his or her needs. 

At an early preverbal age, infants develop an attachment style that is adapted to the type of caregiving received. Although these adaptations are practically effective in either reducing the experience of rejection and emotional pain, or increasing proximity to the attachment figure, meta-analytic research has indicated insecure attachment styles are related to diminished relational competence throughout life. (Groh et al., 2012) The Groh et al. (2012) study also indicates that this association does not decrease in magnitude with age, further indicating that insecure attachment can have lifelong negative effects. 

According to the McConnel and Moss (2011) meta-analytic review of attachment stability research, 64%77% of the children in low-risk living situations maintain the same attachment style classification throughout their lives. Conversely, the review found that when children are living in moderate to highrisk living situations, the stability rate is reduced to 25%-38%. McConnel and Moss (2011) summarize that difficult life experiences that fall within the high-risk category, often considered to be traumatic or significantly stressful for children throughout their lives, are most often related to changes from security to insecurity. However, Steele et al. (2003) assert that when an insecurely attached child is placed (through adoption or foster care) in a home where parents or caregivers exhibit a secure attachment style, the child is more likely to shift toward behavioral indications of attachment security. In general, research supports the idea that most infants maintain their attachment styles and tendencies even into adulthood. 

Some important conclusions can be made by reviewing the research related to secure and insecure attachment styles. Infants who are securely attached generally manage stress more effectively, leading to greater emotional regulation. This regulation is largely the result of their consistent contact with an attuned and responsive caregiver when facing difficulty.  Although it appears that an avoidant attachment style might be more desirable in infants, it leads to more physiological distress and dysregulation, which has adverse effects on long-term physical and emotional health. Attachment styles are relatively consistent throughout life, and trauma can contribute to attachment insecurity. When an individual with an insecure attachment classification is in relationship with a securely attached individual, there is a greater likelihood that the insecurely attached individual will experience an increase in secure attachment behaviors over time, although this is not always the case.

This paper now turns to a consideration of whether attachment theory aligns with, and was presaged in the Word of God.  Specifically, this writer would like to consider Biblical indicators of Christ’s attachment to God, what type of attachment, if any, the Christian is instructed to align with, and any examples that might reveal an individual or group’s secure or insecure attachment to God. 

The identified secure attachment indicators will be applied in evaluating Jesus’ relationship and the encouragement of New Testament writers because the Bible clearly presents God as a parent figure (most often Father) and His people (Israelites and Christians) as His children.  At His baptism and transfiguration Jesus is introduced by God as God’s “beloved Son”. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5) In all four gospels Jesus refers to God as His Father. This relationship dynamic of son and father fits the parentchild dyad observations in the strange situation assessment from which the secure attachment indicators were gleaned. Similarly, all humans who believe in Jesus are given the right, by Jesus, to become children of God (John 1:12). Believers are encouraged to use the term “Father” when praying to God (Matthew 6:9). Furthermore, the New Testament encourages Christians to use the Aramaic term of intimacy, Abba, which is a child’s word for their father. (Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6-7). Author John Frame states, “We would not dare speak to God with such familiarity, except that Jesus has given us permission.” (p. 976). Christians are not only given permission but encouraged to interact with God as a child would toward their attachment figure. Christ’s relationship with his Father will be reviewed first.

Christ’s Attachment to His Father

How did Christ respond to situations that were stressful? How did He encourage and instruct believers who were experiencing stress or anxiety? Is there any agreement between the seven indicators of secure attachment found in research and Christ’s behavior?

In Mark, chapter 14, Jesus experiences feelings of sorrow “to the point of death.” His immediate reaction is to remove distractions of others and fall to the ground to seek out His Father in proximity and prayer. Jesus’ words in verse 36 indicate that He is confident in His Father’s ability to meet His every need. Further, He trusts that His Father’s will for Him is most important, and His actions are based upon that trust.  It appears that because of this closeness with His Father, He is quickly comforted and returns to carrying out God’s will for Him. This verse seems to indicate that Christ behaved in like manner to those who have secure attachments. Like a securely attached child, Christ managed His stress by seeking closeness with His Father. 

