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Attachment to God: Its impact on the psychological wellbeing of persons with religious vocation

Dissertation
Author: Innocent F. Okozi
Abstract:
This study focused on the expansion of attachment theory to the spiritual perspective of God as an attachment figure. It examined how attachment to God could be associated with psychological wellbeing in a sample of 47 male students in Roman Catholic seminaries preparing to become priests or religious. Attachment to God was examined under two dimensions of the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004)--namely, the avoidance of an intimate relationship with God and anxiety over being abandoned by God. The two dimensions were further dichotomized into four styles of attachment to God: secure, preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. Psychological wellbeing was measured with the Ryff Psychological Wellbeing Scale (PWBS; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keys, 1995) under six dimensions: autonomy, self-acceptance, positive relations to others, environmental mastery, personal growth, and purpose in life. The findings of this research study showed a strong association between attachment to God and psychological wellbeing. The results also showed that the secure attachment style was the best predictor of attachment to God, as predicted. However, the findings did not support the hypothesis that there is a relationship between attachment to God (measured by the AGI) and adult attachment relationship (measured by the Relationship Scale Questionnaire; Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994).

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ABSTRACT iii DEDICATION iv LIST OF TABLES vii LIST OF FIGURES viii CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Introduction 1 Background of the Problem 2 Statement of the Problem 4 Significance of the Study 6 Research Questions 8 Research Hypotheses 9 Definition of Terms 10 Limitations of the Study 12 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE Attachment Theory 15 Models of Attachment 19 God as an Attachment Figure 23 Attachment to God and Dependency 34 Attachment to God and Person Variables 36 Cultural Perspective on Attachment 38 Attachment to God and Spiritual Coping 39 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY Method and Procedure 41 Measures 41 Statistical Design and Analyses 46 Hypothesis Tests 46 Power Analysis 48 CHAPTER 4 RESULTS Demographic Characteristics 49 Data Screening 50 Descriptive Statistics for Primary Variables 51 Tests of Hypotheses 54

vi CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION Implications of the Findings 61 Limitations of the Present Study 69 Conclusions and Recommendations for Future Research 69 References 76 APPENDICES Appendix A. Demographic Information 87 Appendix B. Attachment to God Inventory 89

vii LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1. Demographic Characteristics 50 2. Descriptive Statistics 52 3. Correlation Matrix for Scores on the AGI With Other Measures & Covariates 53 4. Multiple Regression Predicting Psychological Wellbeing From Attachment to God 55 5. Tukey HSD Comparison for Attachment Styles 59 6. Tukey HSD Comparison for Attachment Style Prediction of Psychological Wellbeing 60

LIST OF FIGURES Figure Page 1. Model of Attachment to God 22

1 CHAPTER 1 Introduction The Catholic Church is faced with a decline in the number of young adults who commit themselves to the vocation to the priesthood or religious life (McKittrick, 2008). The factors to which this decline has been attributed include a reduction in family size, the secularization of American society (with emphasis on the values of freedom, individuality, and personal choice), and the clergy child sexual abuse crisis (McKittrick, 2008). The lack of religious involvement of caregivers and young adults also accounts for the lack of interest in religious activities, leading to many empty churches. Due to the decline in the number of priests, male religious, and practicing Catholics, many imposing former churches, convents, and monasteries have been sold and transformed into modern apartments or restaurants. It is worth noting that part of the reason for the decline in the number of priests and religious or for their departure from the Catholic Church is a desire for romantic relationships (Arraj, 2008; Cordaro, 2003; Kippley, 2008; Severson, 2002). This implies that those priests and religious who left probably experienced not only an attachment to God, but also an attachment to another adult with whom they wanted to build an intimate relationship. Some of the priests and male religious who left the priesthood reported that their psychological wellbeing was affected before and a few months after they left (Kippley, 2008). The experiences of these priests and religious who left seem to suggest that conflictual psychological needs for attachment, if not resolved, affect these men's psychological development and wellbeing, and ultimately affect their vocation to the

