relationships Mandy Kloppers

Attachment theory

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Psychologists have long analysed the link between people’s upbringings and their relationship choices when they are adults. There definitely seems to be a link between the type of childhood we have and the type of adult relationships we choose.

One of the main factors depends upon the relationship we had with the primary caregiver in our lives when we were growing up. The parental style of the primary caregiver has a huge impact upon what we learn about the world and others as we grow up and form attitudes and beliefs about the world around us.

Four attachment styles

Four different attachment styles or patterns have been identified in children:  secure, anxious ambivalent, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized attachment.

If we had someone who was attentive and attended consistently to our needs when we were growing up, we tend to learn that the world will support us and meet our needs. This confidence leads us to enjoy secure attachments in adulthood.

If we had someone who was inconsistent, meeting our needs some of the time and not all of the time, this can teach us that the world is unpredictable and that we are not always going to get our needs met. This teaches a growing brain to be wary of others and can lead to an ambivalent-resistant attachment in adult relationships.

When a caregiver is too protective and stifles a child, not letting them explore and learn for themselves within reason, the child may be prone to experience anxious adult relationships, constantly requiring reassurance.

Obvious abuse and neglect in its extreme form can lead to an adult that is disorganised in their attachment style.

Secure attachments

According to research, around 65% of children in the general population may be classified as having a secure pattern of attachment, with the remaining 35% being divided among the insecure classifications. About 80% of maltreated infants are likely to be classified as disorganized, as opposed to about 12% found in non-maltreated samples. Only about 15% of maltreated infants are likely to be classified as secure.

Psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” This theory has had huge implications in research and understanding emotional development. It also reminds us of how important the role of a parent/primary caregiver is and how the way we are treated as children has long-lasting effects on us for the rest of our lives. We are all affected differently though and some are more adversely affected by an abusive or unloving childhood than others.

Identifying your attachment style is a great way to gain insight into your personal triggers in relationships and gain a better, more comprehensive understanding of why we behave in certain ways as adults.

Mandy X


Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.

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