As adults, the way in which we attach ourselves to others directly correlates with the way we attached ourselves to our caregivers as a child.
In reviewing John Bowlby’s Attachment theory to explain human bonding, we can become more adept at understanding and explaining our own styles of attachment, and any evolution. During times of stress in particular, it might be helpful to open our eyes and expand our awareness to our own attachment styles.
“The concept involves one’s confidence in the availability of the attachment figure for use as a secure base from which one can freely explore the world when not in distress as well as a safe haven from which one can seek support, protection, and comfort in times of distress” (Levy, Ellison, Scott, & Bernecker, 2011). There is a growing body of research that focuses on Bowlby’s theory of attachment, and its impact on us from birth to death.
“Bowlby believed that how individuals are treated by significant others across the lifespan—especially during times of stress—shapes the expectations, attitudes, and beliefs they have about future partners and relationships,” (Simpson & Rholes, 2017). Ainsworth, and other more contemporary colleagues expanded Bowlby’s attachment theory to create four styles of attachment (Shorey & Snyder, 2006).
Recognizing yourself in one of the four styles of attachment provides you with the knowledge to possibly strengthen relationships with others in adulthood. These attachment styles include:
Secure Attachment – this attachment involves a person who has had a secure attachment with caregivers. He or she may have felt close to caregivers; and has low anxiety as well as low avoidance. This person would likely be comfortable with intimacy, trust others and him or herself, and can depend on others, as well as others depend on them. This attachment style leads children to become adults who can accept ones’ self and others, does not feel rejected or threatened, can tolerate differences, have empathy and forgive (Levy, 2017).
Avoidant Attachment – this attachment style involves someone who displays high avoidance, but low anxiety. Independents and freedom are important to those with Avoidant attachment without concern for partner’s availability. This person is not comfortable with closeness towards others because it is hard to trust and depend on someone because the preference is they do not one someone to depend on them. “When discussing major versus minor jealousy or intimacy issues, highly avoidant individuals are less empathically accurate (i.e., they do not accurately infer what their partners are thinking or feeling during these discussions),” (Simpson & Rholes, 2017). This person prefers autonomy to closeness, they can remain cool, controlled, narrow minded, good in a crisis due to lack of emotions stemming from caregivers who were likely disengaged and detached (Levy, 2017).
Anxious Ambivalent Attachment – this attachment style involves someone who feels insecure in intimate relationships and worried about rejection and abandonment. This person’s high-anxiety desires closeness and intimacy, wanting to be very close with others emotionally, however, have strong emotional reactions themselves. It is difficult for a person with this attachments style to trust others, depend on others, and worry they may be hurt by others, typically because they have been impacted negatively by caregivers and therefore do not feel a secure bond. This person is often preoccupied with unresolved past relationships from family-of-origin which intersects with current relationships (Levy, 2017).
Disorganized Unresolved Attachment – This attachment style involves someone who has difficulty tolerating emotional closeness. Childhood traumas and “losses from the past may have not been mourned or resolved” (Levy, 2017). An individual with this attachment style may often dissociate to avoid pain, has difficulty regulating emotions, may lack empathy and remorse, or be aggressive with no regard for rules. Memories of prior traumas cause rage and dysfunctional relationships tend to be repeated or passed on.
Though the attachment style that develops at childhood does not predict the future, it can provide some keys to originating patterns of emotion regulation during distress. This framework of base knowledge can provide a glimpse to what we feel and our behavior in relationships, and could possibly promote change.
There is evidence of a correlation between secure attachments through childhood as a guide for attachments in adulthood. Allow your lives and generations to come benefit from awareness.
Knowledge is power,
Power increases awareness,
Awareness leads to defining moments,
Moments can last a lifetime.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor counseling Ohio Adults through confidential video counseling. firstname.lastname@example.org, ph (513) 234-9184, email email@example.com
Levy, K.N. (2011). Attachment style. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session. 67(2) 193-203.
Levy, T. (2017, May 25). Four styles of adult attachment. Adult Relationships, Attachment.
Shorey, H.S., and Snyder, C.R. (2006). The role of adult attachment styles in psychopathology
and psychotherapy outcomes. Review of General Psychology. 10(1), 1-20.
Simpson, J.A., and Rholes, W.S. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships.
Curr Opin Psychol. 13:19-24. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006