2 priesthood or religious life. If attachment to God were better understood and properly nurtured, then the priesthood and religious life might be more attractive to young people. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of attachment to God on the psychological wellbeing of persons with vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. There are different models of attachment relationship, but what was specifically measured in this study was the quad model of attachment relationships (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994). The quad model of attachment to God mirrors developmental attachment theory and includes the secure, preoccupied, fearful, and dismissing attachment styles. The goal of this study was to examine how attachment to God is related to the attachment relationship between caregiver and child as well as to identify the style of attachment to God that may contribute to the psychological wellbeing of persons who have chosen the vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. Background of the Problem Bowlby's (1969) attachment theory on the child-caregiver relational bond has generated a large body of literature on attachment relationships over the last three decades. Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1980) propounded that early child-caregiver attachment bonds, developed and repeated through daily experiences, serve as the model of all other social relationships throughout a person's life. Ainsworth (1985) expanded on attachment theory and provided a systemic view of attachment based on familial security. For Ainsworth, attachment relationships are visible in behaviors toward the attachment figure, such as maintaining proximity with the attachment figure, who serves as a secure

3 foundation for explorative behavior and provides a haven of safety; the child experiences anxiety when separated from the caregiver. Bowlby (1989) agreed with Ainsworth and asserted that a healthy dependence on a reliably sensitive and responsive attachment figure is important for optimal functioning and wellbeing from cradle to grave. Hence, attachment figures promote healthy functioning by providing a safe haven that permits the relationship partner to seek comfort, support, reassurance, assistance, and protection, as well as the impetus to explore the world and strive to meet her or his full potential (Bowlby, 1989). Bowlby also noted that psychological wellbeing can be attributed to either the development of attachment behavior or to a general lack of its development (1989). Fraley (2004) argued that the research on adult attachment is guided by the assumption that the same motivational system that gives rise to the close emotional bond between caregivers and their children is responsible for the bond that develops between adults in emotionally intimate relationships. Examples of other areas of research that have been based on attachment theory include relationship development among premarital couples (Kirkpatrick & Davis, 1994), attachment styles among young adults (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), the role of attachment in predicting spiritual coping with a loved one in surgery (Belavich & Pargament, 2002), and romantic love as an attachment process (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Antonucci, Akiyama, and Takahashi (2004) observed that attachment research has shown that early formed relationships are long lasting and fundamentally influential in an individual's experience of later attachments and other social relationships. Antonucci and

4 colleagues (2004) focused on attachment as an aspect of close relations that should be understood within the broader context of other relationships. Some scholars have extended the scope of attachment theory to include the relationship with God, where God is considered as an attachment figure for believers in Christianity (and other monotheistic religions) and the exhibited behaviors with respect to God can be viewed as attachment behaviors (Granqvist & Hagekull, 1999, 2000; Kirkpatrick, 1998, 1999; Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1990; McDonald, Beck, Allison, & Norsworthy, 2005; Pargament, 1997). According to Kirkpatrick (1999), believers in Christianity maintain a personal, interactive relationship with a powerful, wise, and loving God, and such a relationship fulfills the criteria for an attachment relationship. Although there is a growing body of literature on the attachment to God in relation to different populations, there is a lack of research and literature on how the attachment relationship to God impacts the psychological wellbeing of persons who have chosen the vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. Statement of the Problem In the Catholic Church, candidates for the priesthood or religious life are required to undergo a psychological evaluation at least once at the beginning of or during their training to determine the fitness of their mental health before engaging in training to become priests or religious. According to the Catholic Church's Canon Law, The diocesan bishop is to admit to the major seminary only those who are judged capable of dedicating themselves permanently to the sacred ministries in light of their human, moral, spiritual and intellectual characteristics, their physical and psychological health and their proper motivation. (The Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), 1977, Canon 241, ยง1)

