Attachment is a significant emotional bond which gets formed between an infant/child, with their primary caregiver. It is the medium by which a child or infant gets their primary human needs met. It at that point turns into a medium of emotional, cognitive and social growth and development. The early social experience of the child invigorates development of the brain, and can impact the capacity to frame stable associations with others.
The emotional connection that developed among you and your parental figure was the main intuitive relationship of your life, and it relied on nonverbal communication. The bond with your caregiver decided how you would identify with others for the duration of your life, since it set up the establishment for all verbal and nonverbal correspondence in your future connections.
People who experience puzzling, threatening, or broken emotional relationships during their early stages, develop into grown-ups who experience issues understanding their own feelings and those of others. This restricts their capacity to maintain and uphold functional relationships.
Attachment serves the child’s first adapting or coping framework; it sets up a psychological portrayal of the guardian in a newborn child’s brain, one that can be gathered up as a soothing mental presence in troubled situations. Attachment permits a newborn child to isolate from the guardian without distress and to start to investigate her general surroundings.
Attachment theory discusses connections and relationships between individuals, particularly long term relationships, for example, those between a parent and their child, or romantic relationships. It is said that the primary bonds which get formed by children with their guardians have an enormous effect that proceeds all through life. Attachment additionally serves to keep the child in close connection with the mother, subsequently improving the odds of surviving.
British psychologist, John Bowlby, was the first theorist to study attachment. When he was working with children who came from abusive or generally dysfunctional familial backgrounds, the experience resulted in him considering the significance of the child’s relationship with their mother, in the particular aspects of emotional, social and cognitive development. It led him to ponder upon the link between early childhood separations with the mother which resulted in later distress and maladjustment. This is how he developed the attachment theory.
The main theme of the attachment theory is that primary guardians who are accessible and receptive to a baby’s requirements permit the kid to build up a belief that everything is okay. The baby realizes that the guardian is trustworthy, which makes a safe base for the kid to then investigate the world.
Patterns of Attachment in Childhood
Attachment is created through regular interactions as a guardian takes care of a baby’s requirements. The connection among baby and parental figures is normally so grounded before the end of the primary year of life, that it is an opportunity to test the quality and nature of the bond around then. Because of their work with numerous child- parental figure sets, scientists have portrayed a few essential patterns of attachment. In their work, researchers quickly separate children from their parental figure and notice their behavior when they are brought together with the guardian. The four Patterns of Attachment during childhood are:
1. Secure Attachment
These children are for the most part bound to consider others to be steady and supportive, and themselves as skilled and deserving of respect. They positively relate to other people and show strength and versatility, take part in complex play and are more effective in the academic setting and in relationships with other children in their life. They are better at taking the viewpoints of others and trust others more. Kids who can rely upon their parental figures show trouble when isolated and bliss when rejoined. In spite of the fact that the kid might be separated, they feel guaranteed that the parental figure will return.
2. Anxious-Avoidant Attachment
Children with an anxious-avoidant attachment style are usually not that effective in overseeing distressing circumstances. They are probably going to remove themselves from distressing situations and oppose looking for help, which restrains them from framing fulfilling associations with others. They show more hostility and antisocial and withdrawn behavior, such as lying and tormenting, and they will in general distance themselves from others to diminish emotional turmoil.
3. Anxious-Resistant Attachment
These kinds of children are on the furthest opposing side of the range from anxious avoidant ones. They usually have low self esteem and stick to their primary guardians. They may be prone to displaying more theatrical and exaggerated emotional responses and stay away from other children, resulting in social seclusion.
4. Disorganized Attachment
Children with a disorganized attachment style typically neglect to build up coping strategies to deal with distress due to separation from their caregivers. They will show hostility, troublesome practices, and social separation. They are bound to consider others to be dangers rather than sources of help, and in this manner may switch between social withdrawal and highly defensive behavior. These children show a mix of certain behaviors that are hard to understand, appearing to be perplexed, shocked, or confused. They may evade or oppose the parent. Absence of an evident pattern of attachment is likely connected to unreliable and inadequate behavior coming from the caregiver. In such cases, guardians may fill in as both a cause for comfort and threat, prompting disorganized behavior. Disorganized attachment might result from childhood trauma.
