The 14th International Congress on Twin Studies 2012 Florence – Poster presentation by Helle Birkholm-Buch

This is a presentation (download poster here) of my research based on a study of the current litterature on twins´ mutual relationship, and on attachment and idenitity in general.

Existing studies on the effect of school placement on twins indicates that twins have more academic and internalizing problems in primary school when they are in separate classes.

To date there are no studies involving psychological developmental considerations in relation to the question of when twinship can be a resource or a vulnerability in relation to school placement together og separately.

Conclusively I find that twinship must be regarded as a greater resource during school start than previously considered: Twin children seem to form a non-normative, symmetrical attachment relationship which might be of central importance during the start of school. Twinship  does not unequivocally seem to represent a vulnerability to their individual identity, but can be a resource as well. . Lack of understanding of these unique relationship qualities can impede twins´ adaption to school life.

New issues of awareness are recommended – such as the quality of twins´ attachment and the fleksibility/multiplicity of their identity narratives rather than the degree of dependency or normative qualities such as, for example, degree of diversity, sameness, polarization or shared friends.

Below  you will find more background information about attachment theory and  the narrativ approach to identity and finally you will find my list of references.

I would love your input to my poster – please feel free to comment on it on Facebook.

Attachment theory:

The concept of attachment is often used very differently.  Bowlby defines attachment as an expression of a child’s needs for closeness and intimate contact with one or more specific caregivers – not to be confused with his or her need for predictability, care, control, etc., or with the mother’s relationship to the child, which Bowlby calls “caregiving behavior.”

Attachment is a special form of biologically-based social behavior that is rooted in the human species’ evolutionary adaptation.  Since a baby is incredibly helpless, it needs caregivers to provide protection.  This protection is secured by an innate rudimentary control system that regulates the child’s proximity to / distance from the primary caregivers. Thus the child can explore all the new stimuli which the world offers and become familiar with it in a secure and safe distance from its primary caregivers.

In infancy the child becomes attached to sensitive, responsive and consistent caregivers, but attachment is a human motivational factor from cradle to grave.

As an infant’s behavioral and cognitive abilities develop during the second half of the first year of life, attachment becomes more and more organized and differentiated.  From about the second year of life attachment has been internalized in the child as an “internal working model” that will guide the child’s expectations toward the attachment figures’ availability and accountability. Early attachment is assumed to become a model for the child’s future intimate relationships.

As the infant’s behavioral and cognitive abilities develop during the second half of the first year of life, attachment becomes more and more organized and differentiated. From about the second year of life attachment has been internalized in the child as an “internal working model” that will guide the child’s expectations toward the attachment figures availability and accountability. Early attachment is assumed to become a model for the child’s future intimate relationships.

Based on the child’s attachment experiences, it seeks to adjust its behavior to fulfill its attachment needs. Reciprocally the child’s attachment system is the adult care-giving system, and by definition the attachment-care relationship is asymmetrical because the child gets and the adult gives. The same asymmetry may characterize younger and older siblings’ relationship.

There is always an attachment between parents and child and the quality of the attachment, which depends on the child’s experience, is reflected in different attachment patterns: Secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-ambivalent, and disorganized.  Only the latter is associated with severe developmental problems. Insecure attachments (avoidant or ambivalent) are normal attachment styles, but not as adaptive as secure attachment.  Insecure attachment may be seen as a vulnerability, which together with other risk factors may lead to the development of psychiatric disorders.  Secure attachment is associated with psychological resilience.

From around 3-4 years of age a child´s safety is increasingly regulated psychologically (through the internal working models), rather than through physical proximity. It becomes primarily an internal “experienced security,” i.e. the child’s knowledge that caretakers are accessible and accountable, which is crucial. However, at a sufficiently high level of arousal the individual, regardless of age, will always seek physical proximity to his/her attachment figures – attachment needs are fundamental to the individual´s sense of security from cradle to grave.  Because children from 3-4 years of age are increasingly participating in an active negotiation regarding the regulation of distance/proximity to their caregivers, Bowlby used the term “goal-corrected partnership” from around this age.