5 In the above citation, motivation or right intention could be defined as a firm desire to dedicate oneself fully to the service of God. Canon 241 places the responsibility on the local bishop to state the content of the effective admissions procedure. In seminaries in some English-speaking parts of the world, including the United States, the effective admissions procedure includes a psychological evaluation report and physical examination. The above Canon paragraph implies that a candidate's eligibility for the priesthood would be determined based on different aspects of the candidate's physical and spiritual health and behavior. The service of God involves performing different functions relating to pastoral ministry in situations involving interpersonal relationships with others. After admission to the seminary or novitiate, candidates engage in a discernment process throughout the duration of seminary training until ordination to the priesthood or throughout novitiate training until the taking of the final religious vows. The discernment process consists of evaluating the candidate's readiness to commit to the priestly or religious vocation for life. The evaluation is carried out jointly by the candidate and those in charge of his training, whose responsibility includes making the final recommendation for ordination or religious profession. Currently, however, seminary and religious training programs lack a curriculum on human development that will enable their candidates for the priesthood or religious life to understand themselves better as well as their personal characteristics. Thus, there is not an opportunity for candidates and those guiding them to better understand how their attachment experiences from childhood through adulthood affect their attachment to God, as well as how their beliefs and behaviors impact their psychological wellbeing.

6 In my experience, in the seminary or novitiate training and discernment process, one of the ways that attachment to God is conceptualized is in terms of the candidate's God-image, especially in the area of spiritual formation. However, focusing on the candidate's image of God is limited in that it does not directly connect to how the candidate will relate to his trainers (formation staff or novice master), colleagues, and the people whom he will serve later. An exploration of different attachment styles involves examining whether a candidate's style of attachment relationship to God is secure, preoccupied, fearful, or dismissing. A secure attachment style facilitates a healthy relationship to God and promotes a healthy life commitment to one's vocation (Bishop, 2006; DeJong & Donovan, 1988). An insecure attachment style leads to an unhealthy relationship; for example, a candidate with an insecure attachment style might develop such total dependence on his training director that he experiences difficulty in making informed decisions or taking personal initiative in the absence of the director. Significance of the Study The 2007 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook (Hemrick, 2007) reported a relative increase in the number of Catholics, clergy and religious, and seminarians at the end of 2005, which is reflective of the general population around the world except Europe, which continues to experience a decrease. For example, in 2005, 32% of seminarians worldwide were Americans, 26% were Asians, 21 % were Africans, and 20% were Europeans.

Some of the traditionally Catholic nations noted a significant decrease in the number of practicing Catholics, priests, religious, and candidates for these vocations since Vatican II, due in part to some provocative and unresolved issues among clergy and religious such as celibacy, homosexuality, and clergy sexual abuse (Cozzens, 2000). As Pope Benedict XVI (2007) emphasized, young people now find it challenging to commit themselves to the priestly vocation, given the disappointing and frustrating experience of the clergy crises. Sege (2006) noted that an estimated 25,000 priests in the United States have left the priesthood since Vatican II, most to marry and raise families, while some clerics who have children they do not publicly acknowledge are involved in priestly ministry. Some of the priests and religious who left reported that what compelled most of them to leave was not the ministry but the inability and lack of freedom to live their personal lives in a manner to which they felt called by God; they were pushed out by the inability to make important choices about their personal lives, or pulled out by the love of another person with whom they wished to pursue a relationship in the light outside the shadows of mandatory celibacy (Kippley, 2008). Additionally, they reported experiencing a deep yearning within, not simply for sex, but for the union of two hearts and souls lived in the sacred mystery of love and companionship for the rest of their lives (Kippley, 2008). Arraj (2008) argued that the strict segregation of men and women religious gave way to flirtation and romantic relationships. This implies that the priests and religious obeyed the dictates of their conscience by leaving the priesthood or religious life. It would seem that these priests who left the priesthood experienced a strong romantic love as an attachment process. However, what is not clear is whether the priests experienced a secure or

