Have you ever wondered how different we are with other people we know? Or maybe, you’ve noticed how similar you are to the traits of some certain personalities. We notice that someone has that same sense of insecurity and vulnerability in relationships with others, and we wonder why! Whereas you can see that your friend, partner or colleague is very securely attached in his or her relationships. All these similarities and differences make up the Attachment Style, or also known as the Attachment Theory.
The attachment theory is a psychological theory, first formulated by the psychoanalyst and psychiatrist John Bowlby, in 1958. Bowlby proposed that attachment can be understood within an evolutionary context in that the caregiver provides safety and security for the infant, and that the consequences of the lack of this security will be evident in the infant’s adulthood relationships.
In the early 50ies, while Bowlby was a consultant for the World Health Association, he wrote a report on “Maternal Care and Mental Health”. One of his famous statements in this report is him concluding that “It’s as if maternal care were as necessary for the proper development of the personality, as vitamin D is for the proper development of bones”. In his book written in 1960, “Separation Anxiety”, Bowlby explains what happens to the development of children between the ages of about 12 months and 4 years, when they are deprived from their mother figures and remain with strangers instead. What makes this observation so interesting and quite accurate, is the fact that Bowlby first drew from his personal experience, as he was separated from both of his parents and was sent to boarding school at seven.
His book, theory and insights were the root of reforms that came up. Many health institutions that earlier than that didn’t allow their parents to stay with their children, or even touch them, now started changing the rules. The earlier traditional norm was that if parents gave away too much care and attention, the children would become useless and spoiled. This was a theory which Bowlby argued with and opposed, specifically on the “Separation Anxiety” book.
At about the same time that Bowlby was creating the foundations for his theory on attachment, Mary Ainsworth, the developmental Canadian psychologist, was finishing her graduate degree and studying security theory. According to the security theory, Ainsworth also believed that children need to develop a secure dependence on their parents before venturing out into unfamiliar situations.
Considering this relevance in thoughts and work, Bowlby’s perspective crossed Mary’s when she joined Bowlby’s research unit at the Tavistock Clinic in London.
Through their joint studies and observations, we now know three attachment styles that relate to our earliest experiences with parental care.
Lucky adults who are securely attached in their relationships tend to feel more connected and secure towards their partner. What characterizes them is self-sufficiency, individualism and the acknowledgment that they do not need to spend all the time of the world together with their partner. Securely attached people accept and give support easier, are more independent, and more prone to be emotionally grown. They are also more accepting and easier to create deeper connections, allowing enough space for their partner.
Anxiously attached individuals are usually the clingiest ones, jealous, demanding and are the ones that get easily upset by the smallest of issues that may arise on their relationship. They take everything personally. Say, if their partner had a rough day at work and is not necessarily cheerful in the evening, the anxiously attached partner will think somethings wrong with them. As a result of earlier trauma, they tend to feel desperate for love and affirmation, counting on their partner to make them whole and fix their problems.
This attachment style has sub-styles. According to this theory, there are two types of avoidantly attached people:
a) Dismissive-Avoidant: These people tend to generally keep their distance from others. When facing conflict, they may think and feel that they are not in need of human connection to help them pass any situation. Dismissive – Avoidant people will stubbornly maintain their independence and isolate from others, until the point of shutting down emotionally whenever they are faced with serious conflict or drama, as it may be the case of a serious threat of their partner leaving them.
b) Fearful Avoidant: What is characteristic about the second type of adult avoidant attachment is that they have what is called ambivalence. They are at the same time attracted and drawn to their partner, but they simultaneously fear intimacy and getting close to them. They fear getting hurt and that makes them very unstable when it comes down to emotions, the expression of their feelings and mood swings. Nothing is ever predictable with these ones!
Psychologists say that we’re not characterized by the same attachment style all the time, which is good because imagine being anxious all the time. However tough that it may be to acknowledge that we belong to one group or another, we can always work on our patterns and try to improve them, once we are aware of our personality traits in relationship with others!
Did you figure your attachment style? We have an article on types of Symbiotic Relationships for you: