Attachment begins when we are young children and follows us into adulthood. When a young child has separation anxiety from their mother, they have formed an “insecure attachment.” There are three main attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Learning how you attach to others sheds light on your ability to initiate and maintain both friendships and romantic relationships. Different handbooks of attachment theory and research papers have been written over to explain the concept of attachment. Here you will find articles that help you understand attachment classifications, the importance of attachment and how it impacts your connections with others. Whether it’s your family, partner, friends or even co-workers, your attachment style is an integral part of how you relate to others.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
Attachment styles differ depending on what sort of person you are and the way that your parents or guardians cared for you as a child. The way a caregiver or other attachment figure interacts with, or responds to a child can affect the type of attachment style that the child develops. Infant attachment and adult attachment are interwoven, as the quality of attachment which person enjoys during childhood is what determines future attachment status. According to attachment theory and research, the relationship between a baby and its attachment figures is very crucial to the baby’s development and how they view and understand the world around them. Babies and young children generally rely on their attachment figures- a parent and other primary caregivers for their well-being, and it is through observing the way these attachment figures respond to them and others that they get to learn early social skills.
Attachment is an ongoing psychological study and lots of psychologists have documented numerous theories and submissions on attachment classifications and types. One of the most popular documentations and analysis of the concept of attachment is the book Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications by Jude Cassidy & Phillip R. Shaver. Attachment theory was first created in the 1960s, and the model was created to show how infants and adults connect to others on an emotional level. The theory describes how an attachment pattern is formed in early childhood, and this attachment is based on how a child’s needs are met by its attachment figures. The attachment style that is developed in early childhood is considered to have a long-term influence on your ability to communicate your emotions and needs to your family, friends and relationship partners. It also affects how you respond or react to conflicts and how you form expectations about the relationships in your life.
There are three primary types of attachment; secure, anxious, or avoidant. The Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications breaks down how attachment shapes your temperament and how you react to people and situations around you. In these articles, you will learn about how different kinds of attachment can impact your relationships.
When people are securely attached, they have confidence in their interpersonal relationships. Secure attachment is empowering because you are not afraid of being abandoned. Infants and children that are securely attached might be upset when their parent or guardian initially leaves, but they are confident that the parent or guardian will come back. Adults that are securely attached are generally trusting unless there is a tangible reason not to.
This type of attachment occurs when an attachment figure is inconsistently attuned to their children. According to attachment theory research, children form attachment based on how quickly and promptly their parent or caregiver responds to their needs. When the primary attachment figure in a child’s life is not consistent or unpredictable-sometimes, they respond effectively and promptly to their child’s distress, while at other times, they are insensitive, intrusive, or emotionally unavailable- this results in the child developing anxious/ambivalent attachment style. When the attachment figure in a child’s life fluctuates between these two extreme responses, the child becomes insecure and confused because they would be constantly unsure of the response or treatment to expect each time. A child with an anxious/ambivalent attachment style is often suspicious or distrustful of their parent(s) or caregiver which can leave them feeling anxious or clingy. This is because they have come to learn that the best way to have their needs met is to cling to their attachment figure. This goes to show the implications of attachment on a child, because children form attachment based on the emotional bond they create with their attachment figure, and research suggests that this early developmental attachment style can affect their long-term relationships in the future.
People with an anxious/ambivalent attachment style often worry about their partner or loved ones leaving them. Having these sorts of abandonment issues can be exhausting for people and their partners. People with this attachment style never “relax” in their relationships. Instead, they constantly work to prevent something bad from happening to them. Their partner may wonder why they feel this way and try to provide reassurance but to no avail. Anxious or ambivalent attachment may be due to circumstances in your childhood, but it could also be connected to a genetic predisposition, anxiety disorder, or traumatic adult relationship.
People who have an avoidant attachment style have trouble connecting with others. Someone with an avoidant attachment style may appear cold. In reality, they are afraid of being left if they share their true feelings. It is scary for someone with an avoidant attachment style to be vulnerable with another person. A person with an avoidant attachment style can be either dismissive or fearful. The dismissive-avoidant attachment style and the fearful-avoidant style attachment differ, but are both avoidant.
Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby, a famous British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who carried out the first attachment theory research. He described attachment as the “the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Through this theory, in volume 1 attachment, Bowlby tried to understand the anxiety and distress that children experience when they are separated from their primary attachment figures – parents or caregivers. Bowlby observed that these separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (clinging, crying, or even agitatedly searching) to prevent being separated from their attachment figures or to reestablish closeness or proximity to the attachment figures.
Child-parent attachment, as well as adult attachment theory have been documented in many different psychology books and publications, like the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications by Jude Cassidy and Phillip R. Shaver. Understanding attachment systems, classifications, and knowing your attachment style can be extremely helpful in bettering your relationships. Your attachment style influences your emotional bond with others. When you understand your attachment style, you’ll be able to navigate relationships and romantic partnerships better.
How do I identify my attachment style?
To understand the concept of attachment, exploring various research studies such as a psychological study or approach is very crucial. You can identify your attachment status or attachment style by taking quizzes online or by reading more about attachment styles and seeing which one (or which ones) you resonate with the most. Talking to a therapist can also help you identify your attachment style. Likely, you will be able to identify clues about your attachment style based on previous or current relationships. Certain circumstances in relationships might trigger attachment issues. For example, if one partner is avoidant and the other is anxious, both people may struggle in that partnership more than they would if one or both partners were securely attached. You can also read through the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications for a better understanding of the various attachment styles.
Develop secure attachment
Attachment is a critical part of all relationships. You might be wondering if it’s possible to develop a secure attachment if you are not already securely attached. While attachment is incredibly deep-rooted, it is possible to develop a secure or more secure attachment style. You can seek the help of a licensed counselor at Regain to talk about attachment or any other issues that you may have.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the 4 types of attachment?
The four types of attachment are secure attachment, avoidant attachment, anxious attachment, and disorganized attachment. Secure attachment including status is the goal, though only about 50% of people have a secure attachment style. Although attachment styles can vary regardless, early attachment is defined during infancy and childhood, and nurture certainly has an impact. Attachment theory suggests that the way our needs were or weren't met as children impacts the way adults feel in relationships. It creates a mental representation of whether or not our needs will be met. It's not that we consciously learn attachment security or lack thereof as a child; the development of our attachment style is generally unconscious and is related to if we have stable relationships with caregivers where they give us the social experience and response to our needs that we require. If our emotional and physical needs were met as children, we are more likely to have a secure attachment style. You can read through handbooks of attachment theory and research papers on the topic to get more understanding on the types of attachment.
How is attachment formed?
According to attachment theory and research, and as seen in the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications, attachment is recognized and built early in life, but it affects adult relationships when a person gets older. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth found that the attachment between a child and primary child caregiver (their parents, parent, or guardian/guardians) influenced which attachment style an individual would develop. The first year of life plays an important role in a baby or child's attachment. That said, if an attachment pattern changes, it can impact or shift the outcome of that early attachment. You want to make sure that your children feel secure and have an intrinsic and fundamental understanding that their needs will be met. To do this, you'll want to be sensitive, responsive and provide them with social engagement. People who engage in attachment parenting focus on meeting their child's emotional and physical needs. The parent responds when a baby cries, validates a child's feelings, makes sure that the child's physical needs are well attended to, provides affection, makes sure to stay close, and returns when expected to build trust with the child over time. In addition to impacting someone's experience with romantic partners, attachment has been researched alongside cognitive development. Studies show that attachment in infancy influences both behavioral and cognitive development, with secure attachment having a positive impact.
Your relationship with your parents may have influenced the way you attach to others as an adult. Look back and think about how your needs were met as a child, including your emotional needs. For example, was someone there to respond when you cried? Did they stay close and return when they said they would? Did they validate your emotions, or did they invalidate them or tell you to get over it? It's something that could have more of an effect on you than you realize until you look into attachment behavior and patterns of attachment. Attachment influences our social experience and social emotional and romantic patterns in adulthood. No matter what your attachment style is, it's likely that you have an internal desire for a strong emotional bond. Insecure attachment isn't the absence of the desire for bonds with others. Instead, it makes someone fear that a bond could be broken, even when there is no reason to believe this will happen. Insecure attachment can interfere with relationships, which is why it's so crucial to work on attachment for healthy relationships.