In multiple gospel accounts Jesus commands his disciples not to be anxious. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat; nor about your body, what you will put on.” (Luke 12:22) He gives a reason in verses 30 and 31 which exemplifies Jesus’ expectation of His Father’s attunement and responsiveness: “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” In the exhortation to “seek His Kingdom,” Jesus is encouraging the disciples to seek proximity to God. Jesus’ statements of “your Father knows that you need them” and “these things will be added to you” indicate an expectation that His Father is attuned and responsive. 

Similarly in Luke, chapter 12 and Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus addresses mankind’s temptation to fear others. To encourage listeners not to be anxious, Jesus gives a profound truth about His Father’s attuned awareness of seemingly intimate and insignificant details about the listeners. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

In John 15:10 Jesus states, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Not only is Jesus seeking to maintain proximity to His Father, He is also compliant with His Father’s commands. In turn, He is inviting us to do the same. In the gospel of John we are taken into intimate conversations between Jesus and His Father. Here we find multiple situations where Jesus is describing His obedience to His Father, unity (proximity) with His Father, and knowledge of His Father’s attunement: 

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) 

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21) 

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’” (John 11:41-42) 

In the book of Matthew when a disciple attempts to experience safety and handle a stressful situation by using violence, Jesus responds by emphasizing the reality that God is attuned and can respond to His needs: 

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew 26:52-53) 

In the book of John, Jesus tells a group of Jews, “And He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29) 

The above examples illustrate Christ’s secure attachment to His Father. They demonstrate that His reason for acting with faith, obedience, and lack of fear is God’s attuned and responsive presence. We are invited to follow Him, imitate Him, and live like Him (John 15, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6, Philippians 2:3-8). It is because of Christ’s secure attachment, perfect obedience, and perfect sacrifice for our sins that we can have a secure attachment with God. 

Thus far the characteristic of delight in the attachment figure has not been addressed. There are not specific examples where Jesus uses a word such as “delight” in the gospels referring to his response to His Father that this author can recall. However, in John 12: 27-28 Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” Jesus purpose was to glorify His Father. Jesus’ life work to glorify his father recalls the passage in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Jesus’ life and work is how we worship the Father in “spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24, 14:6) 

Throughout the gospels Jesus is observed speaking glorious truths about His Father. Jesus’ work of revealing the Father’s glory is in itself an act of delight or worship. C.S. Lewis explained it in this way,

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed…The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” 

Jesus came to earth and expressed God’s glory to mankind. Like the mutual delight that is expressed in securely attached parent-child dyads John 17 gives a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer of the Father and the Son glorifying each other. Jesus’ life on earth expressing truth about the Father is an act of delight. 

New Testament Writer Exhortation of Secure Attachment Indicators

How did the New Testament epistles encourage believers who were facing various challenges to live out a secure attachment to God? How did they caution those that were exhibiting an insecure attachment to God? 

The author of Hebrews implores us to live according to what we have in Jesus–the sacrifice for our sins and a new covenant with God– which allows us a unique closeness with God. In Hebrews 10:19-25 we see words and phrases which show elements of secure attachment (underlined). 

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 

This passage indicates that, because we have the ability to expect God is accessible and responsive, we should draw near to Him. We can draw near to God with unwavering confidence that depends upon our hope in Christ alone to bring us to Him. In response to this reality, we are to live lives that delight in God’s goodness, therefore imitating Christ, and encouraging others to seek Him. Consider the potential attachment style of the recipients of the letter of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews is appealing to those that are tempted to shift their trust from God to the traditions established in their religion. This tendency is similar to the characteristics of the child of an avoidant attachment: seeking things instead of their caregiver. It might be believed by the audience that the adversity being experienced was an indicator that God was not attuned or responsive. However, the author of Hebrews clarifies that hostility being experienced is God’s attuned discipline which He provides to all of His children. (Hebrews 12:3-11) Throughout Hebrews the author encourages: proximity seeking and maintaining, an expectation that the attachment figure (in this case, God) is accessible and responsive, and compliance with the attachment figure.

