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Attachment Styles

Updated on June 9, 2013

Ever wonder why you keep falling for the same type of partner only to find that the same relationship difficulty happening again and again? Or why you can't make too friends or you have a friend or partner that's too 'clingy'?

News Flash; how you were attached to your mother or caregiver makes you the person now.

Wonder why you or other people have seemingly same patterns when choosing partners, friends and end up in conflict relationships?

Mary Ainsworth, Canadian psychologist came up with initially 3 attachment styles that was based on John Bowlby psychologist/ psychiatrist/ psychoanalyst know for his pioneering work on attachment theory.

In the 1970s she came up with method of 'testing' how babies respond to attachment situations by creating A Strange Situation. The method involved a child in a room being observed for 20 minutes while their caregiver and stranger left and entered the room. There were 8 different 'stressful' situations for the child that was observed.

From the conclusion of the study Mary Ainsworth and later another colleague identified 4 attachment styles; Secure attachment, anxious - resistant insecure attachment, anxious - avoidant insecure attachment, disorganized / disorientated attachment.

Secure children will play with toys when the mother is in the room and when there is a stranger in the room with the mother, they will be upset when the mother leaves the room and happy when the mother returns. When the stranger enters the room when the mother isn't there they will not engage with them.

Anxious - resistant insecure children will be extremely distressed when the mother leaves and when the mother / caregiver returns they will be both happy and resentful; pulling away and clinging. They may even hit the mother upon returning.

Anxious - avoidant insecure children will ignore or avoid their mother/care giver and when their care giver leaves they won't show much emotion. When they return they may avoid the care giver or avoid to cling when picked up. The child won't do much exploring in the room when either the stranger or care giver is in the room.

A 4th Style of attachment that was later added by Ainsworth's Colleague Mary Main is the disorganised / disorientated attachment style. The child cries during the mother's departure though when the mother returns the child avoid the mother or may freeze, fall to the floor, hit themselves and do stereotyped repetitive behavior.

With the secure attachment; the child believes that their mother is a 'safe base'. Their mother has been appropriately responsive to the child and has met their needs. The secure attachment style is the most 'desirable and adaptable' out of all the styles.

The anxious - avoidant insecure attachment; the care giver cares for the child, though on the care givers own terms. The child's needs are met and sometimes ignored and when met sometimes through the mother's needs.

With the avoidant attachment; the child needs are ignored , their needs are frequently not meet and the child learns that their communication of their needs doesn't have much influence on the mother or care giver.

With the disorganized / disorientated style, often the care givers suffered sort of major trauma before or after the birth and were depressed. Also there style can develop from neglect or abuse or other trauma for the child.

Fast Forward to when the child is now an Adult

Secure children will often develop a secure attachment. They view both themselves and other people in a positive way. They are both comfortable with intimacy and independence and have a balanced level of the two. They feel easy to be engaged in relationships and are secure standing alone and being dependent on other people. This is the most common attachment style with over 50% of worlds population. They are effective at communicating their needs, feeling and dealing with conflict. They understand the give and take or reciprocation in relationships. They are reliable and consistent and often have a stabilizing effect in relationships. They report the highest level of satisfaction and success in relationships.

Anxious ambivalent children will often grow into an anxious - preoccupied attachment style. They have a positive view of other people though a negative view of themselves. They desire and have very high craving for intimacy level and are very uncomfortable with independence in a relationship. They become overly dependent on people; the casual term that most people use is 'clingy or 'needy'. They need constant reassurance, approval and responsiveness from their partner/ other people. People with this attachment style tend to seek partners to make them feel 'complete' or 'whole'. They have a desire to often 'merge' with the other person and their life tends to revolve around or are preoccupied about relationships. They often worry if the person will abandon them and look for 'signs' or a very sensitive to signs of dismissiveness. They tend to be very open about their feeling and disclosing information themselves and will often do it in a very in-proportionate amount to the relationship with the other person and can viewed in an inappropriate manner; too much too soon. This attachment style tends to make adults very caring of other people to the point of neglecting themselves. This attachment style is about people feeling insecure when being alone and feeling secure when having close intimate relationships. They express distress readily. 20% of the world's population has this style.

The anxious - avoidant child will often grow up to have a dismissive - avoidant attachment style. They have a high desire of independence and see intimacy as a loss of their independence. They are uncomfortable with intimacy in relationships. About 25% of the worlds population has this style.They see themselves as self sufficient, not requiring close relationships and invulnerable to feeling attached. They tend not to disclose much about themselves their feeling even when asked. This attachment style is about people feeling insecure about being too emotionally close to other people and feeling secure when have a high level of independence or self sufficiency.

Having a disorganized / disorientated style the adult will often have a fearful -avoidant attachment style. Adults with this attachment style have confused feelings about relationships. They desire close relationship though feel uncomfortable with being emotionally intimate. These feeling are mixed in with unconscious negative views about their partners and themselves. They often distrust their partners intentions and feel unworthy with the attention being given. This is the least common attachment style with just 3 to 5% of the world's population.

Now to Romantic Relationships.

Secures attract secures and are also have a very stabilizing effect on people with preoccupied and avoidant styles as well.

Ironically people with preoccupied and avoidant attachment styles often very much attract each other.

Preoccupied are often attracted to avoidants because some believe that avoidants want more closeness and intimacy then they actually want and enjoy the 'challenge' in bringing it out. They tend to 'idolize' avoidant attachment tendencies like being independent, less need for a person and self reliance. The misread avoidant mixed signals in a relationship and take it as a sign of love or that the avoidant is coming round to loving around as they should be expected.

The avoidant is attracted to the preoccupied because when they believe that people want to 'ensnare' them and be more intimate with them then they want it when paired with a preoccupied it reconfirms their belief. They like to feel stronger than their partner and again being paired up with a preoccupied reconfirms their belief. They won't be able to feel stronger with a person with a secure or another avoidant attachment.

People with two avoidant attachment styles tend not to be attracted to each other or stay long because there would be no 'glue' or commitment to stay together.

People in an avoidant and preoccupied relationships will often their relationships are very stormy with very high lows and high feelings,unpredictability, and for preoccupied the relationship gets worse the more you get closer in the relationships. Both partners report their relationships to be highly unstable and very unsatisfying. The avoidant isn't interested in resolving issues as it would require more intimacy in the relationship- which they don't seek.

So how to make the Avoidant - Preoccupied relationship work?

1. Understanding your difference. Awareness of each partners differences and needs in a relationships allows each other to better communicate and understand each other has different needs.

Respect your differences

Don't try to change your partner. this rings true for the preoccupied styles.

3. Work on getting greater security

Both preoccupied and avoidant are considered insecure attachment styles. Work towards better communicating at what your needs are. Another way is both attending couples counselling or therapy or individual therapy to help make your attachment style more secure.


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