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Psychological vs Biblical Attachment

What is the difference between psychological attachment and biblical attachment? Are they opposed to one another? How does a person of choose between the two?


The answer to these questions may actually surprise you. The real issue is that biblical and psychological attachment are not necessarily opposed to one anther, however the phenomenon of western dominant culture lies at the heart of the matter.


Origins of Attachment Theory


Let's begin with an overview of psychological attachment. Psychological attachment is primarily biological in nature. "It is an innate biological force within a species". People are born with an innate sense of tribe. Survival is the overall basis for psychological attachment. Attachment theory has its roots in religion and spirituality. The psychological forefathers studied attachment and spirituality going back to 1902 when William James examined the variety of religious experience. In 1944 Harms studied how children form their image of God. The field of psychological attachment was born in 1969 when Bowlby developed the primary research for attachment theory. Ainsworth expanded upon Bowlby’s research in the 1970’s. Finally, in the 1980’s Hazan and Shaver began applying the research regarding childhood attachment theory to adult attachment style. Today, there are several researchers who have contributed to attachment theory in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy such as Murray Bowen and Susan Johnson.


Attachment Styles


There are 4 Primary styles for childhood and Adult. There are several permutations, however I’m going to share a mixture that I share with my clients:


1. Secure = good with togetherness and separateness

2. Anxious = good with togetherness but not separateness

3. Avoidant = good with separateness but not togetherness

4. Disorganized = not good with togetherness or separateness


A person may ask why attachment style matters? An understanding of attachment style is essential to understanding the western context in which we find ourselves. More on this later.


Biblical Attachment


Biblical attachment is different from psychological, wherein attachment occurs through covenant. Covenant is about two people who have the capacity for relationship and to choose whether or not to do relationship with each other. The basis of this kind of attachment is centered around covenantal loyalty.


There are 6 primary covenants in the Bible:


1. Adamic = Covenant with Adam (Genesis 1-2)

2. Noahic = Covenant with Noah (Genesis 6)

3. Abrahamic = Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12)

4. Mosaic = Covenant through Moses (Exodus 20)

5. Davidic = Covenant with David (2 Samuel 7)

6. Christ = Covenant through Christ (New Testament)


The ANE (ancient Near East) had a type of covenant called a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty between two parties. The felt sense of attachment is secondary as the sense of inclusion is based God’s faithfulness to his end of the deal throughout recorded history. The fact that God has never faulted in keeping his side of covenant is what gives someone security in their attachment. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), circumcision was the initiating rite into the covenant, in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is the mark of inclusion. Ephesians 1:13-14 is an example of Paul explaining how biblical attachment changes from circumcision of the flesh to being mark with the Holy Spirit.


So what’s the issue?


Modern psychology built on westernized concepts of individualism are being re-examined and have been found to be problematic. Even when Bowlby was researching attachment theory, he had doubts about the pathologizing view of dependency in western culture. One of the major problems is how concepts of self-sufficiency and separateness are over-developed in our culture. Ultimately, our culture pathologizes dependency. Western Individualism runs contrary to biblical attachment for several reasons:


1. Rugged individualism developed in response to the Great Depression in the 30’s by Hoover has been a pervasive influence in our country and culture.


2. People struggle to identify with being a vassal. Western culture pathologizes need, in other words needing people is made into a bad thing. People work very hard to eliminate needing people and therefore perpetuate unhealthy meritocracy. I believe this is part of why discipleship becomes a trigger word for many.


3. Attachment becomes a feeling rather than a reality. On the other hand, attachment can become relegated to a feeling. As a result many struggle to feel included in a covenant if they don’t have the felt sense of belonging.


4. My attachment style affected the security I felt with God. As listed above, our attachment style actually affects how we view attachment to God. In reality, it is our childhood attachment style that has the most influence of our adult attachment style with God. I will post more about this in an upcoming article.


Biblical Attachment is obedience done at an integrated level. In other words, our attachment to God is based in both psychological attachment and biblical attachment regarding our heart and mind. The bigger issue is how our culture conditions us to operate outside of dependency. The American church has embraced western individualism as much as any other. American churches adopted a frontier culture of individualism as America grew. I believe the trauma of abusive ecclesiology and disintegrated theology was a driving factor.


The good news is that the heart of biblical attachment has overlap with psychological attachment. The real question is if a person has over-identified with western concepts of individuality?




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