Ambivalent Attachment: What Is Ambivalent Attachment And What Do You Need To Know?

By: Joy Youell

Updated November 18, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Understanding Ambivalent Attachment

The attachments we form in childhood impact our adult lives every day. Attachments can be good and healthy as secure attachments. They can also be problematic as insecure attachments. Understanding your own habits of attachment can be an important component of your mental wellness.

When it comes to attachment, you need to know the types of attachment that are healthy for your child, and then you want to know how to foster one or the other. You also need to know which types of attachment are unhealthy so you can make sure that your child is better prepared for the future. That's what positive forms of attachment will do, after all. When it comes to ambivalent attachment or anxious-ambivalent attachment, you want to discourage this type of connection.

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Understanding Attachment Theory

Attachment theory was first described by John Bowlby in the 1950s. According to John Bowlby’s attachment theory, infants and children look to their primary caregiver when they are in distress. This attachment is a type of survival mechanism as the infant looks to their caregiver to provide food and comfort, and how caregivers respond to the infant play a role in the child’s long term emotional development. 

Secure Attachment

The secure attachment style is one of the attachment styles or an attachment pattern that are healthy and normal in children. According to attachment theory, secure attachment style forms when an infant has a reliable source of care. When the infant cries, the attachment figure or attachment figures addresses the infant’s needs and this allows the child to develop a secure attachment or form a secure attachment. A person with a secure attachment style enjoy the benefits of developing a secure attachment such as feeling secure in their platonic and romantic relationships as an adult.

What Is Ambivalent Attachment?

Ambivalent attachment is one style of attachment out of the attachment styles that is an unhealthy, specific attachment style that causes an infant to become insecurely attached to the caregiver. When children are not certain what type of reaction they will get from their parent, caregiver, or attachment figures, they will become insecurely attached detach or stop forming emotional attachments. The lack of secure base can cause this avoidant attachment style or avoidant attachment pattern to last in adulthood as one's attachment style affects a person long term. 

Children who are raised in this type of atmosphere may show distress when the parent leaves. However, when the parent returns, they are generally ambivalent toward them and ignore them. This is a sign that they insecurely attached to their caregiver.

Types Of Ambivalent Attachment

There are different types of this classification of attachment, which are considered sub-classifications. An ambivalent resistant child will seek attention and contact while simultaneously being resistant to that contact. They tend to be very angry toward the caregiver, whether before or after any type of separation. This is one type of avoidant attachment.

An ambivalent passive child is generally very limited in their exploratory behaviors and may have no interest in actively initiating different types of attention or interaction. They will desire interaction and attention from the mother. This is another type of avoidant attachment.

What Causes Ambivalent Attachment?

Besides having an uncertain relationship with the parent or caregiver, children who are abused during their childhood tend to have a higher than average risk of developing an anxious ambivalent attachment to their parents. Unfortunately, there are some different problems and difficulties that children who grow up with this type of attachment will have it throughout their life as attachment style affects children long term. 

Parents who foster anxious ambivalent attachment may show be nurturing and responsive one moment and insensitive or unavailable the next. This pattern impacts not just the relationship they have with their parent or caregiver but these forms of attachment style affects other relationships even into adulthood because of avoidant attachment and/or insecure attachment.


What It Means For The Future

What does it mean for a child who grows up in this type of environment? For one, it means that the child is generally insecure in their relationship with the parent but also with relationships with others. They tend to be suspicious and mistrustful but are extremely clingy and desperate for their parent's attention. 

Children with attachment disorders may be insecure as adults and can be very self-critical. They want approval and they desire reassurance but, even when they receive it, they still tend to have very low self-esteem.  Even into adulthood, they will anticipate rejection.

People with this kind of disorder may even engage in preemptive strategies as a way to keep themselves from being rejected. Unfortunately, they can be too dependent, demanding and possessive, which causes them to push their partner away. Someone with this type of behavior may also have emotional problems that include depression or may be angry and then plead for forgiveness from their partner.

How Do I Help My Child With Ambivalent Attachment?
Therapy Can Help - Speak With A Licensed Counselor Now.


If you or someone you love shows signs of attachment issues or an attachment disorder, you should seek the help of a licensed counselor or mental health professional. Treatment will be a journey, but it is well within reach.

Finding Treatment And Healing For Ambivalent-Attachment

People who have grown up in environments that create anxious ambivalent attachment disorders may feel discouraged by their lack of ability to sustain healthy relationships. Although it could be challenging, attachment disorders are something that can be worked on in therapy and you can definitely change your attachment style, style of attachment, or attachment pattern and develop an earned secure attachment style. Ambivalent attachment usually involves anxiety and challenges in relationships, which are two widely common things that people seek therapy for. Even disorders like this that develop early in childhood are treatable with the right counselor and course of action.

There are three main areas where clinicians and patients can work on healing for attachment issues:

  1. Developing a social personality
  2. Healing of childhood trauma
  3. Encouraging communication and trust

Regardless of what age a person is at the time of treatment for attachment issues, successful intervention can recover positive childhood memories and be healing from attachment issues in childhood and lead to an earned secure attaachment style.

Children who live with attachment disorders may have a lower conscience, which increases their ability to make poor choices without guilt. Healing childhood trauma or recovering from the root cause of attachment issues is the best first step to overcoming this challenge.

Additionally, children with attachment issues may become adults with under-developed social skills. Because they didn't feel safe forming attachments, now they seem unable to do so. With the right coaching, these adults can pursue and maintain healthy relationships as they learn how to read body language and rightly respond to social cues.

The goal of attachment therapy is to help a child connect first to their parents first and then to others. This is a vital step in helping a child develop a conscience, social life and understand relationships. In addition to working with the child, clinicians must also work with parents in how they respond to their children.

Reactive attachment disorders are treatable. Whenever they are uncovered, whether for children or adults, effective therapies are available to address symptoms and recover health.  Here are some of the kinds of treatment that can be provided to address attachment issues:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Gestalt therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Holistic therapy

Many counselors are well-equipped to take clients through this journey of healing from attachment issues. ReGain has a large community of licensed counselors who can help you or your child recover from attachment issues. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Even when I had no idea what kind of counselor to pick, I was matched with a beyond certified and compassionate woman who was a GREAT listener. I really connected with her and she will be in my contacts forever . Andrea has been flexible with her scheduling even in the chaos that was my life. I'm so appreciative of her abilities to help me. She helped me learn to love myself through a divorce, childhood trauma, and overcome my fears for the future."

"My husband and I have been meeting online with Potoula Diaz for a few weeks, and we've already made great progress in the areas of communication where we need improvement. It has also been a great comfort to me to hear her comment on issues from my past in a way that shows how those negative experiences affect me now but can be overcome. I feel supported and comforted by her guidance, and she takes time to truly understand the root of a struggle in order to plan the best path forward for all concerned. Great experience so far!"


If you see that you or your child have attachment issues, help is available. It is not too late to re-set attachment patterns or style of attachment that may have followed you since childhood. It is certainly not too late to adjust your own parenting so that your child makes healthy and meaningful attachments and develop a secure attachment. ReGain is one place that you can get the help that you need without having to leave your home. Online counseling has helped numerous people with attachment issues build a better future.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

What is ambivalent attachment in adults?

The ambivalent attachment style or the ambivalent attachment pattern typically occurs in adults from an insecure attachment to a caregiver in infancy. Because the infant was unable to rely on the attachment figure for love and care, they grow into adults who mistrust their relationships and feel as though they cannot depend on them. Adults with an anxious ambivalent attachment pattern may keep loved ones at a distance, while also clinging to them out of fear of abandonment. 

What is ambivalent attachment in psychology?

According to attachment theory, ambivalent attachment is an attachment pattern in psychology occurs when an infant does not have a secure base in infancy, leading to an insecure ambivalent attachment pattern. These attachment patterns occur when the infant does not receive consistent treatment from their caregiver, which causes them to stop forming emotional attachments. This attachment style may manifest later in life through a mistrust or fear of relationships.

Is ambivalent attachment the same as an anxious attachment pattern or anxious attachment in general?

Anxious attachment pattern or an anxious attachment style and ambivalent attachment are similar because they both are caused by an insecure caregiver and a person who is anxiously attached and developed an anxious attachment style can feel similar symptoms. People who are anxiously attached with an anxious attachment pattern will tend to cling to their caregiver as a result of their anxious attachment style. Those with ambivalent attachment tend to ignore them in their presence but feel anxious when they leave.

What is insecure ambivalent attachment?

According to a field of study called attachment theory, insecure ambivalent attachment is when an infant fails to form a secure base in childhood. A secure base or developing secure attachment is usually a parent or caregiver who is consistent, who feeds the baby when he or she is hungry, or who responds when the baby cries. Disorganized attachment may occur if the baby does not have a secure base, and instead has an insecure base, or someone who is inconsistent, absent, or neglectful. Due to the lack of a secure base, the infant may develop an insecure ambivalent attachment, which causes them to mistrust relationships in the future and feel anxiously attached to their partner.

