Secure Selves: Regulation, Attachment, and Mindfulness

In Thought and Language Lev Vygotsky theorized that thought actually develops from speech. A child will utilize words for social interactions, but only gradually internalizes these words as inner speech capable of expressing complex thoughts. An inner world only emerges over time and repetition, growing from interactions in the outer world.

Attachment runs a similar course. The child looks to the actions of a guardian and develops an opinion about the world, eventually adopting a world view somewhere between disorganized and secure. When these attachments are internalized they seem to color every thought and belief.

For some people, emotions rarely enter into this inner world. Language and attachment certainly play a role in this. A person with ambivalent attachments will likely discuss emotions infrequently, leading them to never learn to effectively label or differentiate emotions. Conversely, a person with secure attachments will have experiences validating and discriminating emotions, ultimately leading to a vibrant inner emotional life. And indeed, those with more secure attachments and better emotional discrimination show greater emotional regulation.

Increasingly, the ability to self-regulate seems to be a function of relationships. Students learn better in study groups. Exercisors stick with their programs longer when they have a partner. Discussing emotions increases emotional regulation. Secure attachments also increase emotional regulation.

It is interesting that mindfulness is also associated with increases in self-regulation. Mindful practices increase emotional regulation and executive functions. It is as if being present-minded and non-judgementaly aware taps into the same mental circuitry as our social interactions. Perhaps learning to be mindful is synonymous with learning to be your own best friend.,