Different handbooks of attachment theory and research materials show that social emotional concerns and attachment concerns are something that often go hand in hand. Studies on early social deprivation and attachment say that children who are impacted by early social deprivation take longer to attach. The study specifically looked at institutionalized children and found that, while it took longer, the kids were able to attach a little later on. Cultivating healthy attachment takes a pointed effort following something like adoption, institutionalization, or anything else that could impact the ability to depend on a caregiver, but that effort is worth it. Look into ways to cultivate healthy attachment in children if you recognize the signs of insecure attachment, or even an attachment disorder, in your children. Even if the process isn't perfect, it's something that can be improved, and working to build trust and security with your child on their own terms is important. It might be a lifelong process for some people, but awareness is the first step to forming healthy attachments after battles with attachment for many.
Do I have an attachment disorder?
It is possible that you could have an attachment disorder if you have the symptoms of one. Refer to the question, "What are the symptoms of attachment disorder?" below to see the signs that you might have an attachment disorder as an adult. Although they are diagnosed in children, many agree that attachment disorders also affect adults. Whether positive or negative, your attachment style and attachment security most certainly affects your relationships. It is hard when you realize that you see the symptoms in yourself, so it's important to give yourself compassion and remember that this isn't your fault. Additionally, it is something that you can work through.
If you struggle with attachment, it's beneficial to find a therapist who can help you with attachment and relationships. When you find a therapist, they will help you work through any wounding related to attachment so that your romantic relationships and other adult relationships do not suffer. Often, when a person is able to identify attachment patterns, it helps them realize their patterns or insecurities and work through them accordingly. According to handbooks of attachment theory and research materials, high attachment is something that can change over time if you put the work in, and you can become more securely attached over time.
To find a therapist you can search the web, ask your doctor for a referral or call your insurance company and ask how to find a therapist that takes your insurance plan. Another way to find a therapist is to see an online counselor or therapist through a website like Regain. To find a therapist at Regain, start by going to https://www.regain.us/start/.
What are the signs of attachment disorder in adults?
Difficulties with attachment can manifest in different ways. Here are some of the signs of attachment disorders in adults that you can look out for if you think you have an attachment disorder:
- Difficulty maintaining stable relationships
- Anger or anger management issues
- A tendency to withdraw or detach from others
- Trouble giving or receiving love and affection
- Difficulty trusting others
- Feeling empty or numb
- Feeling as though you do not belong
- Control issues
Lack of secure attachment may pair with diagnoses of a mental illness that is not an attachment disorder, including borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder or BPD, in particular, is a mental illness affiliated with childhood attachment through research. Those with childhood trauma are more susceptible to attachment disorders as well as BPD and other mental health conditions. To find a therapist who works with trauma, you can search for "find a therapist near me trauma," "trauma therapist near me," or see a provider through an online therapy company like Regain. You can also find a therapist who specializes in trauma by contacting your insurance company or looking at their website to see what they cover.
What does attachment feel like?
Attachment feels like the way that you experience security or insecurity in relationships. Do you get anxious that someone is going to leave you if they take more than 30 minutes to text back, with no other reason? Do you fear that your partner will leave you when you're in a romantic relationship, no matter how much they tell you that they love you? Are you always looking for reassurance that someone will not leave? If so, those are signs of anxious attachment. Alternatively, if you trust that your partner loves you when they say they do and understand that taking time to text back doesn't mean that they no longer love you, you likely have a secure attachment style. Of course, in relationships where trust has been broken or where your emotional needs are not fulfilled, it is different. Someone with a secure attachment style will notice it when a relationship isn't quite right, but it will not be out of proportion to the partner or spouse's general behavior. Secure attachment feels like a baseline of trust.
How do you know if you have anxious attachment?
People with anxious attachment tend to seek reassurance or experience anxiety related to whether or not the people in their life will stick around and remain true to what they say. If you have a pervasive fear that romantic partners will leave no matter what they tell you or do to show you that they won't, or if your need for someone to show or tell you that they will not leave is constant and is impacting the relationship, it is likely that you have anxious attachment. It's important to remember that attachment can become more secure, and that it is just a matter of putting the work in. Refer to the question "What does insecure attachment look like?" to see the signs of an anxious attachment style. If you notice them in yourself, it's likely that you have an anxious preoccupied attachment style. You can check through handbooks of attachment theory and research papers to help you gain a broader overview of anxious attachment and other types of attachment.
How do I know my attachment style?