In his letter, James writes to a group of believers experiencing persecution which caused them to flee their homes.  This dispersion likely created stress and trauma through actual or perceived threat which can create attachment insecurity. In chapter four, James explains to his audience that their desire for things other than God was not only causing fighting, quarreling, and murder among them, but was also creating enmity with God. James goes on to explain that God yearns jealously over the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us, that God gives grace, and invites us to draw near to Him instead of the things of this world. The problem identified this passage is that we seek proximity, we delight in, and we desire the world more than we desire God.  James confronts the audience telling them that their desires are not met because they do not ask, and that when they do ask, they ask for something other than Him. They are seeking “created things” instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). This profile is similar to the profile of those with insecure-avoidant attachment styles. James’ invitation is directed to those that are not securely attached to God to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (4:8)

Earlier in chapter two, James encourages his readers when they ask God for wisdom “…let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.” (2:6-8) The child with an insecure-ambivalent attachment style doubts that his or her caregiver will be consistently attuned and responsive, and so does the person that James warns about in these verses. We must always approach God trusting His steadfast love and goodness. This is encouragement to have faith and trust in God, which is the way that a securely attached child responds. An additional example of this is Romans 8: 32 where Paul asks the reader, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Paul is encouraging the reader to reflect on how God’s consistent history of meeting our needs is clear evidence that should result in our trust that He will meet our future needs. Paul goes on in verses 38 and 39 to state that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ.

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to an audience who was being encouraged to follow the law (through circumcision). Paul makes a powerful statement which emphasizes his desire to seek and maintain proximity, and delight in Christ by faith.  He communicates the expectation that the attachment figure (God) is accessible and responsive in Christ. This results in the imitation of Christ.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:7-10)

In 2 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul provides the clearest example of receiving comfort from God and in turn providing comfort to others around them. As Paul explains the reason behind the difficulty faced it was to increase reliance on God which results in a confident expectation of God’s attuned responsiveness.

The New Testament is filled with encouragement to Christians to exhibit the characteristics of secure attachment toward God. Every indicator of secure attachment is encouraged throughout the New Testament.  Often the audience of the letters are experiencing adversity or trauma that could create an insecurity with God. The instances of encouraging delight are most often reflected in giving praise, glory, or proclaiming God’s excellencies to others or imitating Christ. 

Old Testament Examples of Secure and Insecure Attachment

Did Old Testament believers model indicators of secure attachment to God? Are there examples of insecure attachment to God?

One of the most beautiful qualities of the Psalms is the reflection of God’s goodness. Seeking and reflecting on God’s goodness the psalmists appear to exude desires that are core indicators of secure attachment. The most famous psalmist, David, is described in Acts 13:22 as a man after God’s heart who does God’s will. In the first sentence of Psalm 16 David desires to seek and maintain proximity, has an expectation that His Father is attuned and responsive, and knows that he will be comforted rather than shaken. In the second sentence, he writes out of a place of delight, soothing, and security in the Lord. “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:8-11

In Psalm 37 David exhorts doing good and delighting in the Lord. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3-4) Psalm 119 provides a most thorough example of a psalmist delighting in God and His commands. 