8 insecure attachment to God prior to ordination and post ordination and at the time of leaving the priesthood or religious life. In a recent Vatican press conference discussing psychological evaluation guidelines from the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Brugues (2008) noted how the Church in the last 30 years had seen a greater need to evaluate the psychological profiles of candidates to the priesthood. He also said that "the psychologist should have a theoretical understanding and an approach for taking the transcendent dimension of the person with his dynamism and qualities that should mature in the person" (Brugues, 2008, as cited in Vatican, 2008). The psychological evaluation guidelines show that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the importance of psychology as a means of facilitating a better understanding of human behavior, including the behavior of the Church's ministers. Hence, given the importance of attachment as part of a developmental process, this study might contribute to the efforts made by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to promote and ensure the psychological wellbeing and human development of its future agents, including during seminary training as well as during pastoral ministry in different pastoral settings. Research Questions The questions that were explored in this study were as follows: a. Is there a relationship between the attachment to God and the psychological wellbeing of persons with vocation to the priesthood or religious life? b. Is there a correspondence between the attachment relationship to God and the adult attachment relationship?

9 c. If the response to question "a" is affirmative, which attachment styles have the most effect on the psychological wellbeing of persons with vocation to the priesthood or religious life? Research Hypotheses a. Attachment to God will be associated with the psychological wellbeing of persons with vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Attachment to God was measured by scores on the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004), and psychological wellbeing was measured by scores on Ryff s Psychological Wellbeing Scale (PWBS; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995). b. There is a strong relationship between attachment to God and adult attachment. Attachment to God was measured by scores on the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004), while adult attachment was measured by scores on the Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ; Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994). c. Individuals with a secure style of attachment to God will experience greater psychological wellbeing than those with all other styles of attachment to God, as measured by scores on the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004).

10 Definition of Terms Attachment. For the purpose of this study, attachment is described from the standpoint of Ainsworth (1985) as an "affectional bond" formed in the course of childhood, adolescence, or adulthood to a unique individual not wholly replaceable by another (p. 799). This affectional bond is characterized by maintaining proximity with the attachment figure, seeking to find comfort and security in the attachment figure, considering the attachment figure as providing protection or a haven of safety, and experiencing anxiety when separated from the attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1985). Styles of attachment. For the purpose of this study, styles of attachment or dimensions of attachment refer to the extent to which an individual feels secure (comfortable with intimacy and autonomy), preoccupied (preoccupied with relationships), fearful (fearful of intimacy; social avoidance), and dismissing (dismissing or avoidant of intimacy; counterdependent) in close relationships (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994). The concept of "God. " "God" refers to the supernatural, divine, supreme Being who is perceived both as Creator of the world and as actively involved in the world. For the purpose of this study, the Roman Catholic understanding of God was used, that is, God as the Blessed Trinity (Three Persons in One God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit), who is also perceived as exhibiting relational qualities, including maternal, paternal, and fraternal qualities (United States Catholic Conference, 1994). In other words, in Roman Catholic understanding, God does interact with humans and nature and does hold personal relationships with humans (Kirkpatrick, 1997; United States Catholic Conference, 1994).

11 Attachment to God. For the purpose of this study, attachment to God refers to the affectional bond that exists between a person and God as the attachment figure. The strength of the style of attachment to God was operationally defined as the scores on the Attachment to God Inventory (Beck & McDonald, 2004). Persons with vocation to the priesthood or religious life. For the purpose of this study, the term persons with vocation to the priesthood refers to men who are in training to become priests in the Roman Catholic Church. They are also called Seminarians. Similarly, the term persons with vocation to the religious life refers to men who belong to Roman Catholic religious orders or institutes of consecrated life, having made their religious profession (religious vows or commitment) to commit their whole life to live in community and work for God. The term male religious is often used in the Catholic Church to refer to the members of male religious orders; the term men religious could also be used. In this study, the words male religious and men religious were used interchangeably. The term novice or religious novice refers to a person who has not made a religious profession and is being trained according to the rule of life of the particular institute of consecrated life of which the person wishes to become a member. The term novitiate refers to the training period immediately preceding the first religious profession/vow. There is a precise canonical difference between the terms brother and monk. The term brother is applied to a man who belongs to an "active religious community" such as teaching or health care communities but whose work is carried on outside the convent (home for "brothers"). The word monk traditionally applied to a man who was a contemplative, living in a monastery or abbey. However, there are some male

