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Attachment to God: Differentiating the Contributions of Fathers and Mothers Using the Experiences in Parental Relationships Scale

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Over the past few decades, research on attach-ment has investigated its development in infancy (Ainsworth, 1973; Ainsworth, Ble-har, Walters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969), transition to adult romantic relationships (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Simpson, 1990), and most recently, the relationship between attachment and issues of faith (Beck, 2006; Hart, Limke, & Budd, 2010; McDonald, Beck, Allison, & Norsworthy, 2005; TenElshof & Furrow, 2000). Research on attachment to God has suggested that relationships with primary caregivers are reenacted in an idea of the characteristics of God as well as the type of attachment relationship experienced with God. However, this new direction of research is lim-ited by the language used to investigate the con-structs of interest as well as a lack of differentiation of the contribution of attachment to fathers and mothers independently. Despite large variation in the designs of the stud-ies, researchers have agreed upon a number of posi-tive characteristics (e.g., "loving" and "protective") and negative characteristics (such as "remote" and "uninterested") used in describing images of God (Gorsuch, 1968; Spilka, Armatas & Nussbaum, 1964). Lawrence (1997) suggested that a positive image of God consists of eight characteristics: pres-ence, challenge, acceptance, benevolence, influence, providence, faith, and salience. Importantly, experi-ences with both parents as loving have been linked to a loving God image (Granqvist, Ivarsson, Broberg, & Hagekull, 2007). That is, as children begin to form an idea of "God," memories that were originally associated with primary caregivers (often involving both parents) are attributed to an image of God (Lawrence, 1997). In fact, these important relation-ships with parents may actually provide the necessary context for successful socialization into religion (Reinert & Edwards, 2009). Attachment to God
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Journal of Psychology and Theology
2011, Vol. 39, No. 2, 122-129
Copyright 2011 by Rosemead School of Psychology
Biola University, 0091-6471/410-730
122
O
ver the past few decades, research on attach-
ment has investigated its development in
infancy (Ainsworth, 1973; Ainsworth, Ble-
har, Walters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969), transition
to adult romantic relationships (Bartholomew &
Horowitz, 1991; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Simpson,
1990), and most recently, the relationship between
attachment and issues of faith (Beck, 2006; Hart,
Limke, & Budd, 2010; McDonald, Beck, Allison, &
Norsworthy, 2005; TenElshof & Furrow, 2000).
Research on attachment to God has suggested that
relationships with primary caregivers are reenacted
in an idea of the characteristics of God as well as the
type of attachment relationship experienced with
God. However, this new direction of research is lim-
ited by the language used to investigate the con-
structs of interest as well as a lack of differentiation
of the contribution of attachment to fathers and
mothers independently.
Image of God
Despite large variation in the designs of the stud-
ies, researchers have agreed upon a number of posi-
tive characteristics (e.g., “loving” and “protective”)
and negative characteristics (such as “remote” and
“uninterested”) used in describing images of God
(Gorsuch, 1968 ; Spilka, Armatas & Nussbaum,
1964). Lawrence (1997) suggested that a positive
image of God consists of eight characteristics: pres-
ence, challenge, acceptance, benevolence, influence,
providence, faith, and salience. Importantly, experi-
ences with both parents as loving have been linked to
a loving God image (Granqvist, Ivarsson, Broberg, &
Hagekull, 2007). That is, as children begin to form
an idea of “God,” memories that were originally
associated with primary caregivers (often involving
both parents) are attributed to an image of God
(Lawrence, 1997). In fact, these important relation-
ships with parents may actually provide the necessary
context for successful socialization into religion
(Reinert & Edwards, 2009).
Attachment to God
Although the conceptualization of God and a
relationship with God should be related, Bradshaw,
Ellison, and Marcum (2010) found that there was
only a small correlation between a loving image of
God and a healthy relationship with God, support-
ing the idea that these are separate constructs. In
fact, there is a small but growing body of literature
ATTACHMENT TO GOD: DIFFERENTIATING
THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF FATHERS AND
MOTHERS USING THE EXPERIENCES IN
PARENTAL RELATIONSHIPS SCALE
Research on attachment to God has suggested that
relationships with primary caregivers are reenacted
in the type of attachment relationship experienced
with God. However, this research is limited by the
language used to investigate the constructs of interest
as well as a lack of differentiation of the contribu-
tion of attachment to fathers and attachment to
mothers independently. Thus, the primary purpose
of the current study was to investigate the indepen-
dent contributions of attachment to mother, attach-
ment to father, and attachment to romantic partners
on attachment to God. In addition, the study exam-
ined the association between attachment to God and
spiritual well-being using a sample not chosen for
religious characteristics (and thus, more generaliz-
able). Attachment to fathers predicted attachment to
God. Moreover, attachment to God predicted both
religious and existential well-being.
ALICIA LIMKE AND PATRICK B. MAYFIELD
University of Central Oklahoma
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Alicia Limke at the Department of Psychology, University of Cen-
tral Oklahoma, 100 N. University Drive, Edmond, OK 73034. E-
mail: alimke@uco.edu.
LIMKE and MAYFIELD 123
that has worked to extend the theory of attachment
to individuals’ relationships with God, suggesting
that this type of intimate relationship meets the crite-
ria of attachments, incl uding proximity-seeking
behavior, a safe haven, and a secure base among a
variety of populations (e.g., Beck, 2006; Cicirelli,
2004; see Granqvist, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2010, for
a review). The ability to create a secure base in God
provides the foundation to explore issues of faith
and display tolerance to others with different reli-
gious views (Beck, 2006).
