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God and the attachment theory

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Out of interest in my field, I read a few things here and there. Recently I read about a relatively new relationship therapy, the Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).¹ The basis of this therapy is the attachment theory (by John Bowlby) and the attachment problems described therein. While reading, the following idea struck me: also between God and man, in a certain way, there are attachment problems. God longs for closeness with man, like a parent with his child. This bonding with God is just as essential to a human being as the bonding with his biological parents. It therefore applies to every human being, without exception.

The renowned psychiatrist Bowlby did a lot of research on attachment between parent and child. The basis of attachment is that a child feels secure through the closeness of the educator. The prolonged absence of a bond between mother and child in the first three years of life leads to an irreversible negative effect on the child's mental health.²

36In the book Hold me (Johnson), Bowlby's attachment theory is associated with the relationship (problems) between adults who are in long-term relationships.³ A fascinating idea. A person's desire for connection is of such basic (life) importance that the threat of losing that connection can lead to deep-seated anxiety.

For our physical and mental health, we need an emotional attachment to some irreplaceable others. That attachment helps us survive. A sense of secure attachment between loving partners is the key to a loving relationship and a deep source of strength for the individual participants in such a relationship.4

Secure attachment to a loved one makes us stronger. This makes you more open to new experiences and flexible in your views; after all, curiosity comes from a sense of security, and with a basic secure relationship, you need to be less wary of threats from the outside world.

Relationship problems, according to Johnson, therefore, stem primarily from the fear of losing this attachment, this connectedness.

Fear questions may include: "Are you ready for me? Do I matter to you? Will you come when I need you?". These are also recognizable questions from the contextual approach (Nagy), which is based on relational ethics, i.e., the justice, balance, loyalty, safety, responsibility, and trustworthiness within relationships, and its impact on yourself and others. You can only be yourself in the connection with another. The relational connection is thus essential.

Besides existence questions (why do I exist), these are also meaning questions (what is the meaning of my existence). And to those questions you can respond in different ways. Usually from your unconscious preferred attitude of fighting, freezing or fleeing. This is also related to the type of attachment and the different reactions that arise from that. If a danger to the relationship evokes the fundamental fear discussed above, then this can evoke a 'fight' reaction which can lead you, for example, to call the other person names, to say that he 'then have to fuck off' and 'you don't need him/her'.

You can imagine the kind of words that can be uttered. But when we recognize that these words are prompted by fear, the fear of losing the other person or that the situation will lead to an irreparable rupture, we begin to understand that this is a call to come closer. 'Fuck off'  then actually means "Do you see me standing? or 'How important am I to you'?  Understanding and seeing this differently can lead to great change.

Conflicts with - and hostile criticism from - loved ones make us doubt ourselves more and more and evoke a sense of helplessness. So we need recognition by our loved ones. Love is not the icing on the cake, but it is a basic and primary necessity of life, just like oxygen.6

Fight Or Flight

Change is only possible when you see the pattern, when you focus on the game and not the ball.5  - Sue Johnson 

Partners will deal with these questions and fears in different ways, as is recognizable in children with attachment problems. Ainsworth has distinguished four types of attachment:7

  • Securely attached | The child has a good balance between exploration and attachment. Daring to take on new tasks, being afraid when the parent is out of sight, and coming closer when he or she returns, after which further exploration is possible. Parents are sensitive, cooperative and approachable.
  • Unsafe-avoiding | The child's attachment is minimized because the parent is relatively often perceived as dismissive, businesslike, or insensitive. They ignore or avoid the educator and behave (prematurely) independently.
  • Unsafe-repellent | Seeking much rapprochement with the educator and little inclination to carry out activities independently. The absence of the educator leads to anxiety while the return of the parent is greeted with anger and indignation. The educator is often inconsistently sensitive, unpredictable to the child and absent at crucial times.
  • Disorganized | In the case of the latter, the respondent was asked to provide information on the nature of the problem. On the one hand, there is a search for closeness to the parent, while at the same time this causes stress and anxiety. On the other hand, there is a need for a rapprochement with the parent, while at the same time this leads to stress and anxiety.