From the onset of the goal-corrected partnership children are increasingly using peers as ad hoc secure bases, and this may be the beginning of the diminishing of the attachment to parents and transfer of attachment need to a reciprocal and symmetrical adult-adult attachment , i.e. attachment to a romantic partner.

When the child experiments with directing his attachment needs towards selected peers, the child slowly builds confidence that symmetrical relationships with strong emotional relevance may be available in an enduring way and thus create the basis for the his sense of security. In addition, peers will increasingly have more experience and contextual expertise in relation to providing support for the challenges that the child will experience in contexts where the parents are not present, for example in school.

From 8-14 years of age children will increasingly seek comfort and emotional understanding among peers, but not until approximately 15 years of age are children believed to have formed a genuine symmetrical and reciprocal attachment to peers – i.e. have formed a symmetrical attachment which meet all four key criteria in an attachment relationship.

These key behaviors are still present in the goal-corrected partnership, but can be expressed differently:

Proximity seeking People at all ages seek and enjoy proximity to their attachment figure(s)
Separation distress From about 3 years of age (beginning og the goal-corrected partnership)  separation distress is less triggered by physical separation and more by violations of the child´s expectations of the attachment figures availability and hence inability to share emotional states
Safe haven Regardless of age, If arousal becomes sufficiently high people of all ages ultimately need physical proximity to their attachment figure.
Secure base From about 3 years of age smiles and eye contact can be expressions of secure base behavior and the perception of security is now increasingly based on the expectation that communication is open, that the child will be understood, and that physical accessibility is possible. In addition from apox. preschool age children enhance their sense of security by seeking to secure the safety of their attachment figure and become uneasy and upset if their attachment figure is not well.

The narrative understanding of identity

According to a postmodern social constructionist understanding the idea of ​​identity as an essentialist intrapsychic structure is rejected.  Instead, identity is perceived as a social phenomenon that has bodily and individual impact, but which is not inherent to the individual. Identity is a continuous process of construction, where the language and stories (narratives) as generated by such activity is the key: “Stories tell us who we are and who we are not; stories tells us what we can do and what we cannot” (Carey & Russell, 2007., p 17). Language does not only carry meaning, but is the creation thereof.  Identity is perceived as a multiplicity of stories; a sort of mesh of narratives.

Through language we’re constantly positioning ourselves and each another in relation to existing cultural narratives, in which the stories of who we are are embedded.  Positions always offer limited discursive possibilities because some perspectives and actions will not be part of the preferred narratives which these positions offer.  Different positional possibilities thus imply different narrative possibilities and vice versa.

The stories of who we are (our identity narratives) are grounded in past experience, but they also define it.  Some narratives will be so flooded with events that almost any new experience will be assimilated into these narratives.  Some narratives are more dominant (or preferred) than others, and in some cases, individual narratives become so dominant and unilateral that the individual’s ability to navigate in new and diverse contexts is reduced.  In these cases the dominant/preferred narrative makes so few positional options available that knowledge and skills related to alternative, less dominant/preferred identity narratives are overshadowed and the individual’s options limited. The same problems can occur if the existing narratives, despite multiplicity and flexibility, prove to be too different from any new social context in which individuals are expected to participate. Problems always arise if there is too much conflict between the life which the individual has lived (his experiences) and his preferred narratives.  If this is the case, he will lack the opportunities for navigating and adapting.

There is no normativity in relation to the themes that should or should not be part of a useful identity; however, a distinction between negative and positive narrative themes (so-called identity conclusions) is made based on what has subjective value to the individual. Narrative multiplicity is essential, since this implies flexibility. Also, narrative validity, meaning that the narratives are consistent with the individual’s life experience, is important. Whether the narratives are valid is not rooted in the individual’s intrapsychic structures, but in the narrative practices which the individual participates in. The identity narratives which are constructed are thus not private and individual, but social products.  Identity is not created in a process of individuation and separation from others, but is co-constructed continuously in relationship with others.  In addition to being woven into each other’s stories, people also validate each other’s stories by being a witness to them, and this witnessing helps to “thicken” the stories and give them strength.

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