Attachment in Spiritual Direction: How Our First Relationships Shape Our Search For the God Who Is Love
Martha Elizabeth Wood, Mdiv
Much study has been done in the realm of psychology regarding the role of the psychologist as a replacement secure base for their clients, rewiring the brain and making personal growth possible. Less credence has been given to the realm of spiritual direction, given its lack of regulated credentialing processes, various degrees of regard among different religious traditions, and a dearth of scientific research. In a realm as obfuscating as spiritual formation, is it possible for a spiritual leader to be an immediately personal presence instead of a transcendent mystic or a guru sought out intermittently to bestow nuggets of cryptic wisdom?
Borrowing heavily from the work done by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and D.W. Winnicott in the psychology field regarding attachment theory and object relations, this paper will seek to identify the role of
a spiritual director in relationship with one’s directees. Implications regarding a person’s earliest primary relationships on their attachment to God as an adult come to bear within the spiritual director/directee dyad, or triad, considering God’s self as a present third party.
The emerging realm of “relational spirituality” is bridging that gap. In a one-size-fits-all world of self-help books, spiritual directors offer personalized soul care within an immediate relationship. Recognizing a directee’s attachment patterns informs the director’s ability to carefully suggest spiritual formation practices as pertain to each person’s particular story and journey with God alongside others. A spiritual director can be both a secure base and a referent or fellow journeyer as the directee attaches to God, resulting in the increased capacity of loving God and loving others, knowing and being known.
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