But how are attachment relationships with God
created? Kirkpatrick and Shaver (1990) proposed that
the correspondence model suggests that attachment
patterns with humans correspond to, or are reflected
in the attachment patterns in individuals’ experiences
of or relationships with God. The compensational
model, in contrast, proposes that individuals’ attach-
ment to God may not correspond to their attach-
ments to humans because God serves as a substitute
attachment figure (or secure base) for individuals
with insecure or unfulfilling human attachments. In
fact, perceived childhood attachment history with
parents predicts sudden and gradual religious conver-
sions or changes, such that individuals with secure
attachments to their parents report a more gradual
conversion whereas individuals with insecure attach-
ments report a more sudden one, supporting both
the correspondence and compensation models
(Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2004; Granqvist et al.,
2007; Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1990). However, models
of correspondence and compensation have also been
criticized in research addressing their usefulness due
to the limited way in which spirituality and religiosity
has been conceptualized and measured (Hall,
Fujikawa, Halcrow, Hill, & Delaney, 2009) and sup-
port for one model over the other is often weak or
mixed (e.g., Beck & McDonald, 2004).
Parental religiosity and spirituality predicts chil-
dren’s attachment to God as well (McDonald et al.,
2005). Secure attachments with parents have been
associated with perceptions of God as more loving,
less distant, and less controlling (Brokaw &
Edwards, 1994; Hall, Brokaw, Edwards & Pike,
1998) as well as more stable and emotionally close
(Hall & Edwards, 2002). In the same vein, insecure
romantic attachment predicts specific religious
change, such as new relationships with God and spe-
cific religious experiences (Kirkpatrick, 1997). How-
ever, attachment to God affects more than just con-
ceptualization of relationships with a deity. Beck and
McDonald (2004) found that attachment to God is
associated with spiritual (both religious and existen-
tial) well-being. Similarly, Hart and colleagues (2010)
found that attachment anxiety toward God (but not
avoidance) predicted faith development. Bradshaw
and colleagues (2010) found that individuals’ rela-
tionships with God are better predictors of psycho-
logical well-being than are other conventional indica-
tors of religious practice (such as frequency of prayer
or church attendance) and even individuals’ concep-
tualization of the characteristics of God (i.e., God
image). In fact, attachments to God predict psycho-
logical well-being even after controlling for individu-
als’ attachments to their primary caregivers (Miner,
2009). Similarly, research has suggested that styles of
attachment to God are associated with the use of
religious activities to cope with life experiences
(Cooper, Bruce, Harman, & Boccaccini, 2009).
Current Study
Clearly, attachment theory provides an important
framework for examining the relationships between
individuals and God. But several questions regarding
th e cre ation of the att ach ment repr ese nta tion
remain. First, McDonald and colleagues (2005)
found that emotionally cold home environments
were associated with avoidance of intimacy with
God, whereas overprotective, rigid, or authoritarian
homes predicted high levels of both avoidance of
intimacy with God and anxiety over lovability in a
relationship to God. However, because the discus-
sion of past relationships with parents does not uti-
lize “attachment language,” it is difficult to draw con-
clus ions re gardi ng whet her the se rela tionships
represent correspondence or compensation.
Second, McDonald and colleagues, like many
others (e.g., Granqvist et al., 2007; Lawrence, 1997;
Reinert & Edwards, 2009) did not differentiate
between the individual contributions of attachment
to fathers and attachment to mothers to this impor-
tant attachment relationship. (They did, however,
di stin gui sh the c ontribu tion s of mo ther s’ and
fathers’ spirituality, hypocrisy, care, and overprotec-
tion t o childrens atta chmen t to God.) In fact,
fathers’ and mothers’ contributions to children’s
attachment may be different because they involve dif-
ferent kinds of experiences in infancy and childhood
(Lamb, 1977a, 1977b). Specifically, fathers provide
sensitive support during exploratory play (fostering
secure exploration) whereas mothers contribute by
124 ATTACHMENT TO PARENTS, TO PARTNERS, AND TO GOD
providing comfort in times of distress (encouraging
proximity seeking; Grossman et al., 2002). Thus,
whereas mothers have received the majority of atten-
tion in attachment research, the inclusion of fathers’
independent contributions to attachment is impor-
tant because fathers’ sensitivity is responsible for
increasing children’s concentration, curiosity, and
mastery of new skills (see Bretherton, 2010, for a
review of research on attachment to fathers).
Finally, although attachment to God and attach-
ment in romantic relationships have been studied
(e.g., Beck & McDonald, 2004), they have not yet
been investigated in conjunction with attachment to
parents. Thus, the primary purpose of the current
study was to investigate the independent contribu-
tions of attachment to mother, attachment to father,
and attachment to romantic partners on attachment
to God. We expected that attachment to fathers
would contribute to attachment to God indepen-
dently of attachment to mothers or partners due to
the emphasis on fathers responsibility for children’s
exploration of new environments (including spiritual
ones) as well as the traditional male image of God
included in monotheistic religions (e.g., Christiani-
ty). In addition, the study examined the association
between attachment to God and spiritual well-being
using a sample not chosen for religious characteris-
tics (and thus, more generalizable).
METHOD
Participants
One hundred and seventy-three students at the
University of Central Oklahoma volunteered to par-
ticipate in a study entitled “Attitudes and Relation-
ships.” The undergraduates were between the ages
of 18 and 40 (M= 20.47, SD = 3.51). Of these 173
participants, 43.35% were male, 56.07% were
female, and 0.58% indicated a gender of
other/neither.” Of the 173, 63.58% reported that
they were White (non Hispanic), 12.71% were Black
or African American, 7.51% were Native American
or Alaskan Native, 0.58% were Native Hawaiian or
Pacific Islander, 5.78% were Hispanic or Latino/a,
5.20% were Asian, and 4.62% were self-categorized
as “Other.” Of the 173 participants, 59.54% lived
with either biological parents or adoptive parents
until the age of 18 (whereas 40.46% did not). Of the
participants, 80.92% reported that they were single,
never been married, not living with a significant
other; 11.56% reported that they were single, never
been married, living with a significant other; 1.16%
were divorced; 0.58% were separated; and 5.78%
were married. Moreover, of the 173 participants,
89.60% reported that they are exclusively heterosex-
ual/straight; 3.47% identified themselves as exclu-
sively homosexual/gay/lesbian; 4.05% reported that
they are bisexual; and 2.89% reported that none of
these accurately described their sexual orientation.
