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

By Joy Youell

Updated April 27, 2020

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

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

When it comes to attachment, there are some different things that you need to know. For one thing, 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.

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

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What Is Ambivalent Attachment?

Ambivalent attachment is an unhealthy attachment style that can stem from an unpredictable home life. When children are not certain what type of reaction they will get from their parent or caregiver, they will detach or stop forming emotional attachments.

Children who are raised in this type of atmosphere may show anger or helplessness when interacting with their caregiver. This could be in response to the behavior that they notice from their caregiver at the time or simply a reaction to previous behavior from the caregiver. This type of child, during their younger years, will generally exhibit very little interest in exploring and be uncertain of strangers even if their parent is nearby. When the parent leaves, they tend to exhibit distress. However, when the parent returns, they are generally ambivalent toward them and ignore them.

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.

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. However, they will not actively approach and will not resist release but will only slightly protest.

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 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 throughout their life. You'll want to consider the future for your child and not just what's happening to them right now. Everything can be changed over time.

Parents who foster ambivalent attachment may show be nurturing and responsive one moment and insensitive or unavailable the next. The unpredictable responses lead to insecurity in the child, who never knows what will happen next. This may lead to confusion and fear. This pattern impacts not just the relationship they have with their parent or caregiver, but affects other relationships even into adulthood.

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What It Means For The Future

What does it mean for a child who grows up in this type of environment? Well, it can mean a lot of things. 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 of the parent. At the same time, they are extremely clingy and desperate for their attention. They know that clinging is the best way to get attention. They will continue to do whatever they can with their caregiver.

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. They feel that they will always be rejected and this leads them to be clingy and dependent on a partner or other individual. This leads to emotional desperation, tempered only by a persistent distrust of other people. They pursue others and have positive views of others but feel very negative about themselves. 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. Because of their needs, they can be resentful and even angry toward their partners, who may describe them as dramatic and anxious. They may even believe that they have to act this way to get the attention that they want. 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.

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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 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 therapy. 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 reframe life experiences.

Children who live with attachment disorders may have a lower conscience, which increases their ability to make poor choices without guilt. This can transition into adulthood and pose ethical issues. 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.

Attachment issues are treatable. Whenever they are uncovered, whether for children or adults, effective therapies are available to address symptoms and recover health. Mental wellness is within grasp! 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 patterns 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. 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.

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