You might wonder if you have secure anxious preoccupied, avoidant, or disorganized attachment. If you relate to the signs of anxious attachment or avoidant attachment above, it's likely that you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style. Attachment avoidance is typically born when someone believes that they can't rely on anyone to meet their own needs. Someone with an avoidant attachment style is very independent, but they fear closeness due to the belief that it isn't safe or that the bond or proximity to another person will fail. Someone with an anxious attachment style also fears that a bond isn't reliable, but it manifests differently, with a person seeking reassurance or displaying nervousness about the potential of a romantic partner leaving even when there's no marked reason that they would. If you have a secure attachment style, you will trust that others are telling the truth when they say that they love you, are here, and will return. You'll be able to let others in and will establish stable relationships without fear or suspicion.
If you are interested in learning about attachment styles, you may consider taking an attachment test. Presently several scales are in places, and online questionnaires may also suffice. People seeking romantic love may consider a relationship attachment style test. Other persons may choose other scales as insecure disorganized disoriented Attachment have different characteristics from secure attachments. The original Attachment, including a three-category measure, was first developed in 1987. It was designed to test adulthood attachment styles. It contained three items, but they were simple enough to give the tester an overview of their attachment category. Due to a fourth addition, an expansion was included for the dismissive-avoidant category.
In addition to these, less rigorous attachment testing techniques have been developed through empirical research. These cover all four attachment styles, including a disorganized disoriented attachment pattern and other dependent and co-dependent sub-classes.
In the broad sense, the number of attachment styles is either of two; secure or insecure. Giving that the theory of attachment holds that these styles are mostly determined during childhood stages, it is safe to say it's not short term. If a child has their needs always met by at least one primary caregiver, they have developed a secure attachment style. When they grow, they are more likely to feel secure in all kinds of relationships. However, if a caregiver refuses to meet a child's needs, then an insecure attachment style might be developed. Although Attachment and loss are often implicated in these styles' progression, the affected person finds it hard to form intimate relationships with other people.
What does current research say about attachment?
Several pieces of groundbreaking attachment research have contributed to the development of attachment theory. Thus, they contribute to the validity of behavioral patterns concerning the ability to form attachments with people. The recent classifications may display strategies and behavioral patterns across several aspects of the spectrum.
Secure Attachment- people in this class generally can form positive relationships. Even though proximity to an attachment source is shown to be a contributing factor to the way they turn out, they are more likely to see others as supportive. Securely attached children tend to be more successful in their studies while taking better perspectives of other persons. As a result of their strong attachment and responsive caregiving, they are happy with themselves and other people. When a caregiver initiates contact, it is readily accepted.
Furthermore, parents of children in this category react readily. Studies also show that such children show empathetic traits in the later stages of childhood. Such traits make them appear more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles. While attachments in infancy are expected, researchers have found several factors like the consistency of a Mother's responsiveness to the child could be a determinant. Mothers who respond adversely or interfere in a child's activities may instigate anxiousness traits in the child. Also, Mothers who reject infant needs may produce children that avoid human contact.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Type - avoidant attachment children are less likely to manage stressful situations effectively. They may have short term relationships because of the likelihood to withdraw from people and resist help. Often, these traits are linked to aggression and antisocial behaviors. Ultimately causing emotional stress. The avoidance, which is the highpoint of this attachment, affects children and caregivers equally. Affected persons don't show a preference between a caregiver and a stranger. Other features like failure to support others or an inability to share feelings, thoughts, and emotions characterize this attachment.
Although adults with these kinds of attachment styles may have a deep desire to be involved in close relationships and intimate affairs, they are not committed to fulfilling such desires. According to the various theories of attachment, a person's attachment pattern can transition from one pattern to a secure attachment pattern.
Anxious-preoccupied Attachment- People with this attachment style often seek love and intimacy which can come off as clingy to some. This is because caregivers cultivated a sense of abandonment and anxiety during childhood and did not express care or concern. This causes an emotional storm within the parties involved. In such childhood attachment and adult attachment problems, the individuals are fun, loving, and good. However, they can also tend to be needy, clingy, and jealous.
