Before we dive into the types of attachment styles, it’s important to know what attachment is. At is basis it’s an emotional bond with another person. Taken from Psychology Today, attachment is the emotional bond between infant and caregiver and it is the means by which an infant gets their primary needs met.
Attachment theory is the idea that available primary caregivers that respond to an infant’s needs allow a child to develop a sense of security. If they don’t, a child will adapt and develop varying attachments to the caregivers and then later on as an adult to other adults they wish to have a relationship with (romantic and platonic).
There are two typical factors for determining types of attachment or attachment styles:
Opportunity for Attachment:If a child is raised in an orphanage, a treatment center, or is neglected by their biological parents, a child may fail to develop the trust needed to form a healthy and secure attachment
Quality Caregiving:If a caregiver responds quickly and consistently, children learn that they can depend on other people who are responsible for their care which is essential for attachment.
Understanding the four types of attachment styles can help you with your own child, but also in understanding some of your own concerns that arise within your own relationships.
- Secure: This is the hope! Children who can depend on their caregivers show distress when they’re separated from their parents, and joy when they return. Children are upset about a caregiver leaving, but are assured they will return. They also feel comfortable seeking reassurance from caregivers whenever they feel frightened. As an adult, this person will trust in relationships and be able to tolerate difficulties and use coping skills to manage challenges.
2. Avoidant -Insecure: This is the style that occurs often when children grew up in environments where the caregiver was dismissive or consistently not present. (Remember, these things are not always intentional and there are numerous factors that play a role including the child’s own temperament. Dismissive does not automatically equal abuse or neglect.) Children will not rely on caregivers and will avoid them. They will show little to no preference for a caregiver or a stranger. They can appear very independent, but often their emotional needs go unmet. As adults, they will have a difficult time relying and getting close to others typically out of fear of being hurt. Because they have limited knowledge on how to get their own needs met, they also can come across as aloof or selfish because they cannot recognize when someone else may need support. Being vulnerable is extremely uncomfortable for this person and they will avoid becoming too emotionally close to another individual, seeming as though they always have their guard up.
3. Ambivalent – Insecure: This is a child who becomes very distressed if the parent leaves. This style usually results from a caregiver being unavailable or extremely inconsistent in meeting a child’s physical and emotional needs. These children are typically very anxious. As they get older, they may be overly attuned to their partner or people in their social circle and overanalyze small changes in a persons demeanor or expression. This person will also find it difficult to trust a partner and because of their own insecurities often push people away. At the same time, they will also use these insecurities to pull a person back.
4. Disorganized – Insecure: This is often brought on due to inconsistent and confusing expectations by a caregiver. Caregivers may be extremely kind, loving, and supportive, and at times terrifying, cruel, and neglectful. Behaviors are often confusing in this child as some things one day can be comforting, and other days the child may seem distant or aggressive. The range is extreme and varied. Adults with this type of attachment style have difficulty with most relationships in life. They have a lot of difficulty with coping skills and often rely on others to soothe them. They struggle to understand other’s point of view or why someone may need them. Their coping skills are lacking and they tend to rely on their partner or their close circle to help regulate emotions for them. Because of this, physical and psychological violence often occurs.
In most circumstances, nobody will fit into one category perfectly. There are certain characteristics that a person may hold from each. Improving your own strength in self awareness means that we can look at ourselves and identify if we are reacting to a person, or merely the situation. When we speak to children, and notice their styles of attachment, our reaction can be based on the level and type of insecurity they’re dealing with.
Relationships with others can heal us, but only when we can accept and respect the relationship we have with ourselves.