Of the 173 participants, 16.76% reported no reli-
gious affiliation; 0.00% reported a pagan affiliation;
2.32% reported a universal affiliation; 0.58% report-
ed an East Asian affiliation; 1.16% reported an Indian
affiliation; 0.00% reported a Judaism affiliation;
0.58% reported an Islam affiliation; 9.83% reported
a Christian-Catholic affiliation; 59.53% reported a
Christian-Protestant affiliation; 1.74% reported a
Chri stian -Nont rinit arian a ffili ation ; and 7.56%
reported an “other” religious affiliation.
Participants completed one online survey session
lasting approximately 60 minutes in which they com-
pleted measures of attachment to parents, to part-
ners, and to God, as well as measures of spiritual
well-being, and items not used for this study. In
exchange for study completion, participants received
one credit towards their research requirement for
their General Psychology courses.
Materials
Attachment to partners. Attachment to romantic
relationship partners was assessed using the Experi-
ences in Close Relationships scale (ECR; Brennan,
Clark, & Shaver, 1998). The ECR contains 36 ques-
tions measuring levels of attachment-related anxiety
(e.g., “I worry about being abandoned,” “I worry a
lot abo ut my r ela tio nsh ips ,” a nd “I w orr y t hat
romantic partners won’t care about me as much as I
care about them”) and attachment-related avoid-
ance (e.g., “I prefer not to show a partner how I feel
deep down,” “Just when my partner starts to get
close to me I find myself pulling away,” and “I get
uncomfortable when a romantic partner wants to be
very close”). Questions are rated on a 7-point scale
(1 = Strongly Disagree; 7 = Strongly Agree).
Scores reflect two continuous dimensions (attach-
ment anxiety and attachment avoidance), in which
lower scores reflect a more secure attachment and
higher scores reflect anxious or avoidant attach-
ment, but can also be transformed into a categorical
measure of attachment (i.e., either secure, fearful,
preoccupied, or dismissing). Brennan and colleagues
LIMKE and MAYFIELD 125
reported high internal consistency for the measure,
.94 for avoidance and .91 for anxiety.
Attachment to God. Participants also completed
the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck &
McDonald, 2004). The AGI contains 28 items mea-
suring avoidance of intimacy with God (e.g., “I pre-
fer not to depend too much on God” and “I am
uncomfortable allowing God to control every aspect
of my life”) and anxiety about abandonment by God
(e.g., “I fear God does not accept me when I do
wrong” and “I often feel angry with God for not
responding to me when I want”). Questions are
rated on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
(strongly agree). Beck and McDonald reported
high internal consistency for both subscales, αs > .80
across all samples.
Attachment to parents. Because the focus of the
study centers on the association between attachment
to parents, to partners, and to God, it is important
that the operational definitions for the variables are
consistent. To date, no self-report surveys assessing
retrospective accounts of parental attachment pro-
vide for the use of the two continuous dimensions
reported in the adult (romantic) attachment litera-
ture: attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety.
Thus, we began by closely following the wording of
the Experiences in Close Relationships scale (cf.
Brennan et al., 1998). Including only appropriately-
worded modified items, we were able to use 22
items (11 anxiety; 11 avoidance) to be rated on a 7-
point Likert scale (1 = disagree strongly; 4 = neu-
tral/mixed; 7 = agree strongly). Using these 22
items, versions for both fathers and mothers were
created (see Appendix for full version of the father
scale). Internal consistency was high for all four sub-
scales, αs > .84.
Spiritual well-being. To replicate the effects
observed by Beck and McDonald (2004), we also
included the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWS;
Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). The SWS includes two
10-item subscales assessing religious well-being (e.g.,
“I have a personally meaningful relationship with
God” and “I feel most fulfilled when I am in close
communion with God”) and existential well-being
(e.g., “I feel good about my future” and “I feel very
fulfilled and satisfied with life”) as well as a total spir-
itual well-being score. Participants responded to
each item on a 6-point Likert scale (1 = strongly
agree;6=strongly disagree). Bufford, Paloutzian,
and Ellison (1991) reported good internal consisten-
cy, ranging from .78 to .94 across seven samples.
Demographic and background information. Partici-
pants also c ompleted a demo graphic and bac k-
ground questionnaire assessing gender, age, ethnicity,
religious background/affiliation, and marital status.
RESULTS
Attachment to partners, to parents, and to God.
The primary goal of the present study was to extend
the findings of Beck and McDonald (2004) to
include measures of parental attachment. Due to the
illogical nature of including non-believers in an analy-
sis of attachment to God, individuals identifying
themselves as atheist or agnostic were excluded from
analyses (N= 29). Furthermore, religious affiliations
with small sample sizes (i.e., Universal, East Asian,
Indian, Islam, Other, and Christian-Nontriniatiran)
were also excluded (N= 24). Thus, only individuals
identifying themselves as “Christian” were included
in analyses (N= 120).
Table 1 provides the zero-order correlations of the
measures of attachment to partners, to parents, and
to God. Interestingly, both avoidance (r= .21) and
anxiety (r= .21) in attachment to mothers are related
to a nxiet y in att a chme nt to Go d . In con tras t ,
although both avoidance (r= .22) and anxiety (r=
.29) in attachment to fathers are related to anxiety in
attachment to God, avoidance (r= .24) in attachment
to fathers is also related to avoidance in attachment
to God. This suggests that the role of mothers and
fathers in developing attachment to God may be dif-
ferent. For example, it is possible that both inconsis-
tency and distance by mothers results in a general
worry about God’s provision of care, whereas incon-
sistency and distance by fathers develops into a more
specific reflection of the nature of God.
