Every person experiences the process of attachment during development. It begins as soon as a new life is brought into this world and is carried with an individual well into adulthood. It involves an exchange of comfort, care and bonding between the child and parent. Depending on the nature of this exchange, a growing newborn can develop one of multiple attachment styles. Pioneers within this field of research include John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, who outlined many major factors and characteristics involved with attachment.
Bowlby stated that having a sense of security could be identified by the desire to be near those a person is attached to, viewing a guardian as a safe haven or secure base and experiencing separation anxiety when distanced from a guardian. Ainsworth conducted the well-known “Strange Situation” study, which observed how different children reacted to being separated and reunited with attachment figures. The study resulted in the framework of attachment styles that psychologists and parents still refer to today, which include:
- Secure: Children with a secure attachment show a visible preference for their primary attachment figure. They experience a healthy balance of displeasure when a caregiver is missing and happiness when the caregiver returns. Also, the child both seeks out and returns emotional requests with the parent or guardian, which fosters a high level of communication and care through the rest of his or her development.
- Ambivalent-insecure: In contrast to secure children, ambivalently attached newborns are overcasted by a malaise of distress and guardedness. When left without an attachment figure, an ambivalent infant will become extremely upset and suspicious of strangers. However, the child will not experience comfort or security when the caregiver returns. In some cases, he or she may even hold resentment towards an attachment figure for instances of separation.
- Avoidant-insecure: Avoidant, insecure children do not display a particular preference for their attachment figure over a stranger. Overall, these offspring stay away from parents and evade emotional exchanges. When an attachment figure is missing, the avoidant child shows little to no distress. In other words, this case may exemplify a lack of attachment.
- Disorganized-insecure: Defined later due to its complexity, children who display a disorganized mix of avoidant and other resistant behaviors are believed to result from a similarly polar combination of comfortable and fearful parenting. This mixed opinion of the child’s attachment figure is commonly expressed through confusion and apprehension.
How childhood attachment affects adults
Given the early and formative role of an infant and caregiver’s relationship, a person’s developed type of attachment can have long lasting impacts further down the line. A lot of research has focused on how an individual’s attachment style as a child can affect his or her adult health. In addition to having a list of influences on mature, intimate attachment, a 2013 study comparing different attachment styles discovered that insecure bonds were correlated with a high chance of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and many other psychological disturbances.
A 2012 review of attachment theory and the studies that use this perspective highlighted a powerful link between insecure attachment styles and the onset of mental disorders. After analyzing a list of cross-sectional, longitudinal and prospective studies comparing the long-term effects of attachment, researchers found that a common characteristic among people with mental illness was an insecure attachment style. The symptoms associated with this insecurity ranged widely, with problems spanning mild distress, personality disorders and schizophrenia. An established set of evidence also shows that strengthening a person’s attachment security is correlated with a reduced chance and severity of psychological problems.
The scientific review goes on to mention that although there is a marked connection between attachment insecurity and psychopathology, many other factors have a significant influence on one’s future mental health. An individual’s biological disposition, intelligence and an exposure to highly stressful events have been shown to be additional predictors of well-adjusted adults or those with disorders. Regardless of its larger role in development, the theory of attachment has accrued strong, empirical support as an evolutionary component of survival.
Sovereign Health Group is a treatment provider concerned with lessening the various obstacles and threats to mental wellness. For some, these hindrances can come in the form of addictive substances. For others, limitations are caused by mental disorders. Even cases of abuse and trauma can lead to serious psychological dysfunction, but Sovereign is always available for support. If you or a loved one struggles with any kind of mental illness or addiction, contact a representative online or call (866) 819-0427.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer