Attachment Theory: Secure and Insecure Attachments

Attachment Theory: Secure and Insecure Attachments

An attachment style is how we connect, or do not connect, with others.

Attachment theory suggests that the relationship children have with their earliest caregivers colors all their future relationships. That means our emotional and social behavior in adolescence and adulthood mirrors the patterns we developed with our first carers. In response to early interactions, infants, and children develop one of two attachment styles, secure or insecure.

Secure Attachments

When children have playful, trusting, mutually responsive, and dependable relations with first caregivers, they develop a secure attachment pattern of behavior.

Secure children grow up with the benefit of having healthy social attitudes. When older, they engage in meaningful relationships that buffer them from stress and anxiety. Feeling emotionally connected allows adults to face problems and better navigate traumatic situations.

Throughout life, secure people expect those they are connected with to meet their needs, and will reciprocate. They can articulate and discuss their feelings, and easily show appreciation and affection to those they care about.

Insecure Attachments

Avoidant Attachment

Children develop avoidant relationship behaviors if early caregivers discourage expressions of distress or affection. They learn to hide feelings which blocks their own ability to feel loved. Sometimes avoidant children withdraw completely from social interaction.

Avoidant adults have difficulty creating emotional connections. Often, they experience extreme discomfort having or sharing feelings, and usually harbor a mistrust of intimacy.

Ambivalent Attachment

Ambivalence occurs when children are not sure whether their carers will provide the comfort and reassurance needed. The caregiver sometimes responds to their distress and other times not. Because the caregiver is unpredictable, the child does not develop confidence their needs will be met.

As adults, those with ambivalent attachment are susceptible to problems such as high anxiety, eating disorders, or depression. They have difficulty managing stress and the challenges life presents, but may not seek help.

Disorganized Attachment

If a child signals their need for attachment, and the signals are not responded to, the child can develop a disorganized attachment pattern. This often happens if the caregiver has severe emotional or mental health problems, or if a carer is abusive to the child. Early signs of disorganized attachment are disruptive behaviors, withdrawing from others, and delayed development.

Adults with a disorganized pattern are at high risk for mental health and personality disorders. They often have a string of broken relationships behind them, may be self-harming, suicidal, aggressive, or controlling. They clearly demonstrate the significant imprint early care giving has on human development.

Artwork: Eva Kowalewska, "Le Thron Insecure"

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