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

By Toni Hoy

Updated July 12, 2019

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.

What Is Ambivalent Attachment?

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Ambivalent attachment is an unhealthy attachment style for your child to have. In this type of attachment, the child is generally reacting to unpredictable home life. That means they are never certain what type of reaction they will get from their parent or caregiver and therefore attempt to control the situation as best they can. Because they never know what to expect, the child will also never understand how they should act when they are introduced to the caregiver again.

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 will generally be very 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

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There are different types of this classification of attachment, which are considered sub-classifications. An ambivalent resistant child will generally seek attention and contact yet simultaneously be 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 will generally 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 generally protest slightly.

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 in this type of parenting style will generally show nurturing, responsiveness, and attunement to their child's needs at times. At other times, they will be insensitive or emotionally unavailable. Because the responses are extremely different, the child never knows what could happen next. Because of this, they tend to be confused and extremely insecure about what is going to happen to them throughout their life.

This can result in a range of different problems for the child as they get older. And with more than just the relationship they have with their parent or caregiver, other relationships they have may experience the same result.

What It Means For The Future

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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 even distrustful when it comes to their parent, but at the same time, they are extremely clingy and very desperate for their attention. They know that clinging is the best way to get attention, and therefore, they will continue to do whatever they can with their caregiver.

They are generally very insecure as adults and can be very self-critical as well. They want approval, and they desire reassurance, but even when they receive it, they still tend to have very little self-esteem and a great deal of self-doubt. They feel that they will always be rejected and this leads them to be extremely clingy and dependent on a partner or other individual. They become emotionally desperate and yet not trusting at the same time. They pursue others and have positive views of others but feel very negative about themselves. They will anticipate rejection and therefore, may see 'signs' where there are none.

They may even engage in pre-emptive strategies in a way to keep them 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 extremely resentful and even angry toward their partners, often 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.

Finding Treatment And Healing For Ambivalent-Attachment

Ambivalent-attachment disorders are challenging to treat, even for highly trained clinicians. Nearly all attachment issues developed while infants and toddlers had a limited ability to talk, speak, or think. Difficulty in attaching becomes psychologically ingrained in them. Children with ambivalent attachment are aware that they have weak attachments, and they don't know why they act the way they do. This is why children with the most severe types of ambivalent-attachments don't respond to some of the common types of clinical treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy or insight.

Several other things make treating attachment disorders difficult. When a child is forced to live in a neglectful or abusive environment, they sometimes adapt by playing the role of the parent. These children lose a sense of themselves and have trouble understanding who they are separate from everyone else.

The sensations from a trauma background make them feel overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with the decision-making for everyday life issues. Such children respond by displaying regressive, infantile behavior. Other responses may include hypervigilance, heightened startle response, irritability, anxiety, hyperactivity, and disassociation. Some children avoid stressful issues or go into a state of numbness. Instead of exploring and learning as other children the same age are doing, their focus turns to protect their basic needs for survival and safety, such as food, water, and shelter. The result is that children have a poor ability to solve problems and understand risks.

There are three main areas where clinicians need to work on healing for attachment:

  1. Developing a social personality as opposed to an anti-social personality
  2. Allowing them to regain some sense of a normal childhood
  3. Helping them develop a conscience

Regardless of what age a person is at the time of treatment for attachment issues, successful intervention necessitates helping a child recreate and re-experience the childhood experiences they missed so that they can have an awareness of their childlikeness.

Children who live with attachment disorders often have little sense of a healthy conscience. This is the reason they lie and steal without having a sense of guilt. It's only in helping them develop a conscience that they will be able to experience connectedness to others. Only then will they be able to read the facial expressions and body language to detect someone else's distress and be able to respond to it appropriately.

The goal of attachment therapy is to help the child attune to their parents first and then to others. This is a vital step in helping a child develop a conscience. In addition to working with the child, clinicians must also work with parents in how they respond to their children. To assist in the process of helping a child develop a conscience, parents must work with clinicians on strategies that appeal to a child's internal sense of wrongdoing, without expressing an attitude of power. Parents and clinicians have to guide children to internalize their feelings and emotions to start the process of developing a conscience.

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It seems that it doesn't matter whether social orientation comes first or if it's better to help a child develop his or her conscience first. It's essential that children develop both processes.

Another thing that makes treating attachment disordered children so difficult is that they can be on different levels of the relationship with different people in their lives. This is an especially difficult concept for parents who prefer to be the frontrunners with their child's ability to bond and attach.

Since there is no definitive way to assess a child's ability to attach, it's often difficult to assess the child's progress. Children have to go through all the essential steps of relationship building before they can successfully heal from issues related to ambivalent-attachment.

Wrapping Up

If you are exhibiting signs of ambivalent parenting, then you may want to get help. Regain is one place that you can get the help that you need without having to leave your home. Parents can change their parenting style, and even if your child is getting older, you can make improvements and help them. It's never too late, so make sure you are seeking out help for your family. If you have grown up in an ambivalent attachment household and need help learning to improve your relationships, you can seek out professional help as well and help build a better future.


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