Patterns of Attachment in Adult Romantic Relationships
As indicated by theorists, the emotional bond that is developed between adults in a romantic relationship is mostly an element of a similar framework of attachment that results in the emotional connection among babies and their guardians. The adult styles of attachment follow a similar example as childhood attachment:
1. Secure Attachment
These adults are at an increased likelihood to be content with their romantic relationships, feeling safe and attached to their partners without feeling the requirement to be with them constantly. Their relationships are usually consistent with honesty, mutual support, autonomy, and meaningful emotional bonds.
2. Anxious Avoidant Attachment
The people with this attachment style typically maintain their distance from other people. They also believe that they don’t require human connectedness for survival or to thrive, and demand on maintaining their independence and detachment from those around them. These kinds of individuals are also able to easily detach and isolate themselves emotionally, when a possibly distressing and hurtful situation arises, like a serious disagreement with their spouse or a danger to the continuation of their romantic relationship.
3. Anxious-Resistant (or Ambivalent) Attachment
Those who develop less secure attachments with their partners in relationships, feel a desperate need for comfort or love and believe that their partner should complete them or act as a fix to all their personal issues. While they have a desire for feeling safe and secure in their romantic relationships, they may also exhibit certain behaviors that tend to push away their partner instead of inviting them in. The behavioral manifestations of their insecurities can involve being overly attached, jealous, demanding, or quickly upset by small incidents.
4. Disorganized Attachment
People with this attachment style generally try to evade and run away from their emotions because they get very easily overwhelmed by them. They also may experience unexpected or abrupt changes in mood and may be afraid of getting hurt by their romantic partner. These people are attracted to their partner or a potential partner and are afraid of getting too close, at the same time. Quite obviously this attachment style makes it extremely hard to develop and maintain deep, healthy relationships with romantic partners.
How does Early Attachment affect us later?
Research proposes that failure to create secure attachments in the early stages of life can have an adverse effect on behavior in later developmental periods, and all throughout life.
Children who have a diagnosis of behavioral disorders like oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder often exhibit problems in attachment, possibly because of early abuse, neglect, or trauma during childhood. Clinicians state that those children adopted after they have reached the age of 6 months are usually predisposed to attachment problems.
While the attachment styles that come out in adulthood are not mandatorily the same as those seen during childhood, early attachments are known to have a significant effect on later adult relationships. Those who develop secure attachments during childhood tend to have high self esteem, stable romantic relationships and the capacity to practice self disclosure with other people.
The extent to which we feel secure or insecure in adult romantic relationships depends, in part, on the way we bonded with our primary caregivers at a young age. From the day a child is born, they expect security, love and comfort particularly in times of distress.
For this reason our caregivers are known as “attachment figures”. When our attachment figures react to our distress by using methods that meet our requirements, we feel supported and comforted. There is a considerable reduction in distress, and we pick up on the fact that we can count on attachment figures, especially in times of need.
However, if parents consistently react to a child’s distress by undermining and downplaying their emotions, neglecting their pleas for support, or making their child feel invalid and foolish, the child will learn that it is of no avail asking the caregivers for help, and the child will suppress their thoughts and emotions to unfortunately deal with them alone.
This is highly dangerous for the child and also leads to unhealthy emotive behaviors in adulthood which might have lasting unfavorable effects on self perspectives. These downplaying methods used by parents are known as deactivating attachment strategies.
In other cases, parents react to their child’s distress by being unreliable and highly inconsistent in the support they offer, or they tend to provide the wrong kind of support, which defeats the overall purpose.
Sometimes they are able to pinpoint and recognize their child’s worries; but other times they willingly ignore the distress, or they wrongly only focus on the way the distress made them feel, instead of helping their poor child deal with their stressful feelings.
Some caregivers may offer support but it is simply not what the child asked for. For instance, their child might require support and encouragement to handle a challenging situation. However, the parent will try to offer sympathy and agree that their child is incapable of dealing with said challenge.
This is extremely inefficient and harmful. Frequent exposure to these types of parenting strategies means those children go through excessive amounts of distress and worry.
