How Does Technology Affect Relationships and Attachment

This is a writeup of an event by Linda Cundy on therapy in the digital age, with a focus on technology, relationships and attachment.

How does technology impact on your relationships?

Are you forever checking your phone? Do you take your iPad to bed with you? Or are you a ‘technophobe’ – a digital immigrant who curses the day that the mobile phone was invented. Either way, have you ever thought about how this affects your relationships in the modern world?

As therapists we generally keep our phones off in the therapy room, meaning that our phones do not directly distract us during sessions. But how much is digital technology impacting our relationship with our clients without us being aware?

Linda Cundy gave us food for thought in her workshop on technology and attachment – describing the impact of the digital age on attachment relationships. Linda argued that attachment relationships are hugely influenced by the digital age. Our obsession with our devices, our emails, and our screens is affecting our attachment relationship with our children.

Attachment in early childhood

A baby needs a secure base which needs to come from the relationship with their primary care giver. The infant needs to be held in the arms of their primary care giver: to be loved, to have eye contact, to be kept safe, to be prioritised, to be cared for.  A child needs a parent who is intimately physically and emotionally engaged with them, and understands their needs.

In the age of the Internet, technology can come between a caregiver and their child. If the caregiver is addicted to social media, they may spend more time looking at a screen than looking into their baby’s eyes. If a parent works from home, they may be stuck to their screen rather than interacting with their baby.

A parent’s addiction to technology can impact on a child’s attachment pattern.

Screens are hyponotic – which means that they are addictive. If the parent is staring into the screen, or  addicted to it, they are pulled away from their child. They become an unavailable caregiver, and insecure attachment patterns can follow. The child may be unstimulated, neglected, lack eye contact and emotional engagement.

We urge parents to be aware of the negative impact that their screen time could be having on their baby.

Later in life

Our relationship with technology will reflect our attachment pattern that’s developed in childhood.

Ambivalent or preoccupied attachment

Those with an ambivalent or preoccupied attachment pattern may be uncomfortable with separation, and incredibly anxious. This may translate into their relationship with technology. Think about those who constantly need reassurance from their social media presence. This could be people who are so uncomfortable with their own aloneness that they need to be in constant physical contact with their devices – constantly connected; yet disconnected from the people who are actually in the room with them.

Avoid or dismissing attachment

People with an avoidant or dismissing attachment pattern may be wildly independent, and try to avoid intimacy at all costs. These people will use technology to keep their distance from others, conducting relationships over the Internet with no physical presence, or playing computer games – staying in a virtual reality rather than relating in reality. This could act to exacerbate their attachment issues, meaning that they could become even further distanced from the people around them.

How far could it go?

Some young people in other parts of the world such as Japan and Korea are so immersed in the virtual world, they do not leave the house or go to school. They stay on their computers 24/7 with their parents bringing food to them. This is beginning to appear in the UK. Is this a fully functioning life?

On the other hand, some parents spend so much time posting pictures of their children on social media (desperate for connection) that they end up neglecting their children.

Secure attachment and technology

If a parent is securely attached, they are likely to have a healthy relationship with technology. This means that they use the technology available to them to their advantage, and it does not get in the way of their intimacy and relationships with others. This will mean that this secure attachment relationship can be passed down to their children.

How should professionals respond to this?

The goal for a therapist is to help people become securely attached. The more that we can help a person become securely attached, the more that we can help them have a more secure relationship with technology. We know that psychotherapy and counselling does help to promote secure attachment, so we can help people to develop a healthier relationship with technology.

We do, however, need to have awareness of how our own relationship with technology relates to our attachment pattern. We also need to be aware of the impact of the digital age on our clients. Don’t try to pretend that technology does not exist, yet also don’t just blindly accept our addiction to the Internet. Be aware. Ask what a client’s relationship with technology is in the assessment session – it will give you a good idea of their attachment pattern.

How are your clients using social media? Do they use technology to their advantage in life? Or do they let it stand in the way of real life relationships, and seek validation from social media acquaintances?

How far can we use technology to benefit our clients?

In the digital age, Skype and online therapy are becoming more and more common. Technology can help allow the maintenance of the therapeutic relationship in the modern world. We can use technology to maintain connection over a vast geographical distance. We can respond to client enquiries extremely promptly, and be there exactly when a client might need us.  Yet does technology always benefit and enable therapy – or can it become a barrier?

We can also use social media to interact with our clients.

Possible issues with Skype & online therapy

People with dismissing attachment patterns are comfortable with a lack of intimacy, so maybe working remotely with a therapist will play into their need for distance. Will part of the process be missed?

People with preoccupied attachment need consistency, clear boundaries, and interpersonal transference. A remote therapist may play into and represent the ‘tantalising and unreachable,’ thus playing into their attachment pattern rather than helping to secure them.

Key takeaways on technology and attachment

  • Awareness is the key – be aware of your own relationship with the Internet or your mobile phone – explore what this says about you, and how it might impact your process with clients.
  • Be interested in the client’s relationship with technology – it can tell you a lot about their attachment pattern.
  • If the client begins to feel their technology use is a barrier in their life, help your clients to reassess their relationship with technology.
  • Don’t judge or make assumptions. Ensure you go with your client’s agenda – and not your own.

For more on technology and attachment

Find out more about Linda Cundy.
Read more about online counselling.
Find out about how counsellors can use social media.

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