John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s groundbreaking research gave us an insight into human attachment, how it is developed, how it is injured, and how childhood attachment impacts our adult relationships. But what is attachment?
Bowlby defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” The way that we learn to attach to parents, siblings, friends, and significant others starts when we are just infants. We often develop our “attachment style” based on the emotional and physical responsiveness of our parents during our childhood. The way that we attach to others throughout our lives is often impacted by this parental responsiveness and how we view the safety of relationships in general.
Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work helped them to identify four distinct attachment styles that describe how we attach based on our childhoods:
Secure Attachment- In childhood these individuals have care givers who are responsive to their physical and emotional needs. These children feel secure, happy, and eager and are more open to exploring their surroundings. Securely attached adults often feel more satisfied in their relationships, feel that they can trust their partners, and often have low conflict friendships and romantic relationships.
Insecure Avoidant Attachment- These individuals tend to have uninterested, cold and non-nurturing care givers. As children, they may avoid their care givers and be unresponsive to them. As adults, these individuals may be more likely to be “loners” and are more comfortable with avoiding emotions.
Insecure Anxious Attachment- These individuals tend to have care givers who are inconsistent with meeting there needs. They may be both loving and affectionate at times as well as cold and non-nurturing at other times. This often leaves children feeling confused and angry. As adults, these individual often have intense fear of being abandoned and may appear clingy due to their fear of rejection.
Insecure Disorganized Attachment- This attachment style is more common in children who are abused and neglected by their care givers, and is characterized by a pattern of disorganized behavior. As adults, these individuals may have a harder time dealing with stress and may feel greatly insecure and confused in relationships.
How can therapy help?
The best thing about understanding your attachment style is that it can be changed in different relationships to help you develop more secure and loving adult relationships. Therapy can help you to identify the attachment style that you relate to the most, help you understand how your childhood experiences impact you today, and help you to develop skills to change the way you interact with others as a adult. If you find yourself struggling to develop fulfilling and happy relationships, therapy can be an effective tool in helping you gain the knowledge and skills to change these patterns.