12 religious who have been ordained as priests to serve their religious communities. They are also referred to as brother by their community members. In this study, the words male religious refer to either a "brother" or a "monk." Both convents and monasteries have an enclosure called a cloister, which is a section that is not accessible to the public, except with the permission of the Abbot. Psychological wellbeing. For the purpose of this study, psychological wellbeing is operationally defined as the scores on the Ryff psychological wellbeing scale covering six dimensions, namely self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth (PWBS; Ryff, 1989; Ryff &Keyes, 1995). Limitations of the Study Several factors limit the generalization of the findings from this study to the general population represented in the sample. The measures used in the study were self- report measures, which were subjective and vulnerable to inaccuracies because of the effects of social desirability, or the possibility of participants portraying themselves in a positive light. The study was limited to seminarians and religious novices being trained in the United States (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC) for priesthood or for religious life. Furthermore, participants in the study were individuals who were at various stages of their formation process, which is different from attachment relationships of priests and religious who have many years of experience in their vocation. The findings of this study may not generalize to every seminarian and religious novice or to priests and religious in or outside the United States, as the experience of

attachment to God is a personal experience. Additionally, seminarians or religious novices live in their seminary communities or religious convents, which are different environments that might be protective of them in comparison to priests and religious who live in a more exposed environment, with the exception of monks who live in their monasteries. The participants who completed the research measures did not include former candidates to the priesthood or religious life who were no longer in training because they no longer desired to become priests or religious or because they had been dismissed. Furthermore, it is not clear whether former candidates experienced a conflict between their attachment to God and other attachment processes, and what might have triggered the conflict. This study was limited to the examination of different attachment styles and the impact of attachment to God on the psychological wellbeing of the participants. However, the study did not address additional issues that might be the result of an insecure attachment style, such as attrition, alcohol abuse, or attachment disorders, which could be considered in a future study. This study sampled seminarians and male religious in the Roman Catholic Church and examined their experiences. Thus, the results of this study cannot be generalized to female religious (nuns and female novices). It should be acknowledged that the male participants in this study, despite society's definitions of masculinity and femininity (Bern, 1981), shared responsibility for house tasks that were traditionally assigned to the female gender. For example, they did their own laundry, washed and cleaned their dishes, and decorated the chapel and the living area of the seminary. However, in this study,

14 neither gender nor gender role differences were addressed; these factors could be addressed in future research.

15 CHAPTER 2 Review of Literature The focus of this study was to examine which style of attachment relationship to God accounts for positive psychological wellbeing of candidates in training to become priests or religious, so that such candidates can make informed choices regarding their life commitment to their vocation. A review of relevant literature in this chapter will enhance understanding of some of the theoretical and empirical rationale for this study as well as summarize the research findings related to the variables of interest in this study. The chapter consists of the following seven sections: (a) attachment theory, (b) models of attachment relationships, (c) God as an attachment figure, (d) attachment to God and dependency, (e) attachment to God and person variables, (f) cultural perspectives on attachment, and (g) attachment to God and spiritual coping. Attachment Theory Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1980) was credited with the introduction of attachment theory and its application to the social and emotional development of an infant. Bowlby's (1969) attachment theory was built on the evolutionary or biological perspective that humans and other primates possess an organized cognitive, emotional, and behavioral system designed by natural selection to maintain proximity between helpless infants and their primary caregivers. Thus, natural selection facilitated attachment behaviors whereby infants, when alarmed or distressed, emit various social signals or behaviors in order to reestablish proximity to their caregivers, who provide them with protection from predators and other dangers (Cassidy, 1999; Kirkpatrick, 1997). According to Bowlby

