Attachment theory and adult relationships
The style of care we receive as infants and children sets up our attachment type for our adult relationships. Attachment theory looks at three types of attachment: anxious, ambivalent and secure. The way our primary care giver treated us teaches us about human interaction. Is the world a safe place? Do we get our needs met consistently? How is it for us when our caregiver leaves us alone?
Secure Attachment as an infant (50% of population)
If our care giver consistently met our needs, picked us up when we cried and helped us feel safe we are more likely to develop a secure attachment and go on to have fairly stable adult relationships built on a strong stable foundation.
Anxious Avoidant Attachment as an infant(25%)
Parents of children with an avoidant/anxious attachment tend to be emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to them a good deal of the time. They disregard or ignore their children’s needs, and can be especially rejecting when their child is hurt or sick. They frequently rationalize their lack of response by saying they are trying not to spoil the child with “too much” affection or attention. These parents also discourage crying and encourage premature independence in their children.
In response, the avoidant/anxiously attached child learns early in life to suppress the natural desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain.
Anxious Ambivalent Attachment as an infant(20%)
When parents or caregivers interact with their children in ways that are inconsistent and unpredictable, the children develop ambivalent/anxious attachment patterns. Attachmentresearchers describe the behavior of these adults, noting how at times they are nurturing, attuned and respond effectively to their child’s distress, while at other times they are intrusive, insensitive or emotionally unavailable. For example, they can be neglectful and then later try to make up for it by being overindulgent. When parents vacillate between two very different responses, their children become confused and distrustful, not knowing what kind of treatment to expect
The poet Philip Larkin was not the first or the last to notice that parents, “they fuck you up.” How you are as a parent makes a huge difference in the neural development of your child for the first four or five years. While John Bowlby is known as the father of attachment, a prodigiously smart psychologist who worked briefly as his researcher, Mary Salter Ainsworth, is the one who brought his theory to life. In 1954, Ainsworth’s husband got a job in Uganda and she accompanied him, determined to set up a research project testing her and Bowlby’s budding theory with real people. After a year of observing Ganda mothers and babies, she noticed that the babies who cried the least had the most attentive mothers. And she saw how “maternal attunement” to babies’ cues seemed to determine these patterns.
Four Adult Attachment Styles
Secure Attachment (low avoidance, low anxiety): If you relate positively to others and yourself, you probably have a secure attachment style. Securely attached people are generally happy in their relationships, feeling that they and others are sensitive and responsive to each other. They sense that connection can provide comfort and relief in times of need. They also feel that they are good, loved, accepted, and competent people.
Preoccupied Attachment (low avoidance, high anxiety): If you are always worried about what others think of you and don’t really factor in your thoughts and feelings, this style of attachment most likely fits you. People with a preoccupied attachment style feel a powerful need to be close to others, and they show this by clinging. They need a lot of validation and approval. They are concerned that others don’t value them, and they also doubt their own worth in relationships. So, they often worry a lot about their relationships.
Dismissing-Avoidant Style (high avoidance, low anxiety): Although the need for connection is biologically wired in people, those with this style of attachment deny it. They like to see themselves as independent and self-sufficient; and they minimize the importance of relationships. To keep their relationships unimportant, they suppress or hide their feelings. They also often think of other people less positively than they think of themselves. When faced with rejection, they cope with it by distancing themselves.
Fearful-Avoidant Style (high avoidance, high anxiety): People with this style of attachment tend to think of themselves as flawed, dependent, and helpless. And, they think they aren’t worthy of loving or caring responses from their partners. As a result, they don’t trust that others see them positively, and they expect to get hurt. So, although they want to be close to others, they also fear it. Understandably, they often avoid intimacy and suppress their feelings.
Attachment Questionnaire: which style are you?
Try this link if you would like to know more about your attachment style.
We all need human connection. Understanding our attachment style can help us to feel closer to others and to find ways to counteract our negative limiting behaviours if we do have an anxious or fearful attachment style.
It is only by facing our fears (with baby steps if necessary) that we can learn to minimise fears and overcome our limiting beliefs about relationships and love.