Attachment in childhood lays the groundwork for attachment in adulthood. It’s about a style, and when you come to understand yours, your committed relationship will become more fulfilling. That’s a life-changer, don’t you think? Come on, let’s talk about it…
(John) Bowlby believed the emotional bonds we did or didn’t form with our caregivers in childhood have an extraordinary lifelong impact.
If you’re in a committed relationship, hoping to be, or the one you’re in is rocky, it would help to know something about attachment theory. Especially important is knowing your attachment style. Incidentally, the foundation for your style – how you function in a relationship – was laid during your early developmental years.
Fact is, without insight into your attachment style – and your partner’s – the dynamics of the relationship may be akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole.
What say we get this chat going…
What is attachment theory?
British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst John Bowlby developed attachment theory in the mid-20th century. Okay, we know that attachment, in our context, is an emotional bond with another person. Bowlby believed the emotional bonds we did or didn’t form with our caregivers in childhood have an extraordinary lifelong impact.
Bowlby submitted we’re born with an innate drive to form attachments with our caregivers. To him, attachment was a product of an evolutionary process.
Here’s the central theme of attachment theory…
Primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs allow a child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.
Then along came American-Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth who expanded on Bowlby’s work. It was Ainsworth, from research conducted in one of her studies, that developed three of the four attachment styles we’re about to discuss. Researchers Mary Main and Judith Solomon added the fourth.
There’s more to the history of the development of attachment theory, including the stages of attachment, but we’re good to go with what we have.
Styles of attachment
Let’s take a look at the styles (patterns) of attachment as they may have presented in our early years, as well as how they may be presenting in our adult committed relationship. I think the simple format I used will work well.
Now, you may ask, “What does my childhood attachment style have to do with my style in a committed relationship?” Fair question.
Bottom-line: doesn’t it make sense that, whether we realize it or not, we expect our committed relationship partner to act as our caregivers did? If that’s the case, we act the way we do in response to those expectations.
Well then, let’s get stylin’…
- Ambivalent (aka anxious): Child: experience distress when a caregiver leaves, believe they can’t depend on caregivers to be there in times of need because of ongoing poor availability. Adult: clingy, jealous, sensitive to criticism, low self-esteem, difficulty being alone, fear of rejection and abandonment, trusting is difficult.
- Avoidant: Child: avoid caregivers, showing no preference between a caregiver and a stranger – may be the result of abusive or neglectful caregivers, avoid seeking caregiver help because of feeling punished for relying on them. Adult: avoid emotional or physical intimacy, strong sense of independence, uneasy expressing feelings, trusting is difficult, spend more time alone than with others, believe there’s no need for others.
- Disorganized: Child: seem disoriented, dazed, or confused, may avoid or resist caregivers, no clear attachment pattern likely because caregivers may serve as a source of comfort and fear. Adult: fear of rejection, poor emotional regulation, contradictory behaviors, trusting is difficult, high levels of anxiety, mood/personality/substance use disorders may exist.
- Secure: Child: feel they can depend on caregivers, show distress when separated from caregivers and joy when reunited, feel assured caregivers will return, comfortable seeking reassurance from caregivers. Adult: good emotional regulation, trust comes easy, good communication skills, high self-esteem, comfortable in close relationships, good conflict manager, comfortable being alone, easy to connect with, emotionally available.
So what do you think?
Were you able to determine your attachment style as a child – as an adult? I wonder if you identified the attachment style of your committed relationship partner. In general, what’s your gut feeling? Are changes called for?
By the way, as much as these styles are firmly set, it’s absolutely possible to effect change. Like anything else within that we may want to alter, it takes insight, strategy, solid techniques, and hard work. The services of a counselor can be of great assistance.
Don’t know about you, but I think all of this is fascinating.
Square peg, round hole?
Can you see how your childhood attachment style lays the groundwork for the adult version? Even more important, can you see how our adult style impacts a committed relationship? I believe it’s a huge factor.
Now that you know about attachment theory and style, will you put your knowledge to work for you – and your partner? It really can be a life-changer.
Enough of forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Speaking of learning, you can do tons of it here. Review the Chipur titles.