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In psychology, ‘attachment theory’ explores the emotional bond between one human and another (mostly between caregiver and infant). It is a theory that suggests that in the first six months of a baby’s life, the caregiver must provide adequate nurturing to their baby to establish a close bond. If a healthy bond cannot be established during the baby’s early developmental phase , it can lead to several emotional problems for them later on in life, with attachment styles impacting adult relationships.
What is attachment theory?
The psychologist and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, developed his pioneering attachment theory work throughout 1960s and made many significant contributions to the field of psychotherapy for his work on attachment.
Bowlby describes attachment as: ‘a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another person across time and space.’
Bowlby argued that attachment is a biological process and went on to say that all infants are born with an ‘attachment gene’ which allows them to discharge what is called ‘social releasers’ ensuring that when the child cries or smiles that they receive the care they crave.
Bowlby identified four types of attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, disorganised, and secure. These attachment styles begin as a child and are carried through into adulthood.
Although Bowlby was of the opinion that a child can form multiple attachments, he still held the belief that since it is the first connection established, the bond between mother and baby is the strongest of all. So, it’s an individual’s relationship with their mother that shows their attachment style as an adult.
What is your attachment style?
- Anxious-ambivalent attachment. Anxious-ambivalent children are more likely to show distrust and insecurity in adulthood. They constantly seek approval from their caregivers and continuously observe their surroundings for fear of being abandoned. People who developed attachments under this style are usually emotionally dependent in adulthood.
- Avoidant attachment. Children who have developed under the ‘avoidant’ style have learned to accept that their emotional needs are likely to remain unmet and continue to grow up feeling unloved and insignificant. In adulthood, they tend to avoid intimate relationships.
- Disorganised attachment. Disorganised attachment is a combination of avoidant and anxious attachment, and children that fit into this group often display intense anger and rage. Adults who have this attachment style as a child tend to avoid intimate relationships and can have a difficult time controlling their emotions.
- Secure attachment. The secure attachment style signifies there was a warm and loving bond between parent and child. Adults who had this childhood are able to form healthy relationships with those around them and have no problem building long-term relationships without fear of abandonment.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He tweets @dennisr_howell.