Attachment Theory – Keys to Simple, Meaningful Relationships

We form relationships, or attachment, with our mothers and caregivers as infants based on how they respond to us.  There’s a name for those attachments-and it’s called attachment theory.

Attachment theory looks at relationships between children and caregivers, their behaviors, and development of relationships throughout life.  There are four types of attachment: secure, anxious-resistant, avoidant, and disorganized-disoriented.

Did you ever wonder why you’re so attached to one parent and maybe not the other?  Do you know what type of attachment you form with others and why that might be?

What Is an Attachment Theory?

An attachment theory is the relationship between two people based on support as well as childhood experiences.  It usually focuses on the long term relationships, with children and caregivers or parents and romantic partners.  The bonds are created with emotions and feedback, and it is a learned behavior that molds how we form relationships with others throughout life. 

An attachment theory suggests that early attachment patterns can influence a person’s future relationships and social interactions. It also recognizes that attachment styles can be altered through later experiences and interventions.

Attachment theory has been widely applied in various fields and provides insights into understanding the dynamics of relationships, attachment-related behaviors, and the impact of early experiences on individuals’ social and emotional well-being.

Kids playing - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Kids playing

According to R. Chris Fraley, PhD of Social Personality Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the attachment theory (Bowlby and Ainsworth) is based on protection, support, and presence.

What Are the Different Types and Styles of Attachment Theory?

The different types of attachment are secure, anxious-resistant, avoidant, and disorganized-disoriented.  Let’s take a closer look at each one of these.

Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is the result of sensitive, available, responsive, and accepting parents and caregivers.  With a secure attachment type, children have the courage to explore the world outside of the relationships with their caregiver(s), knowing they will be there to give them security and comfort whenever they need it.  This is a trusting and healthy relationship based on freely expressed emotions, reassurance, and security.  Secure attachments lead to the development of healthy self-esteem.

Grandpa with his grandchild - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Grandpa with his grandchild

Anxious-Resistant Attachment

Anxious-resistant attachment is usually the result of the caregiver(s) being inconsistent with meeting a child’s needs.  The child learns that they cannot rely upon care and protection from the caregiver(s), leading to development of insecurity.  The attachment is still there, but it is not as trusting.  Children experiencing anxious-resistant attachment won’t explore as readily, become more clingy and demanding to the caregiver(s), and have lower self-esteem.  This leads to the development of co-dependent relationships with others.

Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment results when the caregiver(s) are insensitive, minimize the child’s feelings, or don’t help in difficult times.  This results in the child becoming more self-reliant because they have learned they can’t depend on their caregiver(s) for support.  In these cases they won’t ask for help, don’t seek comfort from the caregiver(s), and generally won’t display negative emotions.  This leads to the lack of development of relationships as an adult, or they may be seen as “cold” and “stand-offish”

Disorganized-Disoriented attachment

Disorganized-Disoriented attachment is also known as insecure and is the result of rejection, ridicule, and fear brought on by caregiver(s) who have unresolved issues.  The child develops anxiety and fear in times of need, and any attempts to approach the caregiver(s) are stressful or avoided altogether.  This child also becomes more self-reliant, will refuse care, and in some cases may become aggressive when approached by the caregiver(s).  Future relationships tend to be abusive, cold, and sometimes even avoided.

The video below will help you figure out what your attachment style is.

What Is the Psychology of Attachment Theory?

The psychology of attachment theory is focused on a sense of security and how it develops, both in healthy and unhealthy relationships.  Infants begin the process of bonding and attaching with mothers and caregivers, leading to trust and affecting the ability to develop relationships in the future.  The sense of security also leads to the ability of the child to explore, pursue and learn new things, and still return for that comforting relationship as needed.  It also affects how we are as adults, how we maintain relationships, and how we treat our partners and our own children.

Infants begin the process of bonding and attaching with mothers and caregivers, leading to trust and affecting the ability to develop relationships in the future.

Attachment Theories by Category


Adults are the product of their attachments as children.  The relationships (or attachments) adults form will usually be in line with the type of attachment they experienced with their caregiver(s).  This includes romantic partners, friends, neighbors, and even coworkers. 