16 (1969), "the child's tie to his mother is a product of the activity of a number of behavioral systems that have proximity to the mother as a predictable outcome" (p. 179). The two variables that can trigger attachment behaviors are the needs of the child and the condition of the environment surrounding the child (perceived as threat). Bowlby (1973) noted that the presence or absence of the caregiver can impact the level of fear felt by the child. Hence, the child who perceives the caregiver as a reliable safe haven in times of distress or perceived threat will form a secure attachment to that caregiver (Kirkpatrick, 1992). A secure attachment is evinced by exploration of the environment in the absence of danger and by seeking closeness to the caregiver in the presence of danger. However, Cassidy (1999) argued that some children form attachments to abusive and insensitive parents. Here, one might argue that such an attachment may be temporary and fearful rather than secure, especially if that child does not have an alternative way of escaping such a caregiver, as in the case of a child who lives with abusive caregivers. Proponents of object-relations theory such as Winnicott explained the process through which the child-caregiver relationship occurs. Object-relations theorists view the child who is beginning to explore his or her environment as encountering different "objects," and these include the presence and activities of the child's caregiver. Then, as the child's cognitive and emotional development occurs, the child creates "object representations" (Winnicott, 1986), which are internal schemas that help the child make sense of his or her unfolding world. The object-relations schemas also help the child determine how relationships with his or her caregiver and other people will be managed and negotiated (Beck, 2006). Hence, the child may see himself or herself as a relational person and form either positive or negative representations of self or others as "objects."

17 For example, the child may run away from strangers or cry when the child perceives a threat or distress situation, especially when the child is not in close proximity to the primary caregiver. Shaver, Hazan, and Bradshaw (1988) applied attachment theory to romantic relationships, which they argued function in large part as an adult manifestation of the attachment system (in addition to sex and caregiving systems). Hazan and Shaver (1987), in their study, found that relationships of secure individuals tend to be happy and healthy in a variety of ways, including high levels of trust, comfort with intimacy, and relationship satisfaction, while insecure-anxious/ambivalent partners tend to experience emotional highs and lows, jealousy, preoccupation with the romantic partner's responsiveness, fear of rejection or abandonment, and falling in and out of love easily. Additionally, the relationships of avoidant partners tend to be marked by a variety of intimacy-avoiding behavior patterns and low levels of commitment (Collins & Read, 1990; Feeney & Nolley, 1990). Cicirelli (1983, 2004), in a study of attachment to God among older adults, reported that an aspect of an adult child's secure lifespan attachment is the desire to protect the existence of an elderly mother by providing physical care to preserve this unique attachment figure. This implies that the internal working model of attachment is inversed as the attachment figure may no longer be able to function as a strong and wise individual. The adult child now provides security and safe haven for the attachment figure to prolong the lifespan of the attachment figure and maintain the relationship a little longer. Cicirelli (2004) also applied this idea to God as the attachment figure whom believers have the desire to protect by defending or justifying their belief when

Full document contains 102 pages
Abstract: This study focused on the expansion of attachment theory to the spiritual perspective of God as an attachment figure. It examined how attachment to God could be associated with psychological wellbeing in a sample of 47 male students in Roman Catholic seminaries preparing to become priests or religious. Attachment to God was examined under two dimensions of the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004)--namely, the avoidance of an intimate relationship with God and anxiety over being abandoned by God. The two dimensions were further dichotomized into four styles of attachment to God: secure, preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. Psychological wellbeing was measured with the Ryff Psychological Wellbeing Scale (PWBS; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keys, 1995) under six dimensions: autonomy, self-acceptance, positive relations to others, environmental mastery, personal growth, and purpose in life. The findings of this research study showed a strong association between attachment to God and psychological wellbeing. The results also showed that the secure attachment style was the best predictor of attachment to God, as predicted. However, the findings did not support the hypothesis that there is a relationship between attachment to God (measured by the AGI) and adult attachment relationship (measured by the Relationship Scale Questionnaire; Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994).