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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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How would you define autonomy and attachment, and how do they

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How would you define autonomy and attachment, and how do they develop in adolescence?

Thank you for requesting me. I will work on your answer and get back to you as soon as possible.



This is an unusual question because attachment needs in human beings begin far earlier than adolescence. Most recent research shows that Erik Erikson's first psychosocial stage, basic trust versus mistrust is the foundation for all future attachment in human beings.

Attachment is a process that is different in human beings than any other creatures on this planet. Many creatures appear to have some forms of modeling types of attachment behaviors, but this seems to be more instinct than the true attachments that we see in humans. To contrast this, young birds imprint (a form of bonding) on the adult bird. Human beings do not imprint but rather form bonded attachments with their caregivers through emotions. Kluvert and Bucy (some of the very first to study this subject) studied bonding behaviors more than 50 years ago. These studies showed the importance of allowing human mothers time with their newborn babies. From this study we have changed room in policies in hospitals and even allow newborns still attached to the umbilical cords of their mothers to snuggle on Mom's chest.


Other important studies also showed the importance of attachment such as the classic Rhesus monkey study conducted by Harlow and Zimmerman. This study seemed to show that Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs was not dominated by physical needs but rather through love and attachment needs.


Although adolescents do not technically form attachments any differently than they did in their early years, they certainly do show marked increases in autonomy. In the most respected studies adolescence develop autonomy through relationships which help them also form their identities. However, the major struggle for an adolescent in autonomy is dealing with the uncertainty and doubts that they feel when they attempt new behaviors solely on their own. This balancing of autonomous action with uncertainty defines the heart of adolescence. For example, a young teenage boy wants to show his ability to master riding a motorcycle but this new level of autonomy is hampered by his self doubt and worry of his own competency and self worth.


In summary, attachment needs of adolescence, although strong, do not surface differently than when they were most dominant at birth. On the other hand, true autonomy begins at ages 18 months to 3 years and shows in behavior very powerfully in adolescence.


I hope this helped,


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