When the Bonding Cycle Is Broken


Attachment can be defined as an emotional bond between parent and child which survives over time. It allows the child to develop trust in others and self, and it provides a secure base for the child’s exploration and growth.

"Attachment Disorder is developed when children . . . do not form a trusting bond in infancy and early childhood. A lack of trust generates feelings of aloneness, being different, pervasive anger, and an inordinate need for control. A trusting bond is essential in continued personality and conscience development, and serves as the foundation for future intimate relationships."

from Attachment, Trauma, and Healing, by Terry M. Levy and Michael Orlans

"Most professionals who work with and study the process of bonding and attachment agree that a child's first eighteen to thirty-six months are critical. It is during this period that the infant is exposed in a healthy situation to love, nurturing, and life-sustaining care. The child learns that if she has a need, someone will gratify that need, and the gratification leads to the development of her trust in others."

The Bonding Cycle



Prior to gratification, frustration is heightened. It is during this frustration that the foundation for delaying gratification is laid. This is critical learning with lifelong implications.

During the delay after her first cry, the infant may become increasingly angry or rageful; her state of arousal is high. it is at this point that she is receptive to her parents' gratifying efforts, which include touching, smiling, rocking, feeding, changing, making eye contact, and vocal soothing. Presenting a valuable opportunity for attaching between parent and child, these acts allow the child to begin to trust that her parents can and will care for her and protect her. The cycle is repeated thousands of time in the first two years of an infant's life, forming the foundation of every other developmental task of human life. This is not to suggest that later events will have no bearing on the course of a person's life. Instead, it is to say that without the successful completion of this cycle at some point, it is doubtful that an individual's growth will proceed normally without specific therapeutic intervention.

Failure to complete and repeat the bonding cycle leads to serious problems in the formation of the child's personality which, in most cases, will have lifelong implications. When the bonding cycle is interrupted problems arise in these areas:

  • Social/behavioral development
  • Cognitive development
  • Emotional development
  • Cause-and-effect thinking
  • Conscience development
  • Reciprocal relationships
  • Parenting
  • Accepting responsibility

The child who has experienced abuse, neglect . . . has a limited range of emotional responses. She frequently attempts to disconnect from her most uncomfortable feelings specifically, sadness and fearfulness because they make her feel vulnerable and weak. In trying to escape these feeling, she often heightens her arousal with anger.

Anger for her feels strong. It is familiar. Better still, it acts as an emotional anesthesia. Anger is a friend that can be called upon whenever the child is feeling weak or powerless, or sad.

We have focused primarily on early neglect and abuse, because that is the most damaging. A child who is abused after the age of three will be traumatized, and may have problems as a result, but she will not be hurt in the same way as a younger child. Once developmental progress has been made, it cannot be undone. It is the abuse and neglect that occur during the early stages of personality formation that cause the deepest damage. Imagine the stability of a skyscraper built without a foundation and you begin to see the fragility of a child denied the right to a healthy start.

Reprinted with permission from Adopting the Hurt Child. Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids, Gregory C. Keck, PhD, and Regina M. Kupecky, LSW, Pinon Press


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Po: I had this crazy vision. I think I saw my mom and me, as a baby.

Mr. Ping: Mom? A baby?

Po: Uh, Dad. How do I say this? Where did I come from?

Mr. Ping: Well you see, uh, son. Baby geese come from a little egg. And don’t ask me where the egg comes from!

Po: Dad, that’s not what I meant.

Mr. Ping: I know it’s not. I think it’s time I told you something I should have told you a long time ago... You might have been, kinda, a, a, a, adopted!

Po: I knew it!

Mr. Ping: You knew? Well who told you?

Po: No one! I mean, come on, Dad!

Mr. Ping: If you knew, why didn’t you ever say anything?

Po: Why didn’t you say anything?

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011, movie)