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Theory of Attachment and Detachment

-Maneela Sirisety

“Attachment and Detachment are the easily remembered antonym words for any person, but do you know these words hold strong meaning to our brain? That these words can make or break a person?”

We all know attachment is the common ground for love, and it is something with which a relationship grows more substantial and more protracted. Human or not, one can experience reliability when the relation is securely attached. And Psychology says that there is a possibility for one who is insecurely attached to experience instability in their relationship leading to detachment. And detachment is the phase where no one wants to be in.

Let’s put the Psychology part aside and start exploring the neuroscience part!

This MRI of a mother kissing her son adorned the internet two years back. However, it is important to note that what is shown in this image is not valid. The mother (Dr Rebecca Saxe) in this picture has set the record straight by herself. This MRI image represents the oxygen levels of the mother and son, not the oxytocin levels. One cannot measure oxytocin levels through MRI (at least now).

But why are we talking about oxytocin suddenly? How is it related to the concept of attachment?

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the hypothalamus that acts as a neurotransmitter. But did you know it plays a vital role in the formation of positively attached relationships?

A review study says that oxytocin helps form trust, empathy, positive relationship, memories, fidelity, positive communication, anxiety and stress reduction, and processing of bonding cues among partners. Another research says that oxytocin makes neurons in the nucleus accumbens fire rapidly, rendering the relationship rewarding and addictive.

Can you imagine this feel-good hormone level getting reduced day by day and hurting you physically? Well, it happens when one in a romantic relation experiences detachment as a breakup or heartbreak.

Research suggests that during detachment, changes are incurred in an individual’s physical and mental health. The stress hormone, cortisol, build up in large amounts, and the feel-good hormones - dopamine and oxytocin get decreased, resulting in the weakening of the immune system, sleeplessness, affecting critical thinking, and finally activates the area of the brain that operates on craving and addiction.

In the end, one can say that attachment or detachment affects your brain in such a way that it not only brings you well-being but also decreases your mental and physical health. Simply, it is your hormones making your neurotransmitters, and you feel what you are feeling!