PHOTO: Marcos Mayer
Text: Alejandra Misiolek Marín
What are the attachment styles?
There are various styles of attachment, but they can be divided into two groups: secure attachments and insecure attachments. Everything that is secure attachment is something that provides us with a secure base to explore the world and provides us with healthy models of relating to others. Insecure attachment styles, on the other hand, such as avoidant, ambivalent or disorganized, are attachment styles that are a basis for not satisfactory relationships with others that can even be pathological.
Secure attachment is a type of attachment that is characterized by unconditionality. The child knows that their caregiver is not going to fail them; the child feels loved, accepted and valued. According to Bowly’s attachment theories, this type of attachment largely depends on the caregiver’s consistency in providing care and security.
A child with the secure attachment shows active behaviors, they interact confidently with the environment and there is an emotional harmony between the child and their attachment figure. He or she does not need to make effort to form intimate relationships, they do not fear abandonment. That means, they can lead an independent adult life without giving up their interpersonal relationships and emotional bonds.
However, insecure attachment styles such as avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized are more closely related to certain pathologies and certain relational problems.
The attachment that we call anxious and ambivalent means that we express conflicting emotions and feelings, which frequently generate anguish. In the case of an anxious or ambivalent attachment, the child does not trust their caregivers and has a constant feeling of insecurity, based on the fact that sometimes their caregivers are there for them and other times they are not. The most frequent emotions in this type of attachment are fear, especially of separation, as well as a difficulty calming down even when the caregiver returns. These children need the approval of the caregivers and they constantly check that they do not abandon them. They explore the environment in a very un-relaxed way, and they make sure that the caregiver does not stray too far.
As adults, anxious or ambivalent attachment causes a feeling of fear that their partner does not love them or does not really want them and it is difficult to interact in the way they would like with people, since they expect to receive more intimacy or more connection from others that they can provide. An example of this type of attachment would be an adult who is emotionally dependent.
Avoidant attachment, on the other hand, is formed because the child has assumed that they cannot count on their caregivers, which really causes them suffering. This is known as avoidant because to their caregivers they appear distant and show distancing behaviors. For example, they do not cry when the caregiver is gone and they are not interested in people, but rather are interested in their own toys. The child develops forced self-sufficiency in preference to emotional connection. The disregard for separation can be confused with what security is. However, different studies have shown that these children actually present physiological signs associated with stress. These children grow up feeling not loved nor valued enough, many times they do not express or understand the emotions of others and therefore avoid intimate relationships. In adulthood they reject intimacy and they experience relationship difficulties. For example, their partners miss more intimacy in the interaction.
The disorganized attachment is probably the attachment style that is related to most psychological problems such as personality disorders, eating disorders and other pathologies are related to human interactions. Disorganized attachment is a mixture between what would be anxious attachment and avoidant attachment, in which the child exhibits behaviors that are contradictory and incoherent. Disorganized attachment is frequently described as a total lack of attachment. On the part of the caregivers there is frequently parental neglect or emotional abandonment, or the caregivers themselves have gone through various traumas in their life and childhood and suffer from many insecurities.
In disorganized attachment style, the attachment figure is on the one hand someone the child wants to approach and at the same time someone he or she is afraid of. Such children have a tendency to explosive behaviors, to destroy toys, to impulsive actions, as well as to have great difficulties in relating to their caregivers and other people, often with a tendency to avoid intimacy. It seems as if they have not found a way to manage their emotions. These people with a disorganized adult attachment style are usually people with a high load of frustration and anger, they do not feel loved and they seem to reject relationships, but really deep down they yearn for them very much. This type of attachment in adults can be found at the bottom of many toxic relationships.
Attachment styles are co-created in the interaction between the baby and its caregiver. They are established at a very early age and research on attachment shows that already at the age of 4 months we have established certain patterns, and at 12 months of age of the baby the attachment style is already well established and allows us to foresee what this person’s attachment style will be like as an adult.
Can the attachment style be modified?
In psychotherapy we intend to change the attachment style that is insecure to one that is secure. We creating a secure base in the therapeutic relationship that can be a base for the patient to explore the external world as the baby does with her caregiver.
Beebe, B., & Lachman, F. (2002). Co-constructiong inner and relational processes: Self and interactive regulation in infant research and adult treatment. Infant Research and Adult Treatment, 15, 121-142.
Tronick, E. Z., & Cohn, J. F. (1989). Infant-mother face-to-face interaction: Age and gender differences in coordination and the occurrence of miscoordination. Child development, 85-92.
Beebe, B., Jaffe, J., Markese, S., Buck, K., Chen, H., Cohen, P., … & Feldstein, S. (2010). The origins of 12-month attachment: A microanalysis of 4-month mother–infant interaction. Attachment & human development, 12(1-2), 3-141.