- Desire constant touch, interaction, and attention
- Need constant reassurance and validation
- Experience panicked emotions and anxiousness when away from their partner
- Can use blame, guilt, shame as well as manipulative strategies to keep people close
- Neglect responsibilities due to preoccupation
- Overreact in certain circumstances
Disorganized Attachment- this fourth attachment style is not attributed to neglect or preoccupation alone; it is related to fear. The work of Kennedy & Kennedy creates a basic understanding of the disorganized early attachment patterns. The attachment figure or caregiver of affected children often deal with unresolved trauma themselves, and they cannot securely connect with the child. Since the behavior is fear-driven, scientists added a fourth attachment style that connects the past to the present. They are likely to switch to social withdrawal or become aggressive. Other signs include but are not limited to;
- Hot and Cold attitude in relationships
- Lack of remorse
- Selfish tendencies
So, could you develop a new attachment style? While attachment children have little or no control over the attachment behaviors they grow, they could develop a more secure attachment style as adults. Seeking a therapist's help is primary, but identifying patterns in attachment is a great starting point.
Does daycare affect attachment?
When looking at attachment in children, it's been noted that the majority of children are not affected by daycare. At least, not negatively. It can, in fact, positively influence attachment if a child forms a healthy, trusting bond with a daycare professional. The Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications analyses how attachment bonds are formed, as well as disruptions in these attachment bonds. One of the main hallmarks of secure attachment styles is that a person understands that someone will come back and that small absences do not mean that someone's leaving them. So, when a parent shows up to pick their child up from daycare, it will remind them that the parent is true to their word and that they can trust the caregiver.
What is an attachment disorder?
An attachment disorder is a mental health condition that is diagnosed in children. Even though it is a broad term, it describes attachment in early stages. Early attachment is a string of emotional and behavioral challenges that could develop in kids lacking secure bonds with their primary caregivers. The primary bond developed in early attachment is from birth. That bond encourages the child to learn and develop trust. This connection doesn’t occur in some children. Attachment relationships among children and caregivers maybe due to typical circumstances. A failure to develop connections with a caregiver could lead to difficulties; often attributed to attachment disorder in adults.
The most commonly spoken about attachment disorder is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and it may be noticed as early as the first birthday. Attachment is something that impacts everyone. It impacts any romantic relationship, friendship, and other connection we get into. Some people even say that it affects the workplace. We all have an attachment style, and while the goal is to work toward secure attachment, it doesn't make you "less than" if you aren't securely attached or if you have an attachment disorder.
The effects of an attachment disorder can last into romantic love and adulthood. Many people see signs of attachment disorders in themselves as an adult. Even though attachment and loss have been linked together through studies and deductions, the good news is that if you find a therapist who understands attachment, your attachment status is something that you can work on. Sometimes, issues with attachment pair mental illness diagnoses such as eating disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders such as BPD. If you experience symptoms related to eating disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, or personality disorders or other attachment-based disorders, it is important to see a mental health professional.
What are insecure attachments?
Insecure attachments refer to any attachment style that is not secure. That means that anxious attachment and avoidant attachment are both forms of insecure attachment. People with an insecure attachment style tend to experience a greater struggle with creating bonds and building healthy, trusting relationships. If someone is securely attached, they won't worry that a person will leave without reason and will not need constant reassurance that someone will not leave them because they fundamentally believe that their needs will be met, nor will they push people away out of the fear of getting close. To understand the concept of attachment, a psychological study or approach is needed. To learn more about the signs of insecure attachment styles, refer to the question, "what does insecure attachment look like?" The Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications by Jude Cassidy and Phillip R. Shaver can help in answering these questions. It will help you to understand child-parent attachment as well as adult attachment theory. Also, a mental health professional can help you work through insecure attachment so that you can have healthy bonds moving forward. Find a counselor or therapist in your local area, or start working with a professional at Regain today.
What is attachment in a relationship?
In the words of Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, “the need to belong is a major force that drives individuals.” It’s, therefore, in human nature to seek relationships and support in others. According to research, about 35-40% of people report that they have attachment insecurity in their adult relationships. The other 60-65% report security and satisfaction in their relationships. The level of insecurity in a relationship depends on the foundation of the relationship. Therefore, it is safe to say that, from child development till adulthood, people that we interact with, live with, find love and comfort in and turn to in times of distress are “attachment figures” in our lives.