Furthermore, the relationship between attach-
ment avoidance towards fathers and mothers (r=
.30) and attachment anxiety towards fathers and
mothers (r= .55) sheds light on the controversy
regarding the consistency of attachment across rela-
tionship partners (cf. Collins & Read, 1990; Cook,
2000; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Horppu & Ikonen-Vari-
la, 2001; La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci,
2000). That is, although there is a substantial correla-
tion between attachment to fathers and mothers, this
relationship is not perfect, leaving plenty of variability
for attachment relationships between parents.
A hierarchical multiple regression analysis was
used to examine the relationship between attachment
to mothers, attachment to fathers, attachment to
126 ATTACHMENT TO PARENTS, TO PARTNERS, AND TO GOD
partners, and attachment to God. Because the prima-
ry purpose of this study was to examine the contribu-
tions of mothers and fathers to attachment to God,
attachment avoidance towards mothers, attachment
anxiety towards mothers, attachment avoidance
towards fathers, and attachment anxiety towards
fathers were entered on the first step. Attachment
avoidance towards partners and attachment anxiety
towards partners were entered on the second step.
Attachment avoidance towards fathers predicted
attachment avoidance towards God, β= .24, t(113) =
2.24, p= .03, such that the higher the attachment
avoidance towards fathers, the higher the attachment
avoidance towards God. Similarly, attachment anxi-
ety towards fathers predicted attachment anxiety
towards God, β= .23, t(113) = 1.97, p= .05, such that
the higher the attachment anxiety towards fathers,
the higher the attachment anxiety towards God.
These results suggest that attachment to God may
represent a correspondence rather than compensa-
tion because attachment to God is similar to (instead
of opposite from) attachment to fathers. No other
effects were found.
Attachment to God and spiritual well-being. A sec-
ondary goal of this study was to examine the relation-
ship between attachment to God and spiritual well-
being in a more generalized sample (not chosen for
religious characteristics or selected from a religious
university). Using all participants (N= 173), zero-
order correlations were obtained for measures of spir-
itual well-being and attachment to God (see Table 2).
The correlations supported the relationships noted by
Beck and McDonald (2004), such that the higher the
attachment anxiety or avoidance toward God, the
lower the religious and existential spiritual well-being.
Next, a multiple regression was used to determine the
unique contributions of attachment anxiety and avoid-
ance on spiritual well-being.
Attachment avoidance towards God predicted reli-
gious well-being, β= .69, t(170) = 10.80, p= .000, and
existential well-being, β= .31, t(170) = 4.00, p= .000,
such that the hi ghe r the attachment avo ida nce
towards God, the lower the religious and existential
well-being. In addition, attachment anxiety towards
God predicted religious well-being, β= .15, t(170) =
2.40, p= .02, and existential well-being, β= .36, t(170)
= 4.52, p= .000, such that the higher the attachment
anxiety towards God, the lower the religious and exis-
tential well-being.
DISCUSSION
The results of the present study extend the work of
previous researchers on the link between attachment
to partners, to parents, and to God. First, this study
provides strong support for the correspondence the-
ory of attachment to God; that is, attachment anxiety
towards God was predicted by attachment anxiety in
relationships with fathers whereas attachment avoid-
ance towards God was predicted by attachment avoid-
ance in relationship with fathers.
Second, the results of this study suggest that
although previous researchers have not differentiated
the contributions of attachment to fathers and moth-
ers to this important attachment relationship, they
TABLE 1
Correlations between Measures of Attachment to Parents, to Partners, and to God
Variable 1 23 45 67
1. Mother Avoidant
2. Mother Anxious .50***
3. Father Avoidant .30*** .29**
4. Father Anxious .23** .55*** .46***
5. Partner Avoidant .12 .27** .06 .21*
6. Partner Anxious .27** .29** .30** .27** .37***
7. God Avoidant .08 .08 .24** .18 .20* .21*
8. God Anxious .21* .21* .22* .29** .19* .30** .16
Note. N = 120.
*p< .05. **p< .01. ***p< .001.
LIMKE and MAYFIELD 127
clearly have different effects. Specifically, attachment
to fathers (but not mothers) predicts attachment to
God. Although this finding is somewhat new in the lit-
erature and may contradict traditional attachment the-
ory predictions (i.e., those suggesting that relation-
ships with mothers may be more important than
relationships with fathers), it is certainly supported by
the view held by Judeo-Christians that God is a “heav-
enly father” and extends recent research in the field of
attachment emphasizing the important role of fathers
on the development of attachment relationships (e.g.,
Bretherton, 2010; Grossman et al., 2002; Grossman,
Grossman, Kindler, & Zimmerman, 2008).
Finally, this study provides support to research
examining the link between attachment to God and
spirituality. Previous research has tended to use samples
from religious universities (e.g., Beck & McDonald,
2004; Hall et al., 2009; Hart et al., 2010) or from reli-
gious communities (e.g., Cassiba, Granqvist, Costanti-
ni, & Gatto, 2008). Findings from this study suggest
that the link between attachment to God and spiritual
well-being is strong, even in a more generalizable sam-
ple of individuals. Specifically, attachment avoidance as
well as attachment anxiety towards God predicts both
religious and existential well-being, such that as avoid-
ance and anxiety increases, well-being decreases.
Future Directions
Although this study provides clarification regard-
ing the relationship between attachment to parents
and to God, it is not without limitations. Although
this study was conducted at a non-religious university,
the overwhelming majority of participants (71.10%)
reported a “Christian” religious affiliation, although
almost one-third (31.43%) reported attending no reli-
gious services within a given week (Mdn = 1.00).
