The Attachment Trauma We Don’t Talk About

Healthy attachment requires much more than our parents

Anna Mercury
All Gods, No Masters
6 min readSep 27, 2023


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As discussions of trauma and psychological development become increasingly more mainstream, we’ve begun to see how much our upbringings shape our health and functioning later in life. We don’t know what the ideal of parenting is per se, but we know that when our primary attachment figures drastically miss the mark, it can scar our psyches for life.

Despite our cultural obsession with independence, humans are not born with any ability to fend for ourselves. Unlike most other animals that have some ability to survive on their own from birth, humans are born completely and totally dependent on those around us to provide for our needs. If our caregivers do not provide for us in infancy, our needs will go unmet and we’d pretty quickly die.

Dependence, and having caregivers we can safely depend on, is absolutely essential to our survival.

Not only are we dependent on others for our physical needs, but we require healthy attachment for our minds to develop. Our patterns of thinking, and along with them, our neural wiring, organize themselves according to our early life relationships. The mind, like the body, cannot provide for itself independently of others.

This is why attachment-related traumas are so damaging. Attachment is as basic to our survival as food or breathing. Without secure attachment, and caregivers we can attach to securely, we cannot develop fully. Our minds become disorganized and our bodies do not feel safe. When we grow up without secure attachment, we’re far more likely to experience long-term physical, mental and behavioral health problems.

What we call “secure attachment” characterizes relationships in which a child experiences safety, protection and comfort with their caregiver. The child feels some distress when the caregiver is gone, but can easily feel secured again once the caregiver returns. The child also experiences emotional closeness with their caregiver, which shapes a broader pattern of feeling curious, secure and emotionally open throughout the life course.

Like most theorists in Western psychology, John Bowlby (the father of attachment theory) was living in a specific culture that…