The Importance of Relational Attachment for Women

A child’s first attachment is usually formed with the biological mother at a very young age; thus, the level of attachment can have an influence on an individual who is developing into adulthood (Feldman, 2009).  For example, when a woman becomes an adult, the attachment styles she formed can have an impact on the various relationships she will have later in life with her friends, family, and romantic partners (Borhani, 2013).  According to Covington and Surrey (2007), connecting with others is a primary human need, and this need is extremely strong in women. 

Everyone needs to feel a sense of connection and differentiation with others; however, females are more attuned to connection, while males are more attuned to differentiation (Covington & Surrey, 2007).  Theoretically, girls tend to identify themselves to be similar rather than different from their mothers (Covington, & Surrey, 2007).  For this reason, girls do not have to differentiate from their mothers to develop their personal identities (Covington, 2008).  This is different from boys, who must develop an identity that is inherently opposite from their mothers’ in order to resume healthy development (Covington, 2008).  “Thus, women’s psychological growth and healthy development come about through adding to rather than detaching from relationships.  Being able to define themselves as similar to others through relationships is essential to women’s identities” (Covington, 2008, p. 3).

For many women, psychological problems can be a result of disconnection within personal relationships, whether in their families, with personal acquaintances, or in society (Covington, 2008).  Miller (1986) has described (as cited in Covington 2008, p. 14) five psychological outcomes of healthy, growth-producing relationships: “(a) knowledge of self and others, (b) self-worth, (c) increased vitality, (d) empowerment to act, and (e) a desire for more connection.”  These outcomes are necessary for healthy emotional growth and development for women (Covington, 2008).  Mutuality, empathy, and trust are qualities essential for an environment that will promote positive, healthy growth and development in women (Russ, Helm, & Weston, 2005). 

Covington (2008) reported that women at high risk for SUDs are isolated socially (e.g., single parents, unemployed, recently separated, or widowed).  Psychological isolation can occur when a woman feels that the people in her life are unable to validate or respond to her attempts at connection.  Covington (2008) has described the state of condemned isolation, in which a woman begins to feel socially isolated within her relationships and begins to believe that she is the cause of this problem.  Feelings of shame and condemned isolation can be strongly associated with chronic SU, which eventually becomes a way of attempting to cope with strong feelings and a sense of hopelessness (Covington, 2008). 

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