However, it is possible that this sample may still be
overly religious,” thus limiting the generalizability of
the findings. This study also did not account for other
potentially important factors, such as current relation-
ships with parents. It is possible that these current
relationships affect the availability of information
regarding childhood relationships with them. Finally,
the causal connection between attachment to parents
and attachment to God is merely speculative.
Future research is needed to determine the rela-
tionship between attachment to parents and attach-
ment to God across the lifespan. For example, it
would be interesting to investigate changes within
each of these relationships when the participants
become parents themselves. Future research should
also address the use of these attachment relationships
in a clinical setting. For example, Lawrence (1997)
suggested that obtaining information regarding
clients’ images of God may be useful in a counseling
setting. Thus, it is possible that obtaining information
regarding attachment to parents may be useful in pro-
viding counseling regarding issues of faith. Moreover,
attachment to God may be a useful language to use
with clients to discuss a wealth of spiritual and psycho-
logical outcomes.
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TABLE 2
Correlations between Measures of Spiritual Well-being and Attachment to God
Variable 123
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LIMKE and MAYFIELD 129
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AUTHORS
LIMKE, ALICIA. Address: Department of Psychology, University
of Central Oklahoma, 100 N. University Drive, Edmond , OK
73034. Email: alimke@uco.edu. Title: Assistant Professor in the
Department of Psychology, University of Central Oklahoma, and
Research Coordinator, Graduate Programs in Counseling, South-
ern Nazarene University. Degrees: Ph.D. & M.S., University of
Oklahoma. B.S., Southern Nazarene University. Areas of inter-
est/specialization: Social/personality psychology, particularly
self-concept and relationship processes.
MAYFIELD, PATRICK, B. Address: Department of Psychology,
University of Ce nt ra l Ok la ho ma , 100 N. Un iversity Driv e,
Edmond, OK 73034. Email: pmayfield@uco.edu. Title: Graduate
Research Assistant in the Department of Psychology, University of
Central Oklahoma. Degree: B.A., University of Central Okla-
homa. Areas of interest/specialization: Social/personality psy-
chology, particularly regarding relationship (both religious and
romantic) processes.
APPENDIX
Experiences in Parental Relationships Scale – Father Version
Instructions: This questionnaire lists various attitudes and behaviors of fathers. As you remember your father in your first 16
years, respond to each statement by indicating how much you agree or disagree with it. Use the following rating scale:
Disagree strongly Neutral/mixed Agree strongly
12 3 4 5 6 7
1. I preferred not to show my father how I felt deep down.
2. I worried about being abandoned by my father.
3. I was very comfortable being close to my father.*
4. I worried a lot about my relationship with my father.
5. Just when my father started to get close to me, I found myself pulling away.
6. I worried that my father did not care as much about me as I cared about him.
7. I did not feel comfortable opening up to my father.
8. I worried a fair amount about losing my father.
9. I felt comfortable sharing my private thoughts and feelings with my father.*
10. I needed a lot of reassurance that I am loved by my father.
11. I found it relatively easy to get close to my father.*
12. If I couldn’t get my father to show interest in me, I got upset or angry.
13. I found it difficult to allow myself to depend on my father.
14. I got frustrated if my father was not available when I need him.
15. I preferred not to be too close to my father.
16. I found that my father did not want to get as close as I would have liked.
17. I usually discussed my problems and concerns with my father.*
18. When my father disapproved of me, I felt really badly about myself.
19. I felt comfortable depending on my father.*
20. I got frustrated when my father was not around as much as I would have liked.
21. I did not mind asking my father for comfort, advice, or help.*
22. I resented it when my father spent time away from me.
Note. *Item is reverse scored.
... This early study was the first to suggest that God may serve as a replacement attachment figure, thus supporting what would later become the compensational ATG theory (Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1990). The compensational model suggests that God can serve as a substitute attachment figure for those with insecure human attachments, thus ATG will not correspond to attachment in human relationships (Kirkpatrick, 1992;Limke & Mayfield, 2011). Alternatively, the correspondence model proposes that ATG will parallel an individual's attachment patterns in human relationships (Kirkpatrick, 1992;Limke & Mayfield, 2011). ...
... The compensational model suggests that God can serve as a substitute attachment figure for those with insecure human attachments, thus ATG will not correspond to attachment in human relationships (Kirkpatrick, 1992;Limke & Mayfield, 2011). Alternatively, the correspondence model proposes that ATG will parallel an individual's attachment patterns in human relationships (Kirkpatrick, 1992;Limke & Mayfield, 2011). However, there have been mixed results regarding the compensational and correspondence ATG theories. ...
... For example, McDonald et al. (2005) found that parent spirituality and bonding were positively correlated with ATG, supporting the correspondence model. The research by Limke and Mayfield (2011) also supported the correspondence model by revealing that anxious attachment to fathers predicted anxious ATG, and avoidant attachment to fathers predicted avoidant ATG. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Recent moral psychology research has indicated that attachment to God accounts for variability among the moral foundations beyond what is explained by adult attachment to romantic partners and best friends (Njus & Okerstrom, 2016). However, research has not yet explored whether attachment to God also predicts variability beyond adult attachment to parents. This study sought to fill the gap in literature by exploring whether anxious and avoidant attachment to God predicts scores on the five moral foundations beyond adult attachment to mother and father figures when also controlling for gender. The target population was adult Christians residing in the United States, and 326 participants completed an online survey containing measures of parental attachment, Christian spirituality, attachment to God, and moral foundations. Results from a series of hierarchical multiple regressions indicated that avoidant attachment to God significantly predicted scores on Fairness/Reciprocity and Purity/Sanctity. Though these findings were not entirely consistent with Njus and Okerstrom (2016), the results similarly suggest that insecure attachment styles contribute to distinct patterns of moral foundations.