Attachment is based on the sense of closeness and trust you feel with other people. It relates to your sense of security in relationships. Someone who's not securely attached may fear that people will leave, fail to stay close, or push others away, whereas someone who has a secure attachment style will attach to others healthily. People who are securely attached typically experience trust, healthy self-esteem, and the ability to be vulnerable or share their feelings with others. Attachment is important in relationships because it relates to the way we establish bonds with others.
The Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications, in its first chapter deals with the nature of a child’s ties. When a child is born or during early childhood, it is easy to notice their attachment to caregivers. So, everyone experiences anger, joy, sadness, etc. In these moments, the non-verbal communication seems to be of more impact. Inevitably, the bonding we grow up with and how we relate with people forms the basis of our interaction with them- forming the phenomenon is called “attachment” in psychology.
In understanding attachment, the theory of attachment is paramount. The development of attachment is seen in adult relationships, emotional affairs, friendships, and even interactions with inanimate objects. As a result, attachment may be responsible for;
- Shaping an individual’s ability to maintain emotional balance
- Determine the success or failure of intimate relationships.
- Define the ability to find satisfaction in others
So, what is the attachment bond?
According to popular belief, the mother-child bond stems from birth and is a primary force in child development. According to the theory of attachment, the work of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, he explained how a person’s early relationship could impact their future relationships. He describes the classical conditioning of a relationship as “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Later expanded by Mary Ainsworth- an American psychologist, the theory of attachment critically analyzes the science of attachment to humans’ behavioral system(s).
The theory of attachment shows that a relationship between infants and their primary caregivers could;
- Shape all future relationships
- Strengthen or damage the ability to be conscious of feelings, remain focused, or be calm.
- Foster the ability to bounce back from a misfortunate situation
- Shape social attachments in infancy
The theory, based on research, has only two types of primary attachment;
- Secure attachment
- Insecure attachment
Here’s what it says- that infant/adult interaction in a secure and successful attachment is one where the mother and the infant can sense each other’s feelings. That means such infants are safe and understand attachments to mothers. The child becomes attached, and the mother also reacts according to a change in their needs. On the other side, insecure stages of attachment like ambivalent attachment develop due to miscommunication of feelings or failure in communicating feelings. The same research suggests that family issues like abuse could cause insecure attachment, resulting in mental disorders, isolation, and loneliness.
Bowlby believed that there are four attachment characteristics – proximity maintenance, haven, secure base, and separation distress. Furthermore, he made the propositions that;
- Attachment children raised with confidence are less likely to experience fear than those raised without such values.
- Confidence is developed in developmental years, including infancy, childhood, and adolescence. He further said that expectations are formed during these periods, and they tend to remain unchanged throughout life time.
- Lastly, he proposed that formed expectations are directly linked to experience.
Secure attachment – generally described as having a positive view of self and of others. Individuals in this kind of attachment thrive in their relationships because they are comfortable and are not afraid of being alone. Their feeling is not based on the responsiveness or approval of others.
The several causes of insecure attachment include but are not limited to;
- Physical neglect
- Emotional abuse
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Departure from the primary caregiver
- Inconsistency on the part of the caregiver
- Maternal depression- withdrawal of the maternal figure from maternal roles
- Lack of parenting skills
Based on Ainsworth’s work, as an expansion of the theory, she proposed that attachment has three major styles; secure attachment, ambivalent insecure, and avoidant insecure. Researchers Main and Solomon, through their work, which may be seen as “attachment exploration,” added a fourth category – ‘disorganized-insecure’. Above all, what is seen is attachment exploration and separation of facts from Bowlby’s work. But, before you blame your caregiver for your present attachment style in relating to others, further studies show that attachment styles attachment is not necessarily identical during early childhood and adult romantic events. For instance, divorce is shown to have unrelated relation to attachment style. So, life attachment may be different in developmental stages.
Now that you know the attachment classifications and styles that exist, you can ask yourself where you stand. It is completely natural to think about it since some of these features could reflect in the history of your relationships with others.
What are the symptoms of attachment disorder?
