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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Goff


While studying child and adolescent counselling and psychotherapy I found myself becoming engrossed in all thing’s attachment related and I feel this is something we all need to understand, especially our own personal attachment styles. Recently, I have found myself on my own path of discovery, unearthing and trying to comprehend my own personal attachment style, which is not an easy task, I can assure you! So, for this month’s blog I thought I would share what (and how) I have learned so far and if after reading you feel you would like to do some more work of your own, which I highly recommend, I will share some resources that I found helpful on my journey. By identifying your attachment style, you can learn to challenge your insecurities, develop a more securely attached way of relating to others, and build stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationships.

So… what is attachment theory? Attachment theory is focused on the relationships and bonds between people, particularly long-term relationships, including those between a parent and child and between romantic partners. According to attachment theory, pioneered by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the quality of the bonding you experienced during this first relationship (as an infant with your primary caregiver—probably your mother) often determines how well you relate to other people and respond to intimacy throughout life.

Attachment Styles: there are four specific attachment styles (as summarised below);

1. Secure

2. Anxious – preoccupied

3. Dismissive – avoidant

4. Fearful - avoidant

If your primary caretaker made you feel safe and understood as an infant, if they were able to respond to your cries and accurately interpret your changing physical and emotional needs, then you likely developed a successful, SECURE attachment. As an adult, that usually translates to being self-confident, trusting, and hopeful, with an ability to healthily manage conflict, respond to intimacy, and navigate the ups and downs of romantic relationships.

If on the other hand you experienced confusing, frightening, or inconsistent emotional communication during infancy, though, if your caregiver was unable to consistently comfort you or respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have experienced an unsuccessful or INSECURE attachment. Infants with insecure attachment often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others, limiting their ability to build or maintain stable relationships. They may find it difficult to connect to others, shy away from intimacy, or be too clingy, fearful, or anxious in a relationship.

Causes of insecure attachment: There are many reasons why even a loving, conscientious parent may not be successful at creating a secure attachment bond with an infant. The causes of your insecure attachment could include:

· Having a young or inexperienced mother, lacking in the necessary parenting skills.

· Your caregiver experienced depression caused by isolation, lack of social support, or hormonal problems, for example, forcing them to withdraw from the caregiving role.

· Your primary caregiver’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs reduced their ability to accurately interpret or respond to your physical or emotional needs.

· Traumatic experiences, such as a serious illness or accident which interrupted the attachment process.

· Physical neglect, such as poor nutrition, insufficient exercise, or neglect of medical issues.

· Emotional neglect or abuse. For example, your caregiver paid little attention to you as a child, made scant effort to understand your feelings, or engaged in verbal abuse.

· Physical or sexual abuse, whether physical injury or violation.

· Separation from your primary caregiver due to illness, death, divorce, or adoption.

· Inconsistency in the primary caregiver. You experienced a succession of nannies or staff at day-care centres, for example.

· Frequent moves or placements. For example, you constantly changed environment due to spending your early years in orphanages or moving between foster homes.

How is attachment developed? Bowlby (first attachment theorist) found that attachment was characterized by clear behavioural and motivation pattern i.e. when children are frightened, they will seek proximity from their primary caregiver in order to receive both comfort and care. The factors that influence attachment include;

· Opportunity for attachment: Children who do not have a primary care figure, such as those raised in orphanages, may fail to develop the sense of trust needed to form an attachment.

· Quality caregiving: When caregivers respond quickly and consistently, children learn that they can depend on the people who are responsible for their care, which is the essential foundation for attachment. This is a vital factor.

Of course, experiences that occur between infancy and adulthood can also impact and shape our relationships. However, the infant brain is so profoundly influenced by the attachment bond, understanding your attachment style can offer vital clues as to why you may be having problems in your adult relationships. Perhaps you behave in puzzling or self-destructive ways when you’re in a close relationship? Maybe you repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over? Or maybe you struggle to form meaningful connections in the first place? Whatever your specific relationship problems, it’s important to know that your brain remains capable of change throughout life.


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