Family at sunset - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Family at sunset


Relationships and their attachment style can also be traced back to childhood experiences with caregiver(s).  If an adult was raised with a secure attachment, they will likely have secure-type relationships with others.  This is also dependent upon both parties in the relationship, and why sometimes there are challenges with communication and maintenance of the relationship.

Early Childhood

Early Childhood is the dependent factor of attachment style.  Around the age of 9 months the emotional bonds begin forming with others outside of the primary caregiver, and this includes other family members as well as those outside of the household.  In early childhood we are dependent upon others to provide us with comfort, protection, and emotional feedback which leads to trust.  As long as there is trust, there is a healthy relationship and an attachment.


Children should have the courage to explore their worlds and develop self-esteem, which is dependent upon a healthy attachment with their caregiver(s).  Children who have this secure attachment will in turn create friendships with other children and even have the ability to comfort others who are separated from loved ones.  An example of this would be a child who empathizes with a child who is new to school.

Birthday party - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Birthday party

Who are Popular Attachment Theorists?


John Bowlby is known as the pioneer of attachment theory.  According to Simply Psychology, his 1969 book Attachment and Loss identified attachment as “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”.  As a psychologist in Britain he studied separation anxiety between children and caregivers, discovering it is learned behavior.  Bowlby is also known for identifying the four types of attachment: secure, anxious-resistant, avoidant, and disorganized-disoriented.


Mary Ainsworth studied 9-18 month old children and their caregiver relationships through separating and reuniting and observing behaviors.  As a developmental psychologist she proved the existence of the learned behaviors and attachment types, and worked with Bowlby to further prove attachment theory according to a Developmental Psychology journal article by Inge Bretherton (1992).  Ainsworth also observed sensitivity responses by caregivers affected how attached or the type of attachment the children displayed.

Parents holding newborn - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Parents holding newborn


According to the British Institute of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was the “Father of Psychoanalysis” who discovered five stages of child development.  In 1938 he noted the mother-child bond is unconsciously formed, and this is what contributes the most to behaviors and relationship forming throughout life.  Freud found attachment is formed with the things that provide pleasure, like the infant sucking on a pacifier.

Related Insights

How Do You Explain Attachment Theory?

To explain attachment theory, look at the relationships you have with your caregiver(s).  Was your mother always there for you and your father always at work?  Did you feel like you could go to your mom with any problem?  Did you avoid going to your dad with anything because he said something mean?  You attach more to the one who is always there for you no matter what, and less to the one who isn’t there or who doesn’t say nice things.

What Is the Main Idea of Attachment Theory?

The main idea of attachment theory is that we grow fonder to people who provide us with care, comfort, and meeting our basic needs.  With needs being met and a positive feedback mechanism, there is a bonding or attachment between child and caregiver and between people based on trust.  This process begins in infancy and defines how we create relationships as adults.

Group of friends - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Group of friends

What Are the Three Theories of Attachment?

The three theories of attachment are secure, anxious, and avoidant.  Secure attachment is based upon a trusting, comforting relationship.  Anxious attachment is based upon inconsistently having needs met, which leads to insecurity and co-dependency.  Avoidant attachment is based upon insensitive responses by caregivers, refusing to help, or making someone feel like their feelings don’t matter.

How Familiar Are People With Attachment Theory?

I asked several friends and family members: 1) Are they familiar with Attachment Theory? 2) If yes, which style or theorist? 3) If no, are they interested to learn more about Attachment Theories? Here is what they shared and what I learned from the poll:

FamiliarityTally of Family/Friends
1) No  3) No2
1) No  3) Yes4
1) Yes  2) Freud5
1) Yes  2) Avoidant2
1) Yes  2) Secure3
1) Yes  2) Insecure2
1) Yes  2) Anxious2
1) Yes  2) Disorganized1
Younger and older generations holding hands - Attachment Theory - Gone Minimal
Younger and older generations holding hands

Other Resources:

Attachment theory is pretty fascinating to see, and as adults most of us are able to figure out what type of attachment we had with our caregiver(s).  Then we can see the effect it’s had on relationships we’ve had throughout our lives, as proven by Freud, Bowlby, and Ainsworth.  Hopefully this has helped you see where you can make any necessary changes to have the best relationships with those you care for.

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