Though attachment disorders are technically diagnosed in children, adults can struggle with attachment disorders and are most certainly impacted by their attachment style. To cultivate secure attachment in children, there are a variety of things that parents can and should do. A child must see that a caregiver returns when they leave, creating basic patterns of security. Additionally, to cultivate secure attachment in children, you should respond to their emotional needs and physical needs. For example, come immediately when your baby cries and comfort them, and respond to their physical needs, including hunger. Spend time with your child, make eye contact with them, and ensure that your patterns related to care, response, presence, and proximity are predictable. You should be emotionally available and there for your child to come to. If your child can depend on you to show up and meet their needs, trust will build, and your child will know that they can rely on you. The sensation of unmet needs can exist long into adulthood, and despite the fact that needs in a romantic relationship will vary from those in a parent-child relationship, knowing that your needs should be met sets you up to have stable relationships.
Based on deductions from the pioneering theory of attachment, stages of attachment could have adverse effects on individuals and their relationships. Attachment disorder is a rather generic term for such adverse conditions as they are linked to emotional challenges.
Disorders in attachments develop by an inability to form long-term connections or relationships. The AACAP describes it as psychiatric illnesses. The condition could be seen in younger children who have challenges forming emotional attachments with others. Don’t just keep dismissing avoidant attachment signs in your child. These conditions can be noticed as early as the first birthday; and by then, it is safe to seek a child therapist.
Some of the following could be a reason for concern;
- Weight loss or feeding difficulties
- Failure to gain weight
- Detachment or unresponsive behavior
- Preoccupation or defiance
- Closeness to strangers or development of social attachments to strangers
- Sad appearance and irritability
- Failure to ask for support or reach out when picked up
Other signs that may not be associated directly with the disorder are such as is seen in autism spectrum disorder. Kids that experience these disorders may have emotional health challenges. Some of these could result from inadequate care in an institutional set-up resulting in the inability to form an attachment. Risk factors could include;
- Frequent change in foster homes or caregivers
- Prolonged separation from parents as a result of hospitalization.
Research suggests that the exact cause of attachment disorders may not be clear, but inadequate care is a probable cause.
There two known types of attachment disorders;
- Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)—people with RAD are less likely to interact with people because of their negative experiences. As a result, they do not look for comfort when stressed and may have difficulty calming down. They may be seen to exhibit a variety of behaviors such as sadness, avoiding physical touch, etc.
- They fail to smile
- Show no affection for others.
- Have self-destructive tendencies
- Bully others
- Have intense anger bursts
- Lack of fear of strangers
- Withdraw and does not make eye contact.
A study reports that children with such disorders are at higher risk of language challenges.
- Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)-- In this category, affected people don’t appear fearful when meeting someone for the first time. Instead, they are over-friendly and even hug them. In this class, children’s attachment propel them to allow strangers to pick them up or feed them. They could inevitably go with someone they don’t know.
Parents or caregivers of children in this category may consider;
- Seeking help from professional counselors.
- Opt for a comprehensive evaluation.
Treatment- psychotherapy counseling focuses on reducing the challenging behaviors, so a one-on-one visit to a therapist might be what you need. Developing social skills could help affected people learn how to interact with others better too. Furthermore, family therapy may help family members to learn new ways of interaction.
What does insecure attachment look like?
According to the pioneering psychology attachment theory of Bowlby, many people are capable of forming insecure attachments. Attachment patterns, in general, are formed during early childhood and tend to persist throughout a lifetime if not addressed. Insecure attachment is such that people express their feelings through mixed emotions. Adults that exhibit such traits are said to have grown up outside of a consistent, supportive, or validating environment. Ultimately, they struggle with relationships. However, joining a therapy group could improve social emotional, and cognitive skills that seem to be lacking.
If a person has an insecure attachment, it could take one of three forms- avoidant, anxious, or disorganized- going by Bowlby’s theory.
Insecure attachment might refer to avoidant or anxious attachment. Insecure attachment refers to any attachment style with the lack of attachment security.
Here are some of the potential signs of anxious preoccupied attachment:
- Reassurance seeking or the need for reassurance that someone will not leave you
- Difficulty trusting others
- Finding that your moods are controlled or easily influenced by the sense of closeness or proximity you have to another person
- Fear of abandonment
- Low confidence
Here are some of the potential signs of avoidant attachment:
- The tendency to detach or experience fear when you get begin to get close to others
- Discomfort with emotional intimacy or vulnerability
- The tendency to send mixed signals out of a combined desire for intimacy and fear of intimacy
- Difficulty trusting others
- Fear of commitment
- A tendency to leave when closeness begins to establish
- Looking for reasons to dislike a partner or potential partner out of fear of closeness
On top of anxious preoccupied attachment and avoidant attachment, another kind of insecure attachment is resistant attachment. Resistant attachment in children will look like a child who is too anxious to explore the world and is distressed without their caregiver or parent, but once they are reunited, the child is either upset at the caregiver or appears ambivalent toward the caregiver.