Unlike David’s expressions of secure attachment in the Psalms, other books display the insecure attachment of the nation of Israel.  Instead of seeking and maintaining proximity to God, they stray far from Him. Instead of expecting God to be attuned and responsive and being soothed by God, they run to idols. In Jeremiah 2:13 God creates a clear image of the futility of Israel’s insecure attachment to him. “For my people have committed to evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” In Jeremiah 9: 23-24 the Lord invites Israel to reflect and boast in His character. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’” 

Throughout the Old Testament, prophets invite Israel to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near…” (Isaiah 55:6) However, the Bible illustrates that Israel often struggles to love, trust, and obey God. After a child’s traumatic experience, he or she moves toward insecure attachment.  Similarly, Israel’s experience of slavery and loss is outlined in the book of Exodus. In chapter six, God communicates His plan of blessing to Israel through Moses, but verse nine states, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” The people did not trust God. They did not want to draw near to Him or obey Him, and the Bible states that the reason for this was because of their “broken spirit and harsh slavery”. Regardless, God faithfully demonstrates His steadfast love for them by providing powerful works to free them, the faithful representation of His presence through pillars of cloud and fire, and His consistent provision for their needs of food, water, clothing and protection. Eventually we see a group that grows in their trust of God and accepts the peace and rest that only He can provide.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 9, Daniel realizes that Israel is experiencing desolation and oppression due to consequences of sin. In this case, an insecure attachment results in the lack of faith, love, and obedience to God. Daniel prays a prayer which indicates a secure attachment to God out of his desire to seek and maintain proximity. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and please for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules…’”(Daniel 9:3-6)

Throughout the Bible, there are examples of individuals struggling with sin and the consequences of sin as they have insecure attachments to God.  There are also examples of individuals thriving as they seek a secure attachment to God through faith. Scripture also encourages self-awareness of our tendencies, as in Psalm 139. After reflecting on God’s intimate knowledge of David and God’s sovereign power, David asks God to “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In the same way, all are invited to ask God to search and test the heart, and to reveal the deepest ingrained tendencies for insecure attachment.  All are invited to ask Him to lead in the “way everlasting.”  Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) God sent Jesus so that all might know God, and knowing God leads to eternal life. 

God’s word, written so long ago and by so many authors, clearly demonstrates the truths only ‘recently’ discovered through attachment research:  those who can delight in, trust and stay close to a reliable attachment figure flourish.  Those who do not have that reliable attachment figure pay a price. Although this written work provides a brief overview of scripture which reflects secure and insecure attachment behaviors toward God, further research is recommended to explore the interconnectedness of secure attachment indicators, the quality of relationship with God, and the outcomes associated with both.

As we seek to grow closer to God, through a relationship with Jesus, being cognizant of the tendencies we have toward attachment insecurity will allow us to acknowledge areas where we may be tempted to mistrust God. Paul explained that the law is what creates knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 and 7:7) Acknowledging where we fall short in trust and security in relationship with others, and especially in relationship with God, will help us seek Jesus.  Seeking Jesus will naturally move us from insecurity to security, because He is the source of consistent provision. 

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References

Abtahi, M. & Kerns, K. (2017) Attachment and emotion regulation in middle childhood: Changes in affect and vagal tone during a social stress task. Attachment and Human Development 19(3), 221-242.

Ainsworth M.D.S., Blehar M.C., Waters E., & Wall S. Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. NY: Psychology Press; 1978. [Google Scholar]

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Bick, J., Dozier, M., & Perkins, E. (2012) Convergence between attachment classifications and natural reunion behavior among children and parents in a child care setting. Attachment and Human Development 14 (1), 1-14.

Cassidy, J. (1994). Emotion regulation: Influences of attachment relationships. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 59(2) , 228-249.

Frame, J. Systematic theology an introduction to Christian belief. NJ: P&R Publishing; 2013.

Groh, A., Fearon, R., Makermans-Kranenburg, M., Ijzendoorn, M., Steele, R., & Roisman, G. (2014) The significance of attachment security for children’s social competence with peers: A meta-analytic study.  Attachment and Human Development. 16 (2), 103-136.

Hudson, N.W. (2018) Moving toward greater security: The effects of repeatedly priming attachment security and anxiety. Journal of Research in Personality. 74, 147-157.

Hill-Soderlund A.L., Mills-Koonce W.R., Propper C., Calkins S.D., Granger D.A., Moore G.A., Gariepy J.L., & Cox M.J. Parasympathetic and sympathetic responses to the strange situation in infants and mothers from avoidant and securely attached dyads. Developmental Psychobiology. 2008 May;50(4):361-76.

