Attachment Theory is based on the idea that human beings are born with a need to form close relationships with their primary caregiver.
The theory was developed by British psychologist John Bowlby when he was researching the effects of separation between infants and their mothers.
Bowlby found that infants were extremely distressed when separated from their parents, and they would go to great lengths (eg crying, clinging) to prevent separation, or to re-establish proximity.
When these infants are physically or visually close to their parents, they are at ease. The theory went on to be developed further by Mary Ainsworth, and the result is what’s popularly known today as Attachment Styles.
Further research led psychologists to believe that adult romantic relationships are a function of the same motivational system that characterises the bonds between infants and their parents, and share similar features.
The 4 commonly referred-to attachment styles are:
- Secure attachment
- Insecure attachment:
- Anxious-Preoccupied or Anxious-Ambivalent
- Fearful-Avoidant – also known as Disorganized
Secure attachment is developed when a child regularly and consistently relies on and gets their needs met from their parents or primary caregivers.
The adults in their lives were emotionally available, and responded to them in an appropriate, timely, and loving way.
The child feels safe and secure, and as they grow, they confidently express themselves and explore their environment without fear.
Adults with secure attachments form positive, stable, trusting, and loving relationships. They are able to communicate with and trust others, they connect well with others, they are comfortable being alone, and they have high self-esteem and a healthy self-image.
Insecure attachments develop when:
- The child is left alone to fend for themselves
- The child is expected to be independent
- The child is reprimanded for depending on caregivers
- The child rejected when expressing needs or emotions
- Caregivers are slow to respond to basic needs
- Caregivers alternate between being overly coddled, and detached
- Caregivers are easily overwhelmed
- Caregivers swing between being attentive and being indifferent
- The child is made to feel responsible for how caregivers felt
- The child experiences trauma, neglect, abuse, and/or fear of caregivers
Depending on the type of insecure attachment, adults who have experienced the above may develop poor self-esteem, face a range of challenges in their relationships with others, find it hard to regulate their emotions, experience high anxiety, a fear of rejection and abandonment, feelings of being unworthy, difficulty trusting others, and more.
Insecure attachments can affect a mother’s ability to connect with her child unless she receives education and skills regarding secure bonding. They may find it difficult to respond to their newborn’s dependence, when they were reminded of the support they never received. This may trigger a fear that causes mothers to avoid or fight against the threat they perceive in their children.
What is your Attachment Style?
Find out your Attachment Style, courtesy of the Attachment Project.