Each of us has a certain style of attachment, that impacts on how we find a partner and the way we behave in our romantic relationships. This is the main reason why recognizing our attachment pattern can be important as it can give us the opportunity to understand our own strengths and vulnerabilities in any relationship.
So, what is attachment exactly? Attachment is a deep personal connection that we have with another person who will protect and help to organize our feelings. It consists of two concepts namely care-seeking and exploration whenever there is a safe base to do so. As adults, we will remain attached to our caregivers though we also form attachments to our romantic partners and close friends.
The attachment theory is a well-researched theory in the field of relational psychology. It describes how our early relationships with a primary caregiver, mostly a parent, creates our expectations for how love and relationships should be.
There are four main attachment styles that can help us to identify our own and also help us to understand how this can affect our relationships.
This is an organized attachment style that occurs when children feel they can rely on their caregivers to attend to their needs of proximity, emotional support and protection. This in return makes the child feel safe and secure. A secure attachment style is important when it comes to creating healthy relationships as an adult. In a secure relationship, we know that we can feel that our needs are met and that we can rely on the other person.
This is formed when children cannot rely on their caregivers as they are unresponsive. There are three different insecure attachment styles:
- Anxious attachment
Attachment style in which a caregiver has been inconsistent in relation to their availability and responsiveness to the needs of their child. This leads to confusion for the child as it does not know what to expect. These children turn out to be adults that find it difficult to trust their partners and have a high need for attention.
- Avoidant attachment
This style develops when a child is neglected by their caregiver and therefore has too much opportunity to explore. While having to opportunity to explore is an essential key to parenting, an underemphasize on the safe base causes children to feel that they are left on their own and do not have an adult to rely on whenever they need help or safety. As adults, they usually will view themselves as highly independent.
- Disorganized attachment
Occurs when there has been trauma or abuse in childhood. These children do not feel as if they have a safe and secure base to draw upon and fear their caregivers, or their caregivers are frightened of the child. Children with a disorganized attachment usually exhibit a breakdown in behaviour when the child needs to seek comfort and protection from their caregiver. They learn that they cannot rely on their caregiver regarding care and safety. Instead they know that their caregiver will abuse them regardless of what they do. As adults, they usually will have partners that will show similar behaviour as their caregivers as they are used to inconsistency when they seek connection. Usually these adults will behave in certain ways that will confirm their own negative beliefs that they have formed as a child. These adults that have a disorganized attachment style are at increased risk of anxiety and depression compared to the other insecure attachment styles.
As mentioned previously we know that our attachment styles that we have formed in our childhood usually impact on our behaviour in close relationships as an adult. However, there is good news, we can change and work on our attachment!
The first step to changing an insecure attachment style is to identify sources of our anxious, avoidant or disorganized attachment style. A therapist can help to recognise moments in our life when we experienced certain attachment related behaviours. For example, for people that have disorganized attachments styles there will be most likely past trauma or maltreatment that needs to be addressed in therapy in order to make sense of these past events. The second step will be to identify and focus on our negative thoughts or core beliefs that we have formed in our childhood on basis of our past interactions with our caregivers. In attachment-based therapy, a therapist can support by examining our thoughts that have been formed about ourselves and evaluate these and conclude if these thoughts are true or rather exaggerated or incorrect. Additionally, people who have had caregivers that failed to take care of them, usually struggle to communicate their needs in a relationship. Through counselling, it is possible to improve our communication skills and to learn how to express feelings and needs more clearly.
Eventually, we can notice that an increase in communication can be helpful in our current relationship, or it might be realized that we will never get our needs met in this relationship.
Overall, attachment-based therapy can be really helpful if you feel that you are experiencing issues in your current relationships that might stem from your childhood.
So, if you think that you might have underlying issues related to attachment that might affect your current relationships, feel free to book in with one of our experienced psychologists at Drop of Life!
Ainsworth MDS, Blehar MC, Waters E, Wall S. Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1978.
Ainsworth MDS. Attachments and Other Affectional Bonds Across the Life Cycle. In: Attachment Across the Life Cycle. Parkes CM, Stevenson-Hinde J, Marris P, eds. London: Routledge; 1991: 33-51.
Bowlby J. The Nature of the Child's Tie to His Mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis.1958;39:350-371.