Which Types Of Attachment Are Healthy and Unhealthy?
Nearly everyone feels an attachment to someone. You may have an attachment to one or more of your parents, for example. You might also feel the same way about your children if you have any, your romantic partner, or even a close friend. Understanding the many types of attachment – both healthy and unhealthy – can help you make better relationship choices and improve your life in other ways, too.
What Are The Types Of Attachment?
Researchers have studied attachment for many decades. In the mid-1900s, psychoanalyst John Bowlby developed his attachment theory based on various studies as well as his clinical experiences with patients. Bowlby's work was primarily with children and adolescents, but he acknowledged that attachments form throughout the lifespan.
Mary Ainsworth, an associate of Bowlby’s, developed the Strange Situation test to find out more about infant attachment. Later, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver used Bowlby's and Ainsworth's concepts to develop adult attachment theory.
The following are the main types of attachment infants have to their caregivers:
- Resistant (also called ambivalent)
An infant with an unhealthy or insecure attachment may lack optimal development. Attachment issues in children can affect them as they become adults. Once they develop an unhealthy first attachment, they may carry that attachment style into adulthood and can even pass it on to their children.
Secure Infant Attachment
In Ainsworth's Strange Situation Test, the infants with secure attachment explored freely when the caregiver was nearby. Whenever the infant felt distressed, they would come close to them for reassurance. Then, they went back to exploring. When the caregiver left, the infant showed only mild distress. When the caregiver returned, the infant quickly re-established contact.
Benefits Of Secure Attachment
Benefits of attachment in infants include:
- Healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development
- Being more outgoing
- Explores their environment freely
- Enhanced learning
As infants grow into children, they demonstrate these benefits of secure attachment:
- More socially constructive
- Less aggressive
- More empathetic
- More creative
- More persistent
- Enhanced learning
- Copes with difficulties more easily
Anxious/Avoidant Infant Attachment
Anxious/avoidant infant attachment is an insecure attachment marked by fear and indifference.
In the Strange Situation test, infants with anxious/avoidant attachment didn't explore much when their caregiver was present. When their caregiver left and returned, they showed no signs that they noticed their absence. Some even avoided their caregiver altogether when they returned.
Infants with an anxious/avoidant attachment style may learn not to seek help and comfort because their primary caregiver could have failed to provide that. They may not express their feelings of distress because they might have learned that the best way to stay close to their caregiver is to hide those feelings.
As they get older, they may develop a critical inner voice that tells them to avoid people, not get involved, and not invest in romantic relationships.
Benefits Of Secure Adult Attachment
Secure adult attachment has significant benefits, too:
- Greater ability to form a social network
- Better at choosing romantic partners
- Greater ability to form healthy attachments to romantic partners and others
- Better work and social relationships
Unhealthy Adult Attachment Styles
When you have an insecure adult attachment, your life may be challenging. You may suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges for instance. Your relationships may be volatile since your unhealthy attachment might keep you from connecting with your partner in a positive way. Moreover, an unhealthy attachment style can affect social and work relationships.
Anxious-Preoccupied Adult Attachment
An adult with an anxious-preoccupied attachment tends to think poorly of themselves. They might doubt their competence, for instance. At the same time, they may think well of others, trusting easily and viewing most people as dependable.
An adult with a preoccupied attachment might seek help when they're distressed. In fact, they could rely on others' help so much that they can sometimes become dependent on them or set aside their own thoughts and feelings in preference for theirs.
Perhaps the greatest risk associated with anxious-preoccupied attachment as an adult is the tendency to let others take control of your decisions. This can cause you to be easily scammed or used by others for their own selfish purposes. It can also cause you to develop an unhealthy dependence on them.
Dismissive-Avoidant Adult Attachment
A dismissive-avoidant adult attachment is characterized by a positive view of oneself and a negative view of others. Someone with this type of attachment may dismiss the need for attachment and could avoid getting close to anyone.
A person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment may seem like the most independent compared to people with other attachment types. They can be much more rigid in their self-sufficiency than people with a secure attachment. They may not want help from anyone, no matter how much stress they have in their lives. Their answer to most everything might be, "I'd rather do it myself".
In their romantic attachments, an individual with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style may appear not to need their partner at all. This can be unsettling to their partner, who may want to feel important and needed. When it comes to loving someone with avoidant attachment, a close relationship may be unattainable.
Fearful-Avoidant Adult Attachment
Someone with a fearful-avoidant adult attachment has a negative view of both themselves and others. They may not think they or anyone else is generally competent or reliable. They may not seek help from others, and they might not offer it, either.
If you have this type of attachment, you may intensely desire a connection, but you may not feel it, even when you're with someone. Instead of enjoying time with your partner, you may worry that they're about to leave you, even when they show no real signs of doing so.
The consequences of a fearful-avoidant attachment may be apparent in the quality of the relationships you have. If you have a fearful attachment, you might rarely feel confident that your partner cares about you. You may fear that the relationship won’t last. You may hesitate to express these fears to your partner, so things may never get resolved.
