Attachment Styles & Their Role in Adult Relationships

Have you noticed patterns in your behavior when interacting with people? Have you ever wondered why you feel secure/insecure in your relationships? According to attachment theory, it’s because different people have different attachment styles. Attachment styles develop early in life and help predict future behaviors.

Early attachment patterns are formed in childhood through the caregiver/infant bond. The main idea behind John Bowlby’s attachment theory is that children who have primary caregivers who are present and attentive to their needs can grow to feel secure. The infant learns that the caregiver can be relied upon, providing a safe foundation from which the youngster can later explore the outside world. Bowlby thought that the process of attachment was all or nothing. There are, however, individualized differences in attachment types, according to research. In humans, the attachment behavioral system is active throughout their lives and individuals find comfort in both physical and mental representations of significant others. This system does not end in infancy or even childhood (Bowlby, 1969).

Attachment styles are expectations people develop about relationships with others. You can better understand your own behavior, how you see your partner, and how you react to intimacy by realizing how your attachment style affects and shapes your personal interactions.

During the 1970s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth further expanded upon Bowlby’s groundbreaking work in her now-famous “Strange Situation” study. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 months were observed in the study as they reacted to being momentarily separated from their mother and then reunited. These observations led Ainsworth to the conclusion that there were three main attachment styles. Numerous studies have backed up Ainsworth’s findings, and more investigation has shown that these early attachment types can aid in the prediction of behaviors in later life.

Attachment styles:

  1. Secure attachment – typically exhibited by a comfort with building relationships or having independence. This is often considered a healthy attachment style;
  2. Ambivalent-insecure (anxious) attachment – typically exhibited by a dependence on relationships and other people. This is often considered an unhealthy attachment style.
  3.  Avoidant-insecure attachment –  typically exhibited by a rejection of intimacy and independence. However, their independence is more to avoid dependence on others rather than feeling secure. This is often considered an unhealthy attachment style.
  4.  Disorganized-insecure attachment – Researchers Main and Solomon added this a fourth attachment style. Disorganized attachment is normally exhibited by a fear of intimacy and avoidance of relationship-building. This is often considered an unhealthy attachment style.

You can likely figure out which attachment style you have by reflecting on the current relationships you have and noting any patterns that you might see. There are also other unofficial quizzes online. Note that it’s important not to take your results at face value because these tests are not scientifically backed.

Although attachment styles displayed in adulthood are not necessarily the same as those seen in infancy, early attachments can have a serious impact on later relationships. Children who are securely attached as infants tend to develop stronger self-esteem as they grow older. These children also tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social relationships, and experience less depression and anxiety. On the other hand, children who display attachment problems are frequently diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), possibly due to early abuse, neglect, or trauma. Children adopted after the age of 6 months may have a higher risk of attachment problems.

One effective way of treating different attachment styles is therapy, since it could allow individuals to work through their attachment style and reconstruct any thought or feeling process that leads to insecure attachment styles. Improving nonverbal communication skills, boosting emotional intelligence, developing relationships with people who are securely attached and resolving childhood trauma are all steps that can help improve one’s attachment style.

Teodora Veljanoska

Sources:

Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss. Basic Books.

Bowlby J. Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospectAm J Orthopsychiatry. 1982;52(4):664-678.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and ChangeGuilford Press.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Ainsworth MD, Bell SM. Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situationChild Dev. 1970;41(1):49-67. 

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