Have you ever wondered what is the motivating force it that relates to how you behave in intimate relationships and how you treat your children? Have you asked yourself how you choose the relationships that you attracted to?
The leading theory in psychology today is called Attachment Theory, and for the next several weeks in October, we are going to explore it and its consequences in depth.
Attachment refers to the way we relate to other people. There are four types of attachment, secure, avoidant, anxious and disorganized. Which kind of attachment style you have as an adult is directly linked to our parenting in early childhood. Knowing your style of attachment can help you understand your behavior and offer ways to mitigate the harmful effects if your style is not favorable.
The History of Attachment Theory in Brief
Until the late 1950’s, the theories brought to the world by Sigmund Freud ruled the psychological realm. Then came Erik Erikson with his approach to the stages of human development. Then, John Bowlby, an English psychiatrist began research into the different ways children react to their caregivers and how their attachments to them determined how they saw the world as a whole.
In short, Bowlby’s attachment theory states that children are born biologically pre-programmed to form attachments to others to survive.
Bowlby surmised that the relationship between a very young child and the primary caretaker was responsible for how the child would shape future relationships, their ability to focus, their awareness of their feelings and their ability to calm themselves down.
Most importantly of all, he surmised that a child’s attachment to their caretaker provided the platform on which children build resilience, the ability to rebound when bad things happen.
Mary Ainsworth and the Discovery of the Four Attachment Styles
It was in later when he was joined by Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist that attachment theory honestly took on a life of its own.
Mary Ainsworth took the work of Bowlby and using “the stranger situation test” where they used children and mothers to examine how different scenarios involving the introduction of a stranger made the children react.
Through these careful observations, Mary Ainsworth came up with the four attachment styles we will be examining in this series.
What she discovered was that our attachment style is formed when we establish the early bond with a caregiver. This bond is predicated on how safe we feel and how attentive or inattentive our caregiver is to our needs.
Attaching to our caregiver gives us a huge evolutionary advantage, especially since we are born helpless. It provides a secure base of confidence that our provider is watching over us and allows us to venture out and explore the world. Our attachment to our caregiver also builds a scaffold on which we can develop our ability to make sense of our mentalities such as desire, feelings, and self-esteem.
The mothers of the securely attached were attentive to more than just their needs for warmth, shelter and went beyond to care for their emotional growth as well. When the child cried or became otherwise distressed, the mother came right away and offered comfort and help.
We form secure attachment in early childhood from loving and fulfilling interactions with our primary caregiver. For most, this would have been the mother who gave them birth and to whom they were linked via the placenta for the first ten months of their lives.
As toddlers, the securely attached had mothers who gave them a safe base from which to explore. The child would venture a few feet away at first, glancing back to see where mother was, reassuring themselves that she was still protecting them. As these children grew bolder, they ventured farther and farther away from their mother-home-base assured that she would be there if needed.
When we are securely attached in childhood to our caregiver, we grow up feeling that we are wanted, valuable and loved.
Secure Attachment Style
The first attachment style we will examine is a secure attachment. This way of dealing with the world means we have a sense of confidence that we will be able to handle ourselves in times of distress.
One well-known component to securely attachment people is that they tend to believe all of the following to be true.
“It is easy for me to become emotionally close to others.”
“I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me.”
“I don’t worry about being alone or others not accepting me.”
This attachment style is carried into adulthood and are the basis from which we decide whom we shall interact with in both intimate and casual settings. They also give us our sense of self-worth and influence how favorably or unfavorably we see the world and how we are being treated by it.
In short, securely attached adults feel confident in themselves and do not build their happiness on the actions or inactions of others around them.
Because of secure attachments formed in childhood, children grew up to live their lives feeling positive about themselves and their relationships. They choose healthy and satisfying romantic partners and raise children who are also securely attached.
Adults who exhibit a secure attachment style feel greater satisfaction with their lives and show more resiliency should events become hard. They are independent and comfortable with others in their lives having independence as well.
Securely attached adults are mentally and emotionally stable and available, and capable of regulating their positive and negative emotional states.
Secure Attachment Style and Your Life
In an article written by Robyn E. Brickel, MA, LMFT, she quotes a study from Princeton University showing that 60% of the adult population have a secure attachment style. This figure means the other 40% had childhoods that live with trauma or unnecessary drama.
As one can see, if you do not fit the category of secure attachment style, you are not alone. Many other adults are in the same boat with you.
First, before we delve further into how your attachment style affects your life, let me state that you entirely were not then nor are you now responsible for your attachment style.
If you have anything other than a secure attachment style in adulthood that is because you grew up in a home where you were never taught to self-regulate your emotions. The inconsistency, abusive or neglectful actions of your primary caregiver caused you to be who you are today.
However, there is hope. We shall be reminding our readers every week that although your attachment style has been your primary go-to way of living, you can learn ways to mitigate its effects on your life.
The primary way to overcome the challenges brought on by poor parenting is to enter trauma-informed care with a trauma-informed therapist.
This type of therapist knows about how multifaceted childhood trauma has affected how you live and whom you love. They offer a secure base where you can safely explore the wounds of your life and put them to rest once and for all.
In the care of a trauma-informed therapist, you will get help approaching awareness of how what happened to you in infancy has an impact on how you live as an adult. He/she will focus not just on the behaviors you are exhibiting, but also on the reasons for that behavior and how it makes you feel safer as an adult.
The further focus is also made on beliefs, what you need to find relief from behaviors that are self-defeating and attempts to help you heal by recognizing your trauma and how it affects you today.
More information about the other three attachment styles and trauma-informed care will be forthcoming every week in October.
Remember, it is okay not to be okay. That doesn’t mean you are irreparable or lost; it just says you might need some help from people like those at the CPTSD Foundation.
The next installment will be about Avoidant Attachment Style.