By: Vanessa Gonzalez
Attachment styles influence how we behave and act in our relationships. They are established in childhood in the bond between infant and parent or caregiver and how they interact. It’s an exchange between comfort and care and a means by which the child gets their primary needs met.
Subsequently, the way these needs are met has implications for how the child will interact with future relationships in adulthood and their ability to form stable relationships.
What is Attachment Theory?
British psychoanalyst John Bowlby first proposed attachment theory. He suggested that a child’s behaviors when parents are absent are an innate evolutionary system to aid in the child’s survival. Later, another psychologist named Mary Ainsworth experimented with this theory to explore how children respond when separated from parents, which expanded to adult attachment theory in future relationships.
The attachment met by the parents or caregivers to the infant creates a representation of what one does in difficult moments. For example, is the caregiver a confronting presence or not? Thus, if the child feels safe, they can explore the world around them with less stress. Researchers conducted studies to examine different attachment levels to explore how children respond to their caregivers after leaving the room and when their caregiver returns.
Types of Attachment Styles in Children
Through these studies, researchers have narrowed down four types of attachment styles:
- Secure Attachment: children with this attachment may be distressed upon separation from caregiver but will give their caregiver a warm welcome when returning.
- Anxious Attachment: a child with this attachment style is scared when separated but will still be anxious even after their caregiver comes back to the room.
- Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment: the child reacts calmly when the caregiver is separated and doesn’t react when the caregiver returns.
- Disorganized Attachment: child displays ambivalent behavior toward a caregiver when they return. They may turn away from the caregiver – this can be a result of childhood trauma.
Types of Attachment Styles in Adults
Attachment styles and related attachment patterns have been studied in adults and adult relationships. Research has shown an attachment between someone’s attachment characteristics as a child and their attachment behavior in adulthood. The individual differences have been called “attachment styles.”
Like children, most people foster secure attachment. They feel safe in their relationships and comfortable depending on others. On the other hand, some individuals are nervous or anxious in their relationships. They may wonder if they are enough, if their partner may leave, etc. Others may not want to form meaningful relationships in the first place.
Attachment styles in adulthood have labels like those used to describe attachment patterns in children:
- Secure: Cultivate healthy relationships. Express emotions openly and effectively. Can depend on others and have others depend on them.
- Anxious-preoccupied: Often seek approval and support from others. Strong fear of abandonment.
- Dismissing-avoidant: Believe they don’t need others to be complete. Don’t want to depend on others or have others depend on them. Avoid emotional closeness.
- Fearful-Avoidant: These individuals want intimacy and closeness but has difficulty trusting others. Avoid emotional attachment due to fear of getting hurt.
How is Secure Attachment Established
According to the research, most children display a secure attachment. Researchers have assumed children foster this attachment in an environment where the caregiver is sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs. Insecure attachment is theorized to stem from the lack of that caregiver response. Parenting styles as the child gets older also can influence attachment style in adulthood and genetics.
While it may seem impossible, attachment styles can change and adapt, just as we do. Attachment styles can also differ depending on the relationship. For example, if someone has secure attachment as a child and then is in an unpredictable or negative relationship in adulthood, they may have a more insecure attachment in the future. In contrast, someone can develop a more secure attachment with a history of supportive relationships.
If you recognize you have an insecure attachment, remember that it can change, and you can develop a more secure attachment style. Working with a mental health professional can help you learn interpersonal effectiveness skills to create safe connections. In addition, you can make sense of how your past has influenced your present, so you can become a more secure individual yourself.
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