From Vulnerability to Resilience: Navigating Psychopathology and Attachment

Oct 13, 2023

By Dr Wes Turner – Clinical Psychologist / Clinic Director

Psychopathology is a complex phenomenon that doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. In this post, we will explore the Diathesis-Stress Model, which explains why some people are more susceptible to psychopathology than others. We’ll also delve into the critical role of caregivers in meeting children’s core needs and the potential consequences when these needs go unmet.

The Diathesis-Stress Model

Psychopathology, or mental health issues, arises from the interplay between a person’s inherent vulnerability (diathesis) and life’s stressors. Let’s break it down:

Diathesis – The Vulnerability Within

Think of diathesis as the unique predisposition each individual carries. It’s a blend of genetic factors, biology, personality traits, and early life experiences. Everyone has varying levels of vulnerability, but having vulnerability alone doesn’t guarantee the development of psychopathology.

Stress – Life’s Weight on Our Shoulders

Stressors are external events or experiences that push our coping abilities to the limit. They can be acute, like a sudden loss or trauma, or chronic, such as ongoing financial difficulties or relationship problems.

The Diathesis-Stress Interaction

Whether psychopathology develops depends on how an individual’s vulnerability interacts with their stress levels. It’s like a seesaw: if stress outweighs one’s coping capacity (a phenomenon called allostatic overload), it can trigger or worsen mental health issues. However, the presence of protective factors like social support and resilience can mitigate the impact of stress. Even those without significant vulnerability can develop mental health issues when exposed to prolonged and intense stress.

Now, let’s delve into the fundamental needs we all have during our development and how they tie into attachment and psychopathology.

Core Needs and Caregiver Roles

We all come into this world with three core needs that must be met as we grow:

1. Avoiding Harm, Injury, and Loss

Children instinctively seek safety and protection from their caregivers. They rely on caregivers to create a secure and nurturing environment.

2. Acquiring Social and Non-Social Resources

Children depend on caregivers for both social (love, attention, emotional support) and non-social (food, shelter, healthcare) resources crucial for their well-being.

3. Rest and Digest

After active engagement, children need caregivers to help them relax and recharge. This allows them to process their experiences and maintain overall well-being.

Attachment – The Key to Emotional Security

A caregiver’s role is to be a source of security and meet a child’s developmental needs. Here’s how they do it:

1. Proximity Seeking and Maintenance

Children actively seek physical closeness and contact with their caregivers to feel secure.

2. Secure Base

Caregivers provide stability and comfort, allowing children to explore their world with confidence.

3. Safe Haven

When children face distress, their caregivers offer comfort, nurturing, and safety.

For instance, picture a child at a playground. They see their caregiver as a “Secure Base,” enabling them to explore with confidence. If the child gets hurt, the caregiver becomes a “Safe Haven,” providing warmth and comfort.

Potential Maladaptive Developmental Outcomes

When core needs go unmet, individuals may face various challenges, including:

Attachment Issues

Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

Emotional Regulation Difficulties

Struggles with managing emotions, stress, and adversity.

Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Feelings of inadequacy and a negative self-image.

Trust Issues

Challenges in trusting and relying on others.

Cognitive and Learning Difficulties

Learning problems and cognitive delays.

Mental Health Issues

Increased risk of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Physical Health Problems

Greater susceptibility to physical health issues like cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Coping Mechanisms

Children may respond to attachment disruption and unmet needs through overcompensatory (externalizing) behaviours and/or avoidant (internalizing) behaviours

Overcompensatory (Externalizing) Behaviours

Outward behaviors that compensate for unmet needs, such as attention-seeking or aggression.

Avoidant (Internalizing) Behaviours

Internally expressed behaviours aimed at protecting oneself from emotional pain, including withdrawal, social isolation, and self-criticism.

Understanding psychopathology and its impact on individuals thus involves recognizing the interplay of vulnerability, stress, core needs, and attachment. By addressing these core needs and providing support, we can promote mental and emotional well-being, helping individuals navigate life’s challenges more effectively.

In this context, one thing becomes abundantly clear: that the importance of support and treatment for neurodivergent individuals cannot be overstated. Every person, regardless of their unique vulnerabilities and experiences, deserves the opportunity to thrive and lead a fulfilling life.

Support and treatment provide the scaffolding upon which individuals can build resilience and overcome challenges. For those with neurodiverse traits, whether it’s an innate vulnerability or a response to life’s stresses, these resources offer the chance to foster emotional security, develop coping skills, and ultimately find a path to well-being.

By providing the necessary support, whether it’s tailored therapies, understanding workplaces, inclusive education, or simply fostering a culture of acceptance and compassion, we create a world where every unique mind can shine. It’s a world where individuals with vulnerabilities can find strength, where those facing stress can find resilience, and where the core needs of all are met with care and compassion.

If you would like to chat further about supporting the development of core needs, fostering attachment or supporting neurodivergent individuals, please reach out to us at Your engagement helps us work together to create a world where every individual’s well-being is nurtured and cherished.