The topic of 'early attachment styles' has finally made its appearance in mainstream conversations. Dozens of books fill the shelf on the ways we learned as children to seek connection. While important to consider, what is more important is how to change these survival patterns to strengthen your adult relationships and change behaviors to build resiliency.
Early Patterns in Relationship Attachment
As early as 1953, researchers were studying the relationship between children and parents or caregivers. In clinical studies, it was discovered that there were two basic ways in which infants and children organized themselves when they were faced with distressing feelings or alarming situations. In secure attachment, the child knows that the parent or caregiver is reliable consistently to her or his call for help in a reasonable manner. The opposite was identified as an insecure attachment. In this experiment, it demonstrated that the infant or child did not have the experience of being safe or having an outside source show up for comfort. We look at basic needs as a place where safety and survival begin. For instance, a child's basic needs would be for food and shelter. When basic needs are not met in a caring or attuned manner and the child is not allowed to express emotions, a pattern begins rooted in fear.
In later years, a more in-depth analysis of relationship patterns were identified to help individuals understand how dysfunctions and emotional reactions were part of early programming patterns. Parenting styles that diminish a child's needs can result in an insecure attachment style called avoidant attachment. Parent/child interactions where the parents or caregivers are inconsistent or unpredictable one day being accessible and the next being unapproachable can results in an insecure attachment style known as ambivalent attachment. An identified and often traumatic insecure attachment style that comes from parenting or caregiver patterns that are frightening, intrusive, or abusive to the child is referred to as disorganized attachment.
These early attachment patterns often reappear in adult relationships because we do not have an awareness on how have security prevail in the unconscious mind. Research continues to support that there is indeed a correlation between childhood attachment patterns and the ways in which we connect in adult relationships. When needs go unmet in a relationship, an attachment style may be part of the problem. In order to break free from faulty attachment, we need to first understand the patterns and uncover the insecurities in more confident and intentional ways.
Attachment styles are not by choice. These styles develop in a neurologically immature system.
Individuals in healthy relationships find it easy to develop interdependence with other people and are just as comfortable with being together as they are with being alone. Personality and traits also contribute to secure attachment and ways of building secure attachment are possible regardless of adverse childhood experience.
Anxious-Preoccupied Insecure Attachment
Individuals look for high levels of approval, intimacy, and validation from their partners. They also have a tendency to lose themselves in relationships because they are overly dependent on the approval of others. They tend to feel low self-worth and less positively about themselves. They may present as anxious, impulsive and emotional. They have difficulty building trust with others. Healing an anxious preoccupied pattern comes with vulnerability, open communication and courage.
Dismissive-Avoidant Insecure Attachment
Individuals who view relationships from this perspective tend to undervalue intimacy and favor their own autonomy and independence. They have a strong desire for self-sufficiency and are seen as individuals who choose to avoid intimacy. When asked, they may dismiss intimacy as unnecessary or even unimportant. Described by others as aloof, adults expressing this style of insecure attachment tend to view themselves as better than their partners and view others as inferior. Known for not showing many emotions or pushing feelings down is a coping strategy in order to maintain control. Rejection at any cost is to be avoided. It is difficult to tear down the walls of a person who has built them up in order to remain safe.
Fearful-Avoidant Insecure Attachment
The Fearful Avoidant tend to want intimate relationships, but are fearful and overly cautious about allowing themselves to do so. People with this attachment style often have a poor view of themselves and don't feel that they are worthy of the attention and approval of their partners. They are also mistrustful about the motives of their partners and have a hard time being cared for. Out of fear, they resort to hiding and suppressing their feelings which results in receiving less intimacy from their partners. The strategy for maturing out of this pattern is open communication, working on self love and not placing others above when it comes to needs.
An 'attachment style' framework is merely a clinical lens to better examine attachment patterns and behaviors that can exist in our most intimate relationships. When we identify a pattern we can work to correct faulty thinking and reattach from an adult to adult perspective. We are all seeking safe connection and can use our memories as guideposts to achieving more harmonious and meaningful personal growth.
References Ainsworth, M. D. (1967). Infancy in Uganda. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins.
Bowlby, J. (1953). Child care and the growth of love. London, UK: Penguin Books. Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London, UK: Routledge.
Bretherton I. (1992) The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759-775. Holmes, J. (1993). John Bowlby and Attachment Theory: Makers of modern psychotherapy. London, UK: Routledge.
Karen, R. (1998). Becoming attached: First relationships and how they shape our capacity to love. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.