emotional adversity of isolation and separation, particularly at times of increased vulnerability;” it is this sense of isolation that promotes the feelings of helplessness that are the hallmark of the traumatic experience (p. 182).
Mikulincer and his colleagues (1993) note Bowlby’s (1980) belief that a secure attachment bond affects one’s sense of coping abilities, self-worth, and competence. It is the attachment bond that creates and promotes feelings of well being and security; if that bond is injured, this could be perceived as a challenge to personal well being. This challenge may promote the sense that one’s relationship and self are not secure, and therefore, not safe.
McFarlane and Van Der Kolk’s (1999) discussion of trauma relates that the suffering experienced from a traumatic event leads to feelings of aloneness and a “disintegration of belief” (p. 26). This speaks to a prevailing sense of vulnerability through exposure to a traumatic event.
Relational trauma is an apt description of attachment injury. Trauma to the attachment bond promotes a sense of helplessness and vulnerability, and the belief that one lacks emotional safety.
The constructs of emotion, trust, intimacy, vulnerability, anxiety, stress and trauma are related to the concepts of attachment bonds and to attachment injuries. Where the adult attachment bond is sought to provide a sense of safety, comfort and emotional security, attachment injury describes a challenged, traumatized attachment bond. The trauma is experienced individually and expressed emotionally in the relationship. Attachment injury decreases the levels of trust and intimacy, while increasing vulnerability, anxiety and stress. These constructs pertain to individual experiences in the context of relational challenges.
These concepts will provide the context for the study of stepcouples. It is expected that, as stepcouples report the challenges to their relationships, they will describe signs of attachment injury which will affect their levels of trust and intimacy, while increasing their sense of vulnerability and associated negative feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness and anger.
Stepfamilies are unique entities: They develop into their own form of “family” at a glacial rate, taking anywhere from four years to nearly a decade to evolve to a sense of family (Papernow, 1993). Stepfamilies are not considered the norm in our culture, and statistics show that only approximately twenty percent of families headed by a married couple are stepfamilies (Glick, 1989, as cited in Ganong & Coleman, 1994). Contrary to their own and others’ expectations, stepfamily members usually experience themselves as different, and are viewed differently than traditional families (Papernow, 1993).
The literature regarding stepfamilies notes the salience of loss issues in stepfamilies. This sense of loss begins when the divorce, relational breakup or death occurs, and impacts the nuclear family, as well as extended family members from both partners’ families of origin (Martin, Martin & Jeffers, 1992). Martin, et al. note that traversing the stages of grief is best accomplished prior to re-partnering. However, one