Hodges, J., Steele, M., Hillman, S., Henderson, K., & Kaniuk, J. (2003). Changes in attachment representations over the first year of adoptive placement; narratives of maltreated children. Journal of Child Clinical Psychology. 8, 351-368.

Lewis, C.S. Reflections of the Psalms. New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, 95-97

Newman, L., Sivaratnam, C., Komiti, A. (2015) Attachment and early brain development— neuroprotective interventions in infant-caregiver therapy. Translational Developmental Psychiatry. 3:1

Movahed Abtahi M., Kerns K.A. Attachment and emotion regulation in middle childhood: changes in affect and vagal tone during a social stress task. Attachment and Human Development. 2017 Jun;19(3):221-242. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2017.1291696. Epub 2017 Feb 28. PMID: 28277093; PMCID: PMC5536172.

Steele, M., Hodges, J., Kaniuk, J., Hillman, S., & Henderson, K. (2003). Attachment representations in newly adopted maltreated children and their adoptive parents: Implications for placement and support. Journal of Child Psychotherapy. 29, 187-205.

References

Abtahi, M. & Kerns, K. (2017) Attachment and emotion regulation in middle childhood: Changes in affect and vagal tone during a social stress task. Attachment and Human Development 19(3), 221-242.

Ainsworth M.D.S., Blehar M.C., Waters E., & Wall S. Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. NY: Psychology Press; 1978. [Google Scholar]

Ainsworth, M. S. (1979). Infant–mother attachment. American Psychologist, 34(10), 932937. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.34.10.932

Bick, J., Dozier, M., & Perkins, E. (2012) Convergence between attachment classifications and natural reunion behavior among children and parents in a child care setting. Attachment and Human Development 14 (1), 1-14.

Cassidy, J. (1994). Emotion regulation: Influences of attachment relationships. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 59(2) , 228-249.

Frame, J. Systematic theology an introduction to Christian belief. NJ: P&R Publishing; 2013.

Groh, A., Fearon, R., Makermans-Kranenburg, M., Ijzendoorn, M., Steele, R., & Roisman, G. (2014) The significance of attachment security for children’s social competence with peers: A meta-analytic study.  Attachment and Human Development. 16 (2), 103-136.

Hudson, N.W. (2018) Moving toward greater security: The effects of repeatedly priming attachment security and anxiety. Journal of Research in Personality. 74, 147-157.

Hill-Soderlund A.L., Mills-Koonce W.R., Propper C., Calkins S.D., Granger D.A., Moore G.A., Gariepy J.L., & Cox M.J. Parasympathetic and sympathetic responses to the strange situation in infants and mothers from avoidant and securely attached dyads. Developmental Psychobiology. 2008 May;50(4):361-76.

Hodges, J., Steele, M., Hillman, S., Henderson, K., & Kaniuk, J. (2003). Changes in attachment representations over the first year of adoptive placement; narratives of maltreated children. Journal of Child Clinical Psychology. 8, 351-368.

Lewis, C.S. Reflections of the Psalms. New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, 95-97

Newman, L., Sivaratnam, C., Komiti, A. (2015) Attachment and early brain development— neuroprotective interventions in infant-caregiver therapy. Translational Developmental Psychiatry. 3:1

Movahed Abtahi M., Kerns K.A. Attachment and emotion regulation in middle childhood: changes in affect and vagal tone during a social stress task. Attachment and Human Development. 2017 Jun;19(3):221-242. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2017.1291696. Epub 2017 Feb 28. PMID: 28277093; PMCID: PMC5536172.

Steele, M., Hodges, J., Kaniuk, J., Hillman, S., & Henderson, K. (2003). Attachment representations in newly adopted maltreated children and their adoptive parents: Implications for placement and support. Journal of Child Psychotherapy. 29, 187-205.