How Early Attachment Experiences Effect How an Individual Relates to a Christian God and How This Manifests in Later Life to His or Her Image of the God He or She Believes in

Stewart, Victoria
Tudor, Keith
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Master of Psychotherapy
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Auckland University of Technology

This dissertation explores how early attachment experience effects how an individual relates to a Christian God, and how this manifests in later life. The relationship dynamic which is created in early attachment falls within four categories: secure, anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant and dismissing (Ainsworth, 1978). In journals of psychology and religion research on attachment has studied the effect that this early experience may or may not have on an individual’s relationship with God. The two predominant theories to come out of this research are by Kirkpatrick who formed two hypotheses to give some understanding of how early attachment effects this relationship. The first research was conducted in 1990 which found that an individual’s internal working model which was created between the infant and the primary caregiver can influence how one then views God, this was termed the correspondence hypothesis. Further research in 1992 found a subgroup which showed a significant number of participants responded to God through a “sudden conversion” experience. This phenomenon Kirkpartick termed the compensation hypothesis as findings suggested that God acted as a surrogate attachment figure in the absence of a secure one during infancy or in an individual’s life at present. This dissertation examines the literature on these two hypothesis in order to assist therapists in their own understanding of how attachment experiences can effect how an individual relates to God. This information is collated in the hope that therapists can work with clients who are struggling in their relationship with God with more awareness of the dynamics between human beings and God. The method used is a modified systematic literature review of articles which examine how attachment theory can be used to understand how an individual relates to God. Religions other than Christianity are excluded both for simplicity and to allow for a more in depth examination into the relationship dynamics between an individual and a Christian God. It is suggested by Kirkpatrick that the two hypotheses are integrated to reflect the complexity of human relationships and this is discussed in the final chapter. Pathways for further research are suggested.

Christian God , Attachment
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