Particularly when the children are feeling stressed, they often put in a lot of effort to be close to their caregivers. Obviously, this only increases the negativity as it just adds to the child’s worry.
The child now has to deal with the original distress, as well as the distress of trying to be close with their attachment figure. These techniques that increase worry and result in seeking excessive closeness are known as hyperactivating strategies.
Can Attachment Styles Change throughout Life?
Changes in attachment style is a response to current life circumstances, and is an individual characteristic that differs among people. Like other things that make up our personality, our attachment style is for the most part, stable through life.
However, it is not wholly fixed, and quite often, it might get shaped by our experiences in relationships, as well as the differential social demands through stages of life.
Adult patterns of attachment are mediated by individual relationships throughout our life. Our peers, and romantic partners gradually take over the role of our primary caregivers. In the best case scenarios, they turn into the source of confidence, stability and safety in our lives. On the other hand, in the worst case scenarios, they become the source of feelings of anxiety, distrust and self-doubt.
Constant bullying, toxic romantic partners, or a cataclysmic separation from a loved one, might cause an individual with an initially secure attachment, to become persistently insecure. Or, a person with a tendency to anxiously attach themselves to a person, to become increasingly avoidant.
Healthy friendships, successful romantic relationships, and an upgrade in the quality of interpersonal interactions with parents, can make an insecure style of attachment into more of a secure one.
Your attachment style would be susceptible to change, depending on your inner tendency to change throughout life. How predisposed you are to changes, in turn, depends on how stable your core relationship strategies are. A weak mental model or an incoherent one, makes you more likely to go through changes than a stronger one.
Studies have also concluded that those who have a diagnosis of a personality disorder or have a personal or family history of psychopathology, were more susceptible to fluctuation in attachment style.
A third factor that can evoke radical adjustments in an individual’s attachment style is a significant life changing occasion, for instance, a troublesome progress from primary school to middle school, an incensing separation, the unpredictability of the hormone driven adolescent years, or the unexpected demise of a friend or family member.
Nerve-wracking changes like these can reflect conditions where a parent forsakes their child. Moving onto middle school implies leaving behind old companions. Losing a loved one or spouse can trigger feelings of abandonment.
These progressions can be so genuinely ground-breaking that the psychological working models which represent attachment in these relationships, get messed up, or go through long term change. Interpersonal bonds no longer represent a security net, however mean something hurtful and toxic.
Researchers state that attachment anxiety and evasion might be highest in adolescent years because of the unpleasant change from having essentially close bonds with guardians, to having significant relationships with friends and initial romantic relationships. During midlife, feelings of anxiety and avoidance in relationships will decrease.
This leads to an increase in security, resulting from individuals getting more comfortable in their attachments, acquiring proof that the relationship will last, and having life partners who serve appropriate needs. Individuals will be exceptionally centered around the present time and place.
Another finding from the research was that, being in an intimate romantic relationship would reduce feelings of attachment anxiety and isolation. Romantic partners honor appropriate behavior and discourage improper behavior.
Researchers state that, by putting effort into these social roles, people follow the rules and principles of suitable behavior in intimate relationships. This may lead to changes in ways we approach relationships, maybe even becoming more safe and secure.
If you really think about it, all your relationships are simply a product of your relationship with your parents. And, your parents’ relationships are a product of your grandparents’ relationships, it goes on and on.
If all these attachment styles dating back to earlier generations were insecure or toxic in some way or the other, it can open up a whole new discussion on intergenerational trauma, and predisposition to having significant difficulties in the maintenance of interpersonal bonds. It might lead to emotional dysregulation, and in the worst cases, be the cause of mood disorders such as depression, or even personality disorders.
This shows us how important it is to maintain fruitful relationships with our primary caregivers. However, an important reminder is that it is not your sole responsibility as a child to carry the burden of your parents’ negligence towards you, or their unreliable nature in relevance with fulfilling your needs as a human being.
Breaking toxic patterns of attachment with the people in your life, on the other hand, is vital for a happy life. And sometimes it is not enough to do that on your own. Which is why mental health professionals are there to provide you with the support you need to achieve this, and improve the quality of your relationships.