... In addition, he argued that God functions as a secure base and "felt security" for people. Attachment to God has been receiving more research attention, with studies suggesting that for many people God does serve as a safe haven and a secure base (Beck 2006;Limke and Mayfield 2011). For adults lacking a significant other or friend, attachment to a spiritual figure, like God, may be particularly important. ...
... Though compared to childhood attachment to caregivers there is less research on the association between attachment to God and specific mental health issues, there are several studies that show that secure attachment to God is associated with positive affect and religious well-being (Beck and McDonald 2004;Limke and Mayfield 2011;Rowatt and Kirkpatrick 2002). Miner (2009) found that attachment to God remains associated with psychological well-being after controlling for caregiver attachment. ...
Article
Full-text available
Research has expanded the notion of attachment to caregivers to other figures such as God, and there is now literature supporting positive effects of attachment to God with various psychosocial outcomes. The dimensions of attachment to God—anxiety and avoidance—reflect varying ways that people see God as supportive and reliable versus unsupportive and inconsistent. As a stable aspect of the individual, attachment to God results in recurring patterns of interpersonal behavior that can maintain and support self-control or disrupt it. No studies have examined the moderating effect of attachment to God on the relationship between self-control and negative social exchanges. To fill this gap, a sample of 1049 adults across the United States completed measures on attachment to God, self-control, and interpersonal outcomes. First, results showed that insecure attachment to God is associated with a hostile-dominant interpersonal style. Second, it was found that the highest level of negative social exchanges occurred in individuals low in self-control and high in attachment avoidance and anxiety. Results are discussed in terms of self-regulation, stress exposure, and situation selection. An implication of the current study is that secure attachment to God may foster less stress exposure by influencing a person’s situation selection.
... In addition, many religious traditions and mystics also define God's relationship with the people in the form human love, where God is perceived as someone loving, comforting, caring, and protecting the devotees (Cicirelli, 2004;Granqvist, 1998;Granqvist et al., 2010;Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2016;Kirkpatrick, 1998). All these devotees' descriptions of God have a strong resemblance to the qualities of an earthly attachment figure (Limke & Mayfield, 2011). Kirkpatrick and Shaver (1990) proposed that one can understand the devotees' relationship with God from the attachment theory perspective. ...
Article
This narrative analysis was aimed at exploring the attachment to God narratives of 28 middle-aged Roman Catholic Religious priests rendering their service in various settings in South India. The study found that majority of the Roman Catholic priests had developed representations of a secure attachment to God. Twenty-six priests had developed representations of a secure attachment to God, and two priests of an insecure attachment to God. The Majority of the Roman Catholic priests had developed representations of a secure attachment to more than one spiritual attachment figures. Along with God, most priests had also developed representations of a secure attachment to the Virgin Mary. All the major themes related to attachment to God were found in the narratives of the Roman Catholic Priests.
... 127). 4 Occorre dire che Limke & Mayfield (2011), che citiamo subito dopo, sono critici rispetto al modo e ai risultati della ricerca di McDonald e colleghi; infatti: «because the discussion of past relationships with parents does not utilize "attachment language", it is difficult to draw conclusions regarding whether these relationships represent correspondence or compensation» (Limke & Mayfield, 2011, pag. 123). ...
Article
Title: Attachment to God? An empirical research on a sample of priests from Veneto Abstract: Attachment theory constitutes the theoretical background to the present article and the empirical research presented here has an exploratory character: it intends mainly to test the frequency with which the correspondence hypothesis and the compensation hypothesis (Granqvist, 1998; Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1990) occur in the study of attachment to God on a very particular sample of convenience, since it is made up exclusively of secular (Catholic) priests (N = 147; mean age = 34.9; DS = 6.16) from the dioceses of Veneto (North-East Italy). According to the correspondence hypothesis, which we expect to verify in a percentage between 60% and 70% of the cases, the attachment to God presents the same style of attachment to the main caregiver; on the other hand, according to the compensation hypothesis, an insecure style of attachment to the caregiver is compensated by a secure style of attachment to God (expected percentage between 30% and 40% of cases). The results substantially confirm the correspondence hypothesis, while the compensation hypothesis is only partially confirmed. In fact, there is a considerable percentage of cases that we will call “decompensation” (secure attachment with the caregiver and insecure with God): a phenomenon that has so far not been considered and that deserves reflection.
Article
Full-text available
The farming communities in the Christiana district with a population of close to 21 000 residents struggled with issues including poverty, unemployment, financial problems, alcoholism, occultism and Satanism and family issues such as father absence, fatherlessness and single parenting. An intervention that included training and equipping of fathers, who were farm workers from the local faith community, was necessary and crucial. Farm workers (faith communities) responded to the need for a biblical fatherhood programme. Human fatherhood should be recognised and given serious consideration because it gave an anticipation of who God the Father is. If human fatherhood did not exist, then all truth and knowledge about God the Father would be void and insignificant. Fatherhood today is an element of broken families and perhaps the most threatened element in the world. The aim of this article was to lessen the social issue of father absence through the implementation of the Biblical Fatherhood Programme. The programme has a biblical nature to solve social ills within communities. The programme was developed from a practical-theological study on fatherhood, with the primary reason to train and equip participants with fatherhood knowledge. This article presents a reflective and community engagement strategy, based on the author’s reflection of items that arose when a biblical fatherhood programme was presented to farm workers in the Christiana district of South Africa. Reflection as a methodology enabled researchers and practitioners to theorise from their own practice, improving and developing their work. Reflection was a turning back onto ‘a self’ where the researcher was the observer of the scenario. Reflection was also a significant and mental activity for researchers to use in their work with participants. The results and this article presented the reflective, rather than empirical findings of the programme implementation. The training intervention was presented in a narrative form and based on research about the essence of fatherhood. This was conceptualised from biblical truth and perspective. Participants showed immense interest in the programme and the Bible. Their theological views concerning the Bible for answers were crucial to their problems and situations. Participants’ spiritual life was pivotal to enjoy healthy relationships with God. Contribution: The programme contributed monumentally to the lives of participants. It was impossible for participants to live their lives without the Bible. The Bible is not just an authoritative source of teaching, but it speaks of human fatherhood and serves as a guideline to enunciate the care of God the Father.
