Attachment Styles - What Are They and How Do They Affect Relationships?
Attachment styles are typically formed early in life and can affect your adult relationship further down the line. Just as the people in our lives can shape the way we attach ourselves to them, our experiences can also affect how we interact and build relationships, whether that’s with a parent or a significant other.
You may have heard the term attachment theory, which explores how we interact with others and form relationships with people, but do you know how our relationships at such an early age can affect how we interact in our daily lives today? There are a several different attachment styles and we’re sure you may resonate with one of them or know someone who fits the description. It’s important to understand what attachment theory is, the differences between each attachment style and how they affect relationships with others, today.
What is Attachment Theory
Attachment Theory is based on specific circumscribed aspects of a relationship between a child and caregiver, that is involved with making the child safe, secure and protected1. Attachment happens when a child uses their caregiver as a safe-haven to explore from and go back to, when they need comfort and safety. The theory was developed by two psychologists, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, between 1960 – 1970, when they studied the relationship between parents and their children.
Phases of Attachment
During their research, Ainsworth and Bowlby noticed there are various stages of attachment. These distinct stages are outlined from birth and beyond, the most critical time in a child’s life. The four stages are laid out below -- how parents and caregivers respond to infants plays a major role in how they will develop attachments later in life.
From birth to three month, infants don’t show attachment, which is known as the pre-attachment stage. Infants will cry to attract the attention of their caregivers so that the caregiver will respond2.
At six weeks to seven months, children will start to show preference of their primary and secondary caregivers, this is called the indiscriminate attachment phase2. Infants at this stage have started to develop trust, and can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces.
From seven to 11 months, infants have now developed a preference for their primary caregiver2 and will show anxiety when they are separated from them or around strangers. This stage is known as discriminate attachment because the infant will display anxiety around strangers and prefers their primary caregiver.
Finally, at approximately nine months, children will form various bonds with others, that often include their father, siblings, and grandparents2. Because they develop several bonds at once, the phase is known as the multiple attachment.
Research has shown, that if children are unable to secure attachment at an early age, it will have significant negative impacts later in life. For those who are able to secure attachment, they will build more successful relationship in their adult life.
Types of Attachment
While studying how parents provide safety for their child, but also allowing the child to explore the worlds expanse and return to their parents for comfort, Ainsworth discovered three different types of attachment3. Researchers then added a fourth type, years later.
- Secure Attachment
- Anxious-Insecure Attachment
- Avoidant-Insecure Attachment
- Disorganized-Insecure Attachment
Secure attachment refers to when parents or caregivers are available, sensitive, responsible and accepting during your upbringing3. When children are raised in this upbringing, they tend to know how to trust others, have higher self-esteem and will generally develop successful relationships. These individuals will display characteristics that are honest, supportive and feel comfortable sharing how they are feeling.
Anxious-Insecure Attachment happens when a parent responds sporadically to their child3. This caregiver is sometimes present and at times, they may not respond at all. The child will develop trust issues because they are not able to rely on their caregiver. They will exaggerate distress just to gain their parents attention, which will force the parent to respond to the child. As the child matures, the parent may notice that they become more needy and angry because of the lack of engagement from the parent as an infant. As adults, individuals who experience this type of attachment may become clingy and even codependent in relationships.
In Avoidant-Insecure Attachment, the parent may have trouble responding to their child with sensitivity. Instead of comforting, they will minimize the child’s feelings, reject the demands of the child and won’t help with difficult tasks3. In this situation, children may sometimes take care of their parents, which will result in the child being self-reliant. Later in life, these individuals will not turn to their parents for help and tend to minimize their emotions. In relationships, they may often be the ones who just can’t commit and will even avoid relationships completely to distance themselves from others.
Disorganized-Insecure Attachment originates when a parent shows behavior that rejects or frightens their child. In this situation, parents often have past unresolved trauma that will be projected onto their child. Unfortunately, if a child tries to approach their parent, they will feel an increased sense of anxiety, instead of care and protection most individuals feel when they interact with their parent. The child in this attachment style will develop the following behaviors: become aggressive towards their parent, refuse care from their parent and become self-reliant3. Individuals who have experienced this type of attachment style often show higher levels of psychopathology.
How to Change or Get Help with Your Attachment Style
While it can be difficult to change attachment styles, often individuals will look for ways to move from their current attachment type to a more or less secure style4. When looking to change your attachment style to be more secure, therapy is often the most common way to work through previous trauma and your upbringing. For those individuals who experience anxious or avoidant attachment styles, cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to improve depressed patients5. Additionally, those with an anxious attachment style benefited from interpersonal therapy, which also helped to reduce anxiety.
When you’re ready, All Points North Lodge is here with the programs and expertise you need to face your attachment issues with confidence. Our team of expert clinicians are ready to help you take the next step towards healing and recovery. We offer programs designed to treat addictions and mental health disorders. Nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, APN Lodge offers a luxury rehab experience that is surrounded by the perfect environment for healing, personal growth, and recovery. Using evidence-based treatment approaches, our team of clinicians has the expertise to guide you through the process from referral through program completion.
To learn about all that the APN Lodge experience offers, reach out to one of our Contact Center team members at 866-525-9107. Let us help you find your way forward.
- Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss. Volume 1: Attachment. 2nd edn. New York: Basic Books; 1982.
- Cherry, Kendra. “How Attachment Theory Works.” Bowlby & Ainsworth: What Is Attachment Theory?, Verywell Mind, 17 July 2019, www.verywellmind.com/what-is-attachment-theory-2795337.
- Lewis, Rhona. “Types of Attachment Styles and What They Mean.” Types of Attachment: Avoidant, Anxious, Secure, and More., Healthline Parenthood, 25 Sept. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/parenting/types-of-attachment#secure-attachment.
- Williams, Chloe. “How to Change Your Attachment Style and Your Relationships.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Apr. 2021, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/202104/how-change-your-attachment-style-and-your-relationships#:~:text=To%20change%20your%20style%20to,helps%20you%20become%20more%20secure.
- McBride C, et al. "Attachment as Moderator of Treatment Outcome in Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Interpersonal Psychotherapy Versus Cognitive Behavior Therapy," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2006): Vol. 74, No. 6, pp. 1041–54.