The fundamental and primary life need for love, recognition, being seen, having a right to exist is not only what plays an important role in horizontal, interpersonal relationships. The relationship with God also has the same dynamics and elements. Man is made to be in contact with his maker. The relational God, God as father. Of course, between God and man there is no dysfunctional parent, but you could say that because of the separation between God and man, because of man's choice, there has been a disturbance in the relationship. And with it a disturbance of our image of God, trust, intimacy, dependence and connection.

God's existence is not dependent on our belief in it. Whether or not you believe in God does determine whether you can attach yourself to Him, can or want to be in connection with Him. The angry person who seizes every opportunity to ridicule God or those who give in him, the disinterest of the other to think about origin/meaning or metaphysical matters, the purely intellectual approach only to accept scientific evidence for God's existence (scientism); all are reactions that arise from a strong need to explain oneself, to give existence and a place to stand. Without God, there is no extrinsic meaning of life, only the meaning you would like to give to it yourself through relationships, thinking, sex, money, career. A purely individual, subjective meaning of life. Other-thinkers are a danger to this lifestyle and world and human view anyway. After all, what is important or moral is what we agree on with each other. There is no objective morality or meaning. I often recognize reactions like fighting, fleeing or freezing in their defense. But deep down, it is a cry, "Is this all?!", "Someone who sees me?!", "How do I come to meaning?!", "How do I remain of value?!", "Who will remember me?!". A cry for connection.

G. Bloch, Mat.27:46

G. Bloch, Mat.27:46

Among believers, I recognize the same patterns. God's image, formed through socialization, faith education, experience, and church doctrine, contributes to one's response to God. Is God the protective parent? Are you allowed to be yourself, can you explore and return safely? Are you allowed to make mistakes? Or is there shame, guilt, anger, fear? Your image of God and the experiences you have that confirm or negate that image largely determine how safe you can feel in His arms. The indifferent boy who doesn't seem to care; could that be a cry from rejection, "God, do You see me?! The venomous lady, a reaction out of fear of a non-sensitive unpredictable God: 'God, are You the absent unpredictable Father or can I trust You?'

I wish everyone to get to know the love of God who searches for you personally, the love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But I also wish that everyone who knows himself connected to God in this way learns to look at another; through the outside to the inside. We may be the body of Christ to put an arm around the other, to connect, to look through the outside, to speak healing words and above all to be like Him to spread His light. The salt that makes the food palatable.


1) Emotion Focused Therapy, see further footnote 3.
2) 04-09-2014, John Bowlby, 3) Johnson, S., 2009, Hold me, Kosmos publishers 3) Johnson, S., (2013), Hold me, Seven conversations for a close(er) and secure relationship, Utrecht: Kosmos Publishers
4) 05-09-2014, Summary "Hold Me,"
5) Johnson, S., (2013), Hold me, Seven conversations for a close(er) and secure relationship, Utrecht: Kosmos Publishers, P. 76
6) 31-10-2014, Aeilkema Organization Coach,

7) 31-10-2014, Netherlands Youth Institute,


Erwin de Ruiter

"One man tries to express himself in books, another in boots; both are likely to fail." - G.K. Chesterton

3 thoughts on “God en de hechtingstheorie”

  1. How cool that you are writing another book. I can't wait to read it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find where to sign up to be a proofreader.

  2. For in childcare had a training day on the subject of " attachment" shocked at the even biological / neurological effect of a disrupted or insecure attachment. And as a Christian also made the link between attachment and attachment problems between us and God.
    I'm going to delve deeper into both of these topics over the coming vacations. What a recognition on many fronts....

    1. Hi Jolanda, nice to hear you had made the same link. Good for work and church ? Curious to see what wonderful and new discoveries you may come to in your vacation!

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