What does ambivalent attachment look like?

Adults with an ambivalent attachment may keep loved ones at a distance, while also clinging to them for fear of abandonment. In children, they will ignore or express ambivalence around their caregiver, but become anxious, angry, or upset when they leave.

How is ambivalent attachment treated?

Ambivalent attachment, according to attachment theory, can be treated in therapy by addressing the root causes in therapy and individuals learn how to become securly attached. Forming new secure attachments can be healing for those who did not have them as children. 

What are the signs of attachment disorder in adults?

Adults with an ambivalent attachment disorder, according to attachment theory, may keep loved ones at a distance, while also clinging to them for fear of abandonment. This is difficult for avoidant people and those with avoidant attachment.

What causes an ambivalent attachment?

Ambivalent attachment is causes when an infant learns that their caregiver or parent is unreliable. This may be because the parent is neglectful, inconsistent, or unavailable, and the baby may internalize the belief that they cannot depend on any relationship. This is the opposite of secure attachment, which is healthy.  

What are ambivalent attachment behaviors?

Ambivalent attachment behaviors can be varied and substantial depending on how severe one has the disorder as there could be several forms of ambivalent attachment like anxious ambivalent attachment where the individual is anxiously attached to their caregiver or has formed an anxious attachment pattern. These behaviors stem from insecurely attached children when they were abandoned by a parent or parents, infant attachment due to lack of bonding or attachment with caregivers. 

Research on attachment shows that lack of attachment to the mother from the time of birth results in insecurely attached children which can develop into anxious attachment, the child becoming anxiously attached, anxious attacment pattern or an anxious preoccupied attachment style. Attachment behaviors may include jealous and clingy behavior or heavy reliance on the partner.

When a child fails to form an attachment with an adult, due to neglect or other circumstances, they will attempt to form relationships in the same way that they were raised in and treated. While negative attachment behavior is a result from non attachment security, or insecurity, it is merely learned behavior. 

For example, a child raised in a loving environment tend to be securely attached children whereas they treat each other with kindness and sympathy. Attachment behaviors may include hugging, asking if someone who looks sad is okay, understanding when someone needs to be left alone in times of sadness, etc. 

The attachment system is healthy and normal. The attachment system in early attachment deprived children, however, is one where attachment security is lacking.

How can early attachment neglect and lack of attachment security be treated?

It is difficult to treat attachment characterized by early neglectful ideologies; however, attachment security can be corrected with proper therapy and you can form a secure attachment.  Since your attachment affects all aspects of your life, on the biggest benefits is that those with a secure attachment style enjoy a sense of security in relationships. 

When attachment behavior is noted, it is possible for the attachment styles secure or securities to be implemented in order to counter the insecure attachments originally learned.  

An attachment system must be formed, learned, and adapted. Attachment behaviors and styles such as anxious attachment pattern, anxious preoccupied attachment style or an anxious avoidant attachment pattern, must be re-learned. Insecure attachments are based on negative experiences that took place when we were in early developmental phases of life. Attachment security needs to be established in a trusting environment and relationships. In addition, attachment behavior modification also needs to be a part of attachment system formation to help others live healthy, thriving relationships. 

Can I get therapy online?

Yes! Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as in person therapy. This has been shown to be especially true for online therapy for depression. So, whether it’s online or in person therapy, it’s a great way to help improve your mental health.

If you are seeking mental health help, you can set up weekly sessions with a therapist today at sites like BetterHelp and Online therapy options can offer therapy or counseling for various mental health problems with licensed professionals.

Alternatively, online therapy chat can be a paid service with licensed professionals. That means you pay a small fee in order to speak to a therapist whenever they are available. Even just a chat can be a great tool for

  1. feeling as though someone is there for you, whether online or in-person
  2. getting advice in times of crisis from a professional counselor, and
  3. getting insights about your actions from someone who knows a lot about behavioral health and can help you develop methods for handling your emotions in healthy ways.

If you're still wondering if online therapy is right for you, please feel free to contact us at or check BetterHelp/ out online at FacebookTwitterInstagramGoogle+LinkedInPinterest & Tumblr.

If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) - 1-800-656-4673

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233

NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) - 1-800-950-6264

For more information on mental health, please see:

- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

SAMHSA FacebookSAMHSA Twitter

- Mental Health America

MHA TwitterMHA FacebookMHA InstagramMHA Pinterest

- WebMD

WebMD FacebookWebMD TwitterWebMD Pinterest

- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)

NIMH FacebookNIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube

- APA (American Psychiatric Association)

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