There is nothing like the bond between a parent and their child, and the type of relationship they have can determine the child’s future behavior.
Attachment theory is the relationships and trust between children and parents that leads to trust or distrust in future relationships. The four types of attachment are anxious, avoidant, secure and insecure with behaviors discussed that lead to likelihood of development.
Have you ever wondered what made you so attached (or unattached) to your parent(s)? Are you puzzled by your difficulty in creating and maintaining healthy relationships?
What Is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is the study of the relationships between people. Much focus is on long-term relationships, like parents with their children and romantic partners. It is a bond created in emotion, and this learned behavior begins in childhood with primary caregivers and continues to impact their behaviors throughout life. Attachment theory is about comfort and protection.
Attachment theory suggests that relationship styles formed from a young age can influence a person’s relationships in adulthood. They can shape patterns of seeking or avoiding intimacy, emotional expressiveness, and coping strategies in times of stress. Attachment theory provides a better understanding of human relationships and how they impact social development.
Attachment Theory and Psychology
Attachment theory is important to psychology because it is what leads to the development of a sense of security. When children are able to develop this sense of security, this leads to trust and attachment to a caregiver, which later in life leads to the ability (or lack thereof) to develop and maintain relationships.
This also determines the ability of a child (and later adult) to explore and learn outside of relationships because that trust and safety is there for them to fall back on.
What are Popular Attachment Theories?
Bowlby Attachment Theory
Bowlby (John) was a British psychologist and the pioneer of attachment theory. In his book Attachment and Loss (1969), he described attachment as “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”. He studied and tried to understand separation anxiety when children were separated from caregivers and called it a learned behavior. Bowlby also identified four different types of attachment: secure, anxious-ambivalent, disorganized, as well as avoidant.
Freud Attachment Theory
Freud (Sigmund) is the “Father of Psychoanalysis” who in 1938 found the bond between mother and child is unconscious and is the dominant force that determines patterns of behaviors throughout the lifespan. Freud also coined the stages of child development: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. For infants, he found, there is pleasure obtained from sucking on objects as an infant (oral phase) which leads to attachment to whatever it is that provides that pleasure.
Ainsworth Attachment Theory
Ainsworth (Mary) was a developmental psychologist who studied infants from 9 months to 18 months of age and their relationships with caregivers. In separating infants and mothers and introducing strangers, then reuniting the pairs, she found three styles of attachment: insecure-avoidant (A), secure (B), and insecure-ambivalent/resistant (C). Ainsworth also determined the sensitivity of the caregiver had an effect on the type of attachment developed by the child.
Attachment theory is important to psychology because it is what leads to the development of a sense of security.
Types of Attachments
Anxious – In anxious attachment, the parent(s) are not consistently meeting the child’s needs. The protection and care the child needs cannot be relied upon, which leads to insecurity in the child. There is still some attachment to the parent(s) but the security is threatened. These children don’t develop self-esteem and don’t explore the world as easily, leading to clinginess and more demanding from the child to get some type of reaction out of the parent. This is not good for trust development in relationships.
Avoidant – When parents do not respond in a sensitive way to children’s needs, that is they minimize feelings or don’t help out with things that are difficult, this leads to the avoidant type of attachment. With this the child learns over time to be self-reliant because the parent isn’t helpful. These children will not ask for help, will not go to the parent for comfort, and will avoid showing any negative emotions.
Secure – With secure attachment, the children have parent(s) who are sensitive, responsive, available, and accepting. This gave them the courage to go out and explore, knowing that when they came back, their parent(s) were there to comfort them and make them feel secure. With reassurance, the ability to express emotions, and security when they need it, the relationship is trusting and healthy, which leads to a healthy self-esteem in the child. This is goals.
Insecure – Insecure attachment is formed by children whose parents ridicule, reject, and even frighten their child, usually due to their own past unresolved trauma. This leads to feelings of anxiety and fear when the child attempts to approach their parent(s), rather than protection and care. In response to these feelings, the child begins to refuse care, become self-reliant, and may even display aggression towards their parent(s).
Attachments and Age
Adults who had secure attachments as infants and children will usually not have problems forming trusting and comforting relationships with others as adults. This is not limited to romantic partners but with college friends and roommates, neighbors, coworkers, etc. These can all stem back to the attachments they had with caregivers as infants and children and can be seen in the relationships they form with others as adults.
Children who have formed healthy attachments outside of parents and siblings will begin forming new attachments around school age, or 4-5 years of age. These are teachers and other children with whom they have a trusting relationship and find comfort. This is all based on how they attached as infants to others.
Infants begin forming emotional bonds with others who provide care at around age 9 months. People like siblings, grandparents, or someone beyond the mother or primary caregiver. This is based on a comforting and trusting attachment with the primary caregiver and grows with each relationship formed, as long as those relationships are also trusting and comforting.
Attachment Theory and Relationships
Attachment theory applies to relationships with romantic interests as well-just as with parents and children. We start getting ideas about relationships with others as children, and the responses we get from caregivers starts to mold how we pursue our own relationships.
If we match up with someone we trust and can rely on, we have a secure attachment. If there is a bond with someone who verbally abuses us but provides us with food or shelter, we have an insecure attachment. And if our partner isn’t consistently there for us, we tend to have an anxious attachment because sometimes they provide comfort and security that we rely upon and sometimes they don’t.
This super helpful video explains attachment theory.
What Is an Example of Attachment Theory?
An example of attachment theory would be the new child in a new school. The child with a secure attachment with their parent(s) demonstrates empathy towards the new child, befriending them and comforting them because they are new and experiencing some distress from the situation.
What Is the Most Common Attachment Style?
The most common attachment style is the secure attachment. This child feels comforted and secure in the presence of their caregiver, so they have the courage and self-esteem to explore the world and still return to the caregiver when needed.
What Is the Main Idea of Attachment Theory?
The main idea of attachment theory is that we form relationships or attachments to our parents as infants, and this attachment is molded over the years depending upon the type of responses we get from our parents. If they comfort us, we trust them and are more attached to them. If they ridicule us, we distrust and become self-reliant.
How Familiar Are People With Attachment Styles?
To get an idea of how common-knowledge attachment styles is, I asked 8 friends or family members to share more about their awareness of them. Here is what they shared and what I learned from the poll:
|Familiarity||Tally of Family/Friends|
|Haven’t heard-not interested||2|
|Haven’t heard-but interested in learning more||5|
|Have heard-don’t know-unfamiliar and not interested||3|
|Have heard-don’t know-unfamiliar and want to learn more||5|
|Have heard-know-familiar and want to learn more||2|
- Attachment Theory – Keys to Simple, Meaningful Relationships
- Attachment Issues – Letting Go for Simpler, Happier Living
Attachment theory types are fascinating to learn about because they have been proven over time and their effects can be seen over the lifespan. Our relationships with our parents and caregivers may not seem so important, but they can have a truly wonderful or detrimental effect on how we view relationships with others. Isn’t it worth it to look at our childhoods and make an effort to do right by our children? I sure think so.