Disorganized Adult Attachment
Disorganized attachment in adults may feature the same mix of unpredictable responses found in disorganized infant attachments. When you have a disorganized attachment style as an adult, you may not know quite how to feel about your partner. You might seek their help at one moment, ignore them the next, and fight with them later.
Relationships can be volatile when you have a disorganized attachment style. You might want to stay in some relationships, but you may ultimately drive your partner away with your unpredictability. It can also be hard to keep a job or advance your career when no one knows what to expect from you.
What Can I Do If I Have An Unhealthy Attachment?
If you suspect you have an unhealthy, insecure attachment, the first thing you may want to do is to find out what attachment type you have. You could also try to find out how it developed, but perhaps most importantly, you might need to find out how it's affecting your life now.
Once you get confirmation that you do have an unhealthy attachment to someone, you could be faced with the decision of whether to continue the relationship or dissolve it. Either way, you may need help developing a healthier attachment style. A therapist or relationship counselor can provide you with support and resources as you begin this personal growth journey.
Benefits Of Online Counseling
Personal issues like relationships and attachment can be difficult to talk about with a stranger, especially in a clinical setting like a therapist’s office. Many people report feeling more at ease in an online therapeutic environment like the kind provided by Regain counselors. Online counseling may not only help you be more vulnerable in sessions, it could also prove more convenient since you can access it from home or anywhere you have an Internet connection.
Research in the field of mental health has also linked online counseling to positive outcomes for individuals, couples, and families. A recent study demonstrated the effectiveness of therapy when delivered via videoconferencing technology.
Compassionate online counseling for attachment issues is available anytime and anywhere you like through Regain. With support from a professional counselor, you can learn how to overcome your attachment problems or deal with any mental health issues that keep you from enjoying a full and happy life. Start your healing journey today.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What are the 4 types of attachment?
According to attachment theory and research, the four adult attachment styles are attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and fearful-avoidant attachment (also known as disorganized attachment). Any attachment that is not is referred to as an insecure attachment style.
Patterns of attachment form in the early years due to our primary caregiver’s attunement to our needs. If our attachment figure is inconsistent in meeting our needs, insecure attachment is likely to occur. People with insecure attachments are more likely to develop mental health challenges and face difficulties establishing healthy connections with others.
What are the types of attachment?
The four adult attachment styles include , anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant (or disorganized). Anxious, avoidant, and disorganized patterns of attachment are all examples of insecure attachment.
Though our attachment styles develop as an infant, our attachment continues to impact the way we relate in adulthood. Attachment theory and research play an integral role in helping us understand how early attachment influences how we function in adult relationships.
What are the 4 types of attachment identified by John Bowlby?
After conducting attachment research, John Bowlby’s attachment theory noted three styles of attachment: attachment, anxious-resistant attachment, and avoidant attachment. A fourth attachment style )called fearful-avoidant attachment style) was later added.
According to attachment theory and research, we develop different attachment styles as a result of our early interactions with a primary caregiver.
What are Ainsworth's four types of attachment?
Building on Bowlby’s attachment theory and research, Mary Ainsworth identified three patterns of attachment: attachment, anxious-insecure attachment, and avoidant-insecure attachment. Later on, researchers added a fourth type of attachment known as disorganized-insecure attachment.
What is the most common attachment style?
One study indicated that about half of the population has a attachment style. This type of attachment develops due to a primary caregiver being attuned to the child’s needs most of the time. Individuals with attachment feel comfortable with both intimacy and autonomy in their relationships. They find it easy to trust their partner and believe that their needs will get met.
What is the rarest attachment style?
The rarest type of attachment is the fourth attachment style that researchers added later on. The fearful-avoidant attachment style (also known as disorganized) is often developed due to childhood trauma or erratic behavior by one’s primary caregiver. Individuals who have a disorganized attachment style typically desire intimacy yet are extremely fearful of close connections with others.
What are typical attachment behaviors?
Securely attached Infants feel confident in their primary attachment figure to be attuned to their needs. On the other hand, insecurely attached infants may exhibit behaviors such as crying and searching in response to being separated from their attachment figure.
Our early patterns of attachment affect our intimate relationships later in life. That being said, adults who have insecure attachment tendencies (anxious, avoidant, or disorganized) may exhibit certain attachment behaviors as well. This might look like an individual with an anxious attachment style constantly seeking reassurance from a partner or an individual with an avoidant attachment style going out of communication for several days.
New attachment research shows that it is possible to take active steps towards more attachment in your relationships. A recent study found that individuals with insecure attachment can engage in simple activities to build connection and intimacy with their partner, which increases attachment .
Can two avoidants be in a relationship?
How do you break an emotional attachment?
Why do I get attached so easily?
What is the most commonly seen type of attachment?
Why do some people have attachment issues?
How do attachment issues impact one's personality?
Can someone previous attachment style be modified by his or her experiences?
Is there a healthy attachment style?
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