Anxious resistant (Preoccupied) –people in this category tend to exhibit behaviors attached to esteem and positive views. For instance, the thought of living without a partner or alone having them anxious. As a result, they seek the approval of others –their partners. On the positive side, they value their relationships a lot but are constantly anxious that their partners are not investing as much as they are. The absence of support or intimacy could also cause clinging tendencies and desperation.
From Mary Ainsworth’s assessment of children with anxious attachment patterns between 12 and 18 months after reunion with their mothers through further research-- she recorded that they were confused and agitated. Also, some of them could not make direct eye contact. Research suggests that child-rearing practices reflect specific attachment patterns. For instance, parents who grew up with an anxious resistant attachment could inevitably raise their kids the same way.
How can anxious attachment develop?
The stage of an attachment may not follow a specific order, but certain factors negatively impact child development. However, the most obvious is the inconsistency in their relationship.
Avoidant (Dismissive/attachment related avoidance) – ever heard of people who classify themselves as lone wolves? They could be in this class. They exhibit strength, independence, and self-sufficiency, emotionally than physically, and avoid situations that could make them form attachments with humans. They don’t want dependence on others nor believe that a relationship makes them complete. Adults in this category tend to suppress feelings, avoid closeness, and don’t want others to depend on them. They avoid investing their emotions in relationships and could make up excuses to the effect.
Disorganized (Fearful-Avoidant) shows unstable and indefinite behaviors, especially in social emotional, and cognitive circles. Adults in this category often see their partner as the source of fear and desire. They want intimacy, but at the same time, they have trust issues and experience trouble in depending on others. Overall, due to their fear of getting hurt, they cannot regulate their emotions well. People in this category are thought to have had traumatizing experiences, including emotional or physical abuse from caregivers.
Some of the pointers of disorganized attachment include;
- Outbursts and erratic behavioral patterns
- Poor self-image/ self-hatred
A possible approach to overcoming insecure attachment; despite the kind of attachment across affected individuals’ lives, they can record drastic positive changes if they get the right help. You can read through the handbook of attachment theory and research on how to build healthy attachments. Regardless of the kind of psychology attachment or stages of attachment, interaction with professionals could help. Working with a therapist, for instance, helps the individual move forward towards a positive and healthy aspect of their life. Parents and other attachment figures also should consider seeing a therapist when they notice such symptoms in their partners or kids.
Again, couples that get into repetitive patterns of interactions may not be aware of the underlying issues. Thereby, managed care for surface issues may not be sufficient. When it comes to severe issues, solutions may be attachment oriented. They provide a safe environment for discussions and could prescribe exercise to alleviate certain symptoms.
What can attachment disorder look like in adults?
Perhaps, the question to ask is if adults can have attachment disorders? There is a possibility, especially if left untreated in kids. Adult Attachment Disorder or AAD is a direct result of certain challenges in the developmental stages of an individual. According to the study of the attachment theory, the causes and symptoms of attachment disorders could last for a lifetime. Before an individual is considered to suffer from AAD, they must demonstrate at least 2 or 3 symptoms. The disorder is still under study, and several treatments are being developed.
Wikipedia describes attachment disorder as a “disorder of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form an attachment to primary caregivers.” Although symptoms of AAD could manifest in the following attachment behaviors;
- Behavioral problems
- Low self-esteem issues
- Lack of empathy
- Superficial pleasantness
- Lack of trust
- Mental health problems
- Resistance to love etc.
It has been associated with multiple attachments and some mental and social problems;
Alexithymia: a personality trait where individuals lack emotional awareness. People in such categories find it hard to identify, express, or even experience emotions. Sometimes, they come off as cold and distant, which increases their inability to form relationships with the development of attachment. AAD is seen as an etiological factor in the propagation of this condition.
Depression and Anxiety: adults with attachment related anxiety disorders seem to internalize their emotions, which predisposes them to the development of other psychiatric challenges. A meta-analysis report found that unresolved attachment-re