A special emotional relationship involving the exchange of comfort, care, attention and pleasure is known as attachment.
The emotional connection formed with a primary caregiver as an infant, often determines the attachment style of an individual even in adulthood. As stated by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the quality of bonding during the first relationship determines how one relates to other people and responds to intimacy in life.
Attachment styles are usually applied in regards to romantic relationships in adults.
Characteristics of Attachment
John Bowlby in his Attachment Theory stated that there are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment:
- Proximity maintenance- The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
- Safe haven- Returning to the attached person for comfort and safety in times of fear and threat
- Secure base- The attachment figure is a security base from where the child can explore the surroundings.
- Separation distress- Anxiety arises in the absence of the person attached to.
The study “Strange Situations” by Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby’s research. It focused on children between 12 to 18 months of age. It was conducted as follows
- The parent and child were alone in the room.
- The child explores the room in the parent’s presence.
- A stranger suddenly enters the room, speaks to the parent and approaches the child.
- The parent then quietly exits the room.
- After a short absence the parent returns to the child.
Through this study, Mary Ainsworth observed three distinct attachment styles,
- Secure attachment
- Ambivalent-insecure attachment
- Avoidant-insecure attachment
The fourth, Disorganized-insecure attachment was later added by Main and Solomon.
Secure Attachment Style
People with secure attachment tend to feel safe, satisfied and stable in close relationships. They maintain trusting and long lasting relations. They are empathetic, have high self-esteem, optimism and are open to others. At the same time, they don’t fear being alone and thrive in solitude.
As adults, they maintain self-worth is intimate relationships. They can express needs and feelings openly and are resilient towards any setbacks in their relations. They do not experience anxiety when separated from their partners.
Anxious/Ambivalent-Insecure Attachment Style
People with anxious/ambivalent attachment are uncertain, fearful, doubtful and hesitant when it comes to intimacy. They constantly fear abandonment and their relationships are like roller-coasters. They have very low self-esteem and always assume they are unwanted by others.
As adults, they crave for closeness but struggle to trust their partner. This craving often leads them to be clingy at times and aloof at times. They view personal boundaries as a threat to the relationship and panic in such situations. If not provided with constant validation and reassurance, they fall into self-doubt and over thinking. End of relationships scar them deeply.
Avoidant-Insecure Attachment Style
Also known as dismissive-avoidant attachment, this style is the opposite of anxious/ambivalent attachment. People with this style are opposed to closeness and intimacy. They cannot share emotions and do not bother about building relations.
As adults, they are extremely independent and do not rely on others as well as prefer not to be relied on. They lack the ability to support their partners when needed and instead withdraw more with the increase in emotional availability from partners. Relationships prove to be a burden and suffocation for them. They are prone to disregarding their partner’s feeling, keeping secrets and indulging in extra-marital affairs. All of this being the result of their deep-rooted fear of intimacy.
Fearful-Avoidant/Disorganized Attachment Style
People with fearful-avoidant attachment believe they don’t deserve love or close relationships. This is often the result of childhood trauma, abuse or neglect by their caregivers. Researchers Main and Solomon stated that a parent’s incompatibility is the cause for this attachment style.
As adults, they crave safety and security but believe they are unworthy of love and fear being abandoned. Intimate relationships are confusing and unsettling for them hence their attitude towards their partner varies from extreme love to hate.
They are more prone to portray the abuse they faced in childhood towards their partners leading them to be selfish, controlling, violent, explosive and toxic in the relationship. To overcome their desires, they may turn to alcohol and drug abuse.
The first attachment style is secure but the other three are a result of insecurity which can be caused by the following:
- Being raised by young or inexperienced parent
- Being raised by a depressed or addicted caregiver
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Traumatic experiences of illness or death
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Frequent moves
One can improve their attachment style by boosting emotional intelligence, improving non-verbal communication, developing relations with those who are securely attached and resolving childhood trauma.