I am aware that this blog just gives you the very bare bones of Attachment and, in writing it, I hope it whets your appetite to look more deeply into Attachment. I especially hope it helps you to reflect and understand your own behaviour and your own particular ‘cocktail’ of insecurities. We all carry insecurities by the way – Yes. Even me! So, in a nutshell, here goes:
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, two Psychologists called John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth started to observe how babies and children attach to their principal care giver, usually the mother. Through much research, they identified four different styles of attachment which children developed based on the way their mother or primary caregiver responded to their physical and emotional needs. They came to realise that the quality of the infant-parent attachment is a powerful predictor of a child’s later social and emotional outcome and that unresolved childhood attachment issues leave the adult vulnerable to difficulties forming secure adult relationships. There is a strong correlation between insecure adult attachment and difficult or dysfunctional relationships.
I have put together a very brief table collating the four Attachment Styles, how they develop as a result of the care given by the mother or primary care giver and how this impacts our ability to form healthy relationships. You will find yourself somewhere on this table, but don’t despair!
You can’t change your childhood experiences. However, if you can be brave enough to accept that, like most of us, you are not ‘securely attached’ and want to change that, it’s possible. Counselling can help you begin to recognise and work through painful childhood memories and begin to ‘re-parent’ yourself by becoming your own sensitive and responsive parent. No quick fixes though – it’s the work of a life-time!
Characteristics of the Four Attachment styles
|Attachment Style||Characteristics of Mother/ Caregiver||Characteristics of Child||Adult Characteristics in Relationships|
|Secure||Child has a mother who is sensitive and responsive to needs, gives attention, consistency, gentleness and loving touch, loving facial feedback and reasonable harmony between other family members. The child’s feelings are contained, soothed and managed by the caregiver. Unsociable and dangerous behaviour is clarified, boundaries maintained. Painful feelings such as fear, sadness or anger are heard and held. The mother is supported herself and is not usually overwhelmed by her own feelings.||Open and appropriately friendly. Able to share and play. Able to express and regulate difficult feelings such as anger. Successful and long-lasting friendships and relationships. Stress response is appropriate and temporary||These adults are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships, feeling secure and connected to their partner without feeling the need to be (physically) together all the time. Their relationships are likely to feature honesty, support, independence, and deep emotional connections.|
|Anxious Resistant/ambivalent (or Anxious – Resistant)||Child has inconsistent care from the mother. There are some sensitive responses, but this is unpredictable, so the child takes a risk, with the hope of some positive attention. The caregiver is likely to be anxious herself, prone to angry outbursts of despair. She is sometimes able to sooth the child but her reactions to the child are changeable. Boundaries are changeable too. The mother is likely to be lacking in support herself. There may be absences due to ill health or other family demands||Clingy and demanding, inappropriately friendly, easily and regularly flooded with stress hormones, unable to relate in a mutually loving way, loss is unbearable, charming and ingratiating, exaggerates feelings, unable to regulate impulses, unpredictably hostile to caregiver.As a child and an adult, prone to depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, addictions, sexual abuse, low immunity||Those who form less secure bonds with their partners may feel desperate for love or affection and feel that their partner must “complete” them or fix their problems. While they long for safety and security in their romantic relationships, they may also be acting in ways that push their partner away rather than invite them in. The behavioural manifestations of their fears can include being clingy, demanding, jealous, or easily upset by small issues.|
|Anxious Avoidant (or Dismissive Avoidant)||Cared for by a mother suffering from depression or other debilitating condition, unable to offer cheery positive feedback to her baby. There is a flatness of feeling coming from the mother, tiredness, low energy, a complete lack of spontaneity or fun. Sadness prevails and the child learns not to express his needs. The rebuffs to any request for attention eventually lead the infant to suppress his feelings. Keeping a watchful eye, he learns to become emotionally self-sufficient. He will probably be described as a good, quiet child, will not venture far, nor express any desires or strong feelings.||Ignores adults, emotionally self-sufficient, quiet and shy as a child, puts him/herself last, easily overlooks his/her own needs, low stress response, doesn’t ask for support, difficulties in expressing feelings, entertains him/herself, a good carer for others.As a child and an adult: Prone to constipation, allergies, asthma, arthritis, SAD, depression, ME and psychosomatic illnesses.||People with this attachment style generally keep their distance from others. They may feel that they don’t need human connection to survive or thrive, and insist on maintaining their independence and isolation from others. These individuals are often able to “shut down” emotionally when a potentially hurtful scenario arises, such as a serious argument with their partner or a threat to the continuance of their relationship.|
|Disorganised, Chaotic (or Fearful Avoidant)||This child is subjected to repeated neglect, left crying when hungry or needy a clean nappy or in need of soothing. She will learn not only that no-one comes or cares, but also that the mother is actively cruel. She is the abused child, suffering violence, witness to all manner of domestic chaos. Her mother is likely to be suffering from severe mental ill health, with a history of abuse herself and without necessary emotional stability or care for her child, the child is likely to end up in Care with a future of poor mental health.||Dissociated, psychotic, unable to regulate impulses, unable to relate to others, sociopathic, unable to learn at school, aggressive, violent, prone to a life time of severe mental health problems.||The second type of adult avoidant attachment manifests as ambivalence rather than isolation. People with this attachment style generally try to avoid their feelings because it is easy to get overwhelmed by them. They may suffer from unpredictable or abrupt mood swings and fear getting hurt by a romantic partner. These individuals are simultaneously drawn to a partner or potential partner and fearful of getting too close. Unsurprisingly, this style makes it difficult to form and maintain meaningful, healthy relationships with others.|