Thanksgiving has many different meanings. It is a time for food, family, and football in Texas. This year will be different since we are all spread apart. But the early researchers of family therapy knew why being together was so important to our well being.
John Bowlby, who is known as the founder of attachment theory, along with Mary Ainsworth, discovered what happens when we have strong attachments and when we don’t. This is probably boring to some people, however I find it is the root of many of our problems today. They discovered that securely attached children are happy when their caregivers return. They conducted an experiment with a stranger in a room, a child, and a caregiver. As soon as the mom returned the child was happy to see her. Ainsworth said it was the child’s reaction when the caregiver returned that determined the bond of attachment.
We are social creatures as soon as we are born. Caregivers provide protection for us as infants and children. If we have a securely attached bond with them, we are usually happy to see them as we grow up. (Disclaimer this doesn’t include the teenage drama section of their lives, although it could be interpreted as a protest behavior to make sure they are still somewhat attached to you.) Caregivers provide protection but also the oxytocin which is the hormone that makes you feel good. It is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle” hormone.
Oxytocin is important because it secretes feel good chemicals in our brain. The caregiver’s responsiveness to our infant cries means we will be attended to for cuddles, food, or changes in diapers. This means we are safe and loved. As we grow up, securely attached children have higher self esteem, better emotional regulation, and are usually well liked by peers. They can handle stress and seize opportunities. It is literally the way to become a healthy adult. That is why I am a Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. If we want adults to be functional, we have to start with caregiving as an infant and continue to develop our relationships with them as they mature. Families are exactly what’s needed for the future. AI and robots can’t provide oxytocin and love, by the way they tried that with wire monkeys and food. The love hormone is so strong that the baby monkeys would forgo food for as long as possible to stay with the wire monkeys that were covered in cloths. People will die without love from other humans in their lives. This is why Thanksgiving is important. So if you are sad about not getting to see family over Thanksgiving, it is ok to feel that way, we were born with that need.
References: The Verdict Is In, Psychotherapy Networker, March/April 2011, The Case for Attachment Theory, by: Alan Sroufe and Daniel Siegel
Blog: Dr. Daniel Siegel’s website 01.30.2020