Article
Full-text available
This article provides a reflective discussion of and narrative approach to incarcerated fathers based on the attendees of a Fatherhood Faith-Based Values Intervention programme at the Potchefstroom Remand Detention Facility. It is important to note that one-third of South African inmates are between the ages of 18 and 25 years – hence the reason why the majority of intervention and community engagement programmes at correctional services take place amongst the youth age group. The Department of Correctional Services reported in 2011 that South Africa had 159 265 incarcerated inmates at the time, of whom 110 905 were sentenced offenders and 48 360 were awaiting trial. In 2013, the World Incarcerated Brief reported that South Africa had the largest incarcerated population in Africa and the ninth largest in the world. Seventeen-year-olds comprised 53 000 of this number and were guilty of serious crimes. These numbers increased tremendously over the years. According to the former South African Minister of Correctional Services, Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, in 2013, 30% of inmates were young black men. He also indicated that, although 23 000 inmates were being released each year, 25 000 were introduced into the correctional services system. South Africa currently has overcrowded places of incarceration even though the President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, granted special remission to 14 647 offenders in 2019. Incarcerated fathers are traumatised and affected by these places of captivity, even when they are on parole or released from detention. The effect of incarceration is a serious concern in the South African landscape and challenge to the researcher who studies the fatherhood phenomenon and the dilemma of father absence.
Article
A wealth of research links both adult attachment and God attachment to psychological well-being. The purpose of the studies presented here was to examine whether God attachment is uniquely related to well-being after controlling for adult attachment. In study 1, utilizing an undergraduate sample, God attachment anxiety was negatively related to self-esteem and positively associated with depression after controlling for adult attachment. Studies 2 and 3 used online samples. Study 2 found that God attachment anxiety was positively related to depression and both God attachment anxiety and avoidance were negatively associated with self-esteem after controlling for adult attachment. Study 3 examined four different measures of well-being. Controlling for adult attachment, both God attachment anxiety and avoidance were negatively related to psychological flourishing, positive experience, and life satisfaction, and God attachment anxiety was positively related to generalized anxiety. Studies 2 and 3 also revealed that theists securely attached to God were higher on every measure of well-being than were atheists, agnostics, and theists insecurely attached to God. Results are discussed in the context of resilience – the notion that secure attachment, in this case to God, promotes a psychological hardiness that helps in dealing with life stressors.
Article
Research at the nexus of attachment theory and religion has generally been constrained both by data limitations and by a view of attachment style as fixed early in life. I use three waves of data to test key hypotheses from this literature in new ways. Closeness to mother and closeness to father serve as proxies for attachment to parents and closeness to God serves as a proxy for attachment to God. The correspondence hypothesis predicts that people who feel closer to their parents feel closer to God, the compensation hypothesis predicts that people lacking a parent feel closer to God, and the socialized correspondence hypothesis predicts that people with nonreligious parents will feel less close to God if they feel closer to their parents. I find strong evidence in favor of the correspondence hypothesis, but I find no evidence in favor of the compensation hypothesis or the socialized correspondence hypothesis.
Article
Context: Results of meta-analyses show weak associations between religiosity and well-being, but are based on divergent definitions of religiosity. Objective: The aim of this meta-analysis was to examine the magnitude of the associations between God representations and aspects of psychological functioning. Based on object-relations and attachment theory, the study discerns six dimensions of God representations: Two positive affective God representations, three negative affective God representations, and God control. Associations with well-being and distress and with self-concept, relationships with others and neuroticism were examined. Methods: The meta-analysis was based on 123 samples out of 112 primary studies with 348 effect sizes from in total 29,963 adolescent and adult participants, with a vast majority adherent of a theistic religion. Results: The analyses, based on the random-effects model, yielded mostly medium effect sizes (r = .25 to r = .30) for the associations of positive God representations with well-being, and for the associations of two out of three negative God representations with distress. Associations of God representations with self-concept, relationships with others and neuroticism were of the same magnitude. Various moderator variables could not explain the relatively high amount of heterogeneity. The authors found no indications of publication bias. Conclusion: The observed effect sizes are significantly stronger than those generally found in meta-analyses of associations between religiousness and well-being/mental health. Results demonstrate the importance of focusing on God representations instead of on behavioral or rather global aspects of religiosity. Several implications with respect to assessment, clinical practice, and future research are discussed.
Article
The present article reports the development and factor analyses of a new, theoretically-based measure of spiritual maturity viewed from a Judeo-Christian perspective and designed for clinical use by pastoral counselors and psychotherapists, as well as researchers. The Spiritual Assessment Inventory (SAI) is based on a model of spiritual maturity that integrates relational maturity from an object relations perspective and experiential God-awareness based on New Testament teaching and contemplative spirituality principles. A pool of items was developed to measure two hypothesized dimensions of spiritual maturity: awareness of God and quality of relationship with God. Two factor analytic construct validity studies were conducted. Based on the first study, the SAI was revised and expanded. In the second study, five factors were identified: Awareness, Instability, Grandiosity, Realistic Acceptance, and Defensiveness/Disappointment. The results of the factor analyses and correlations of the factors with the Bell Object Relations Inventory support the underlying theory and validity of the SAI and its potential usefulness for clinical assessment and research.
