The ecology of attachment in the family

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Jonathan Hill
  • Peter Fonagy
  • Ellen Safier
  • John Sargent


In this article we outline a conceptualization of attachment processes within the family. We argue that the key elements of attachment processes are affect regulation, interpersonal understanding, information processing, and the provision of comfort within intimate relationships. Although these have been described and assessed primarily in terms of individual functioning and development, they are equally applicable in family systems, provided three farther steps are taken. First, the description of attachment processes at the individual level is applied to the family using the concept of shared frames or representations of emotions, cognitions, and behaviors. Second, there is an explicit formulation of the way in which individual and family processes are linked. Third, there is a conceptualization of the nature and quality of the dynamic between attachment and other processes in family life. In this "ecology" of family processes, those that entail heightened affect and a need to create certainty through action, particularly in response to threats to safety, attachment needs, and discipline challenges, are contrasted with exploratory processes characterized by low affect, tolerance of uncertainty, and opportunities to review existing assumptions and knowledge. © FPI, Inc.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-221
Number of pages16
JournalFamily Process
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2003