Article
Previous research on attachment relationships suggests that early parental interactions generate internalized models of self and others-models which are carried forward in later relationships. In order to investigate the relationships between secure attachment styles and their collective influence on spiritual maturity, a survey of 216 seminary students was conducted using the Parental Bonding Instrument, Adult Attachment Scale, and the Faith Maturity Index. Secure adult attachment styles were predicted to relate positively with spiritual maturity. Findings of the study suggest that adult measures of secure attachment styles are correlated with faith maturity. Measures of parental bonding evidenced minimal associations with adult attachment styles and were weaker correlates of faith maturity. Secure adult attachment was a stronger predictor of faith maturity when compared to measures of parental bonding. Implications are offered for religious training institutions, the church, and the community.
Article
This study empirically tested the relationship of God image to level of object relations development in a Christian sample. Ninety-two undergraduate students from a religiously homogeneous population were tested with three measures of God image and three measures of object relations development. It was hypothesized that level of object relations development would show a significant positive correlation with images of God as loving and benevolent and a significant negative correlation with images of God as wrathful, controlling, and irrelevant. Scores on each of the God image instruments were correlated with scores on each of the measures of object relations development. The objective measure of object relations, the Ego Function Assessment Questionnaire-Revised (EFAQ-R), correlated significantly with all three measures of God image in the directions hypothesized. The two projective measures of object relations, the Rorschach and the Comprehensive Object Relations Profile (CORP), showed only a few significant correlations with God image scales. The strongest finding of this study was the consistent, positive correlation of multiple measures of loving God images with level of object relations development on the EFAQ-R.
Article
This study was an attempt to determine if God might provide a secure base for theological exploration. It was predicted that those displaying secure attachment with God would be more willing to "explore" their theological "world." Participants were 117 undergraduate students who completed measures of attachment to God, Quest religious motives, and Christian orthodoxy. Overall, the study supported the experimental predictions. Specifically, the participants in the study who saw God as a "Secure Base" were more engaged in theological exploration and were more tolerant of Christian faiths different from their own. These same subjects also reported more peace and less distress during their spiritual journey. Yet, despite their exploration, these participants fully embraced the core doctrines of Christianity. Overall, these results suggest that the attachment paradigm might significantly illuminate research involving religious maturity, apostasy, and religious intolerance.
Article
This article empirically investigates two alternative, competing hypotheses regarding human attachment patterns and attachment patterns with respect to people's spiritual experiences of relationship with God. The correspondence model posits that attachment patterns with humans correspond to, or are reflected in attachment patterns in individuals' experiences of God. The compensation model, in contrast proposes that attachment patterns with humans do not correspond to God attachment patterns presumably because God functions as a substitute attachment figure for those with insecure human attachments. Overall, the evidence has been somewhat mixed, with some findings supporting correspondence and some supporting compensation. It is argued here that this is due to limitations of the conceptual models, more specifically, lack of clarity regarding the compensation model, and the limited way in which spirituality and religiousness has been conceptualized and measured. We propose a conceptual distinction between implicit spiritual functioning and explicit spiritual functioning, which reflect two separate ways of knowing and processing emotional information: explicit knowledge and implicit relational knowledge (Stern et al., 1998). Based on this distinction, we propose a conceptual model arguing that correspondence operates at implicit levels of spiritual experience, and that human attachment patterns are not associated with explicit spiritual functioning. Results overall provided strong support for this model.
Article
The impact of religion and spirituality on psychological adjustment is a continuing area of concern. This preliminary study attempted to examine the effects of religious orientation, retrospective accounts of child-parent attachment and current accounts of attachment to God on trait anxiety and existential well being, based on questionnaire responses of a sample of 116 adults from Sydney, Australia. Small, significant effects of attachment to God on the prediction of adjustment were found above the effects of child-parent attachments. Intrinsic religious orientation mediated the relationship between attachment to God and adjustment. In addition, groups were formed according to correspondence and compensation routes to secure religious attachment. Results gave preliminary support to a differentiation, rather than a surrogacy, model of compensation. Further work to examine the process whereby attachment to God does or does not compensate for insecure childparent attachment is needed.
Article
The Attachment to God Inventory (AGI) and Religious Coping Activities Scale (RCAS) were given to 159 church-going adults. A median split using AGI Avoidance and Anxiety scales divided participants into Secure (24.46%), Dismissing (20.14%), Preoccupied (25.18%), and Fearful (30.22%) styles. These four groups were analyzed in relation to the six scales of the RCAS. Results indicated that Secure and Preoccupied used more Christian activities and ideas in coping. Secure also scored higher on religious avoidance, turning to religion to avoid problems. Dismissing focused more on good works and also avoided any sense of pleading. Fearful showed greater anger and doubt toward God. The only scale that failed to show a difference was the scale which represents the notion of using the church and pastor as a means of support. One can see that religious adults have differing attachment styles and vary in their use of religion to cope with life experiences.
Article
This article explores the possibility that romantic love is an attachment process--a biosocial process by which affectional bonds are formed between adult lovers, just as affectional bonds are formed earlier in life between human infants and their parents. Key components of attachment theory, developed by Bowlby, Ainsworth, and others to explain the development of affectional bonds in infancy, were translated into terms appropriate to adult romantic love. The translation centered on the three major styles of attachment in infancy--secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent--and on the notion that continuity of relationship style is due in part to mental models (Bowlby's "inner working models") of self and social life. These models, and hence a person's attachment style, are seen as determined in part by childhood relationships with parents. Two questionnaire studies indicated that relative prevalence of the three attachment styles is roughly the same in adulthood as in infancy, the three kinds of adults differ predictably in the way they experience romantic love, and attachment style is related in theoretically meaningful ways to mental models of self and social relationships and to relationship experiences with parents. Implications for theories of romantic love are discussed, as are measurement problems and other issues related to future tests of the attachment perspective.