Attachment theory is a revolutionary discovery that explains the roles and significance of the child-parent relationship. In this article, we’ll look at the theory’s roots, the four attachment types, the four stages a kid goes through to form an attachment, and how childhood connections impact adult love relationships.
What is Attachment
The emotional relationship formed between a newborn and the attachment figure during the first year of life is referred to as attachment. The mother is the most common attachment figure, although it can also be the father or other key caregivers. Attachment behavior is a method used by infants to seek proximity to the attachment figure. Bowlby thought that the five attachment behaviors — sucking, clinging, following, weeping, and smiling – evolved naturally in humans. These actions are part of an attachment behavioral system designed to safeguard immature offspring and enhance the children’s chances of survival. When a newborn is in distress, they make a signal to gain the attention of the caregiver, who may then provide comfort and protection.
After researching the detrimental effects of maternal deprivation on early children, John Bowlby, a British psychotherapist and psychiatrist, created the Attachment Theory. Bowlby discovered that early attachments may have a major impact on a children’s emotional development and adult relationships later in life.
Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, laying the groundwork for the now-famous attachment theory. Ainsworth, Sroufe, and a slew of other attachment theorists further improved Bowlby’s thesis.
Bowlby’s Attachment Theory
Attachment theory is a sophisticated and complicated explanation of how a children’s personality and the ability for intimate, romantic relationships, emotional stress coping, and many other things develop later in life.
Early emotional ties, according to Attachment Theory, are important in developing various types of attachment between a child and the primary caregiver. The ensuing emotional bond remains the children’s internal working model, affecting their emotions and personal interactions throughout their lives.
These internal models are based on the caregiver’s response expectations. Their expectations grow into larger representations of themselves, their attachment caregiver, intimate connection experiences, and decision rules for interacting with others.
A young kid must have a responsive, loving, intimate, and ongoing interaction with an adult in order to grow up mentally and relationally healthy. This adult then serves as a safe haven for the kid to explore his or her surroundings. This attachment figure’s responsiveness establishes internal models as generally accessible and responsive. As a result, this child will handle emotional stress in later relationships with less dread, such as separation anxiety (see strange situation), anger, and avoidance.
Although a person’s attachment style is flexible and can vary over time, the long-term psychologicalal connections can persist into adulthood, impacting adult attachment style and long-term partnerships.
Ainsworth Attachment Theory
In 1953, Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist who had previously worked under Bowlby, began her own empirical investigation in Uganda. She discovered substantial individual variations in the quality of mother-infant relationships in her renowned “Baltimore Study.” Ainsworth classified these various attachment styles into three types: secure attachment styles, insecure attachment styles, and not-yet attached attachment styles.
Ainsworth discovered a strong link between stable bonds and maternal sensitivity. Sensitive mothers were well-versed in the care of their children. They may share information about their children on the spur of the moment. Babies born to sensitive moms form strong bonds. They cried less and were free to explore in their mother’s company.
Insensitive moms, on the other hand, were oblivious to the subtleties of their babies’ behavior. Babies born to insensitive moms have an unstable attachment pattern. Even when carried by their moms, insecurely connected infants cried frequently and explored little. Not-yet-attached infants exhibited no different behavior in relation to their moms.
Why is Attachment Theory Important
Attachment theory and research are critical in describing how parenting style influences a children’s personality development, which in turn influences their future relationships and results.
Prior to the establishment of this theory, the dominant psychoanalytic theory asserted that internal conflict, rather than the environment, was the primary element determining a children’s personality development, a notion based on philosophical meaning and imagination rather than a scientific method.
Bowlby’s attachment study demonstrated that such ties were critical in building stable attachments. Attachment patterns in children are built on connections, not feeding alone, as behaviorists claim. He was able to present results that demonstrated the widespread negative impacts of institutional and hospital care on babies and children at the time, facts that could not be explained by behaviorism ideas.
Ainsworth’s Strange Situation
Ainsworth began a second observational experiment in Baltimore in 1963. Ainsworth documented detailed observations of the relationship between mothers and newborns throughout time in this study. She also devised the Strange Situation technique, which became the most widely used experiment for determining a young children’s attachment type.
The Strange Situation is a collection of eight 20-minute mini-dramas that show the variations in mother-infant relationships and bonding in infancy.
The technique involves introducing the mother and infant, who are between the ages of 12 and 18 months, to a laboratory playroom. Later, the stranger, an unknown woman, joins them. The parent momentarily departs and then returns as the stranger plays with the baby. The infant is entirely alone during the second separation. Finally, the stranger, followed by the mother, returns.
Most children investigated the playroom and toys more actively when their moms were there, as opposed to when a stranger entered or when the mother was away, as predicted. What was striking was that they had various newborn attachment patterns upon reconnecting with their moms, and those patterns were significantly associated with these children’s connection.
Patterns of Attachment
Ainsworth was able to distinguish three forms of attachment using the Strange procedure: secure, avoidant, and ambivalent 6. Later, researchers Main, Hesse, and Solomon introduced a fourth attachment style, disordered/confused, to characterise babies who struggled to cope with stressful events.
Each attachment type shows an infant’s adaptability to different caregiver techniques. They are linked to the quality of maternal caring throughout the first year of life.
When the mother is there in the Strange Situation, an infant who feels comfortable has higher self-confidence. 6. They utilise the mother as a safe foundation from which to explore the playroom further. When the mother departs, they are upset. A firmly connected kid would want comfort, connection, and touch with their mother upon reuniting.
During the first three months, mothers with firmly connected newborns are more available, responsive, and sensitive to their children’s feelings 8. They were rapid and consistent in responding to the infants’ cues throughout feeding, face-to-face play, physical contact, and distress episodes. These moms also combined their own fun behavior with that of their children, resulting in creating mutually satisfying interactions.
Infants that have attachment security are more cooperative when being fed and are easier to console. Interactions are typically pleasant and happy. These children scream less at 12 months. They convey their requirements through facial expressions, gestures, and vocalisations. They are more content and less aggressive. They also sought touch and held less often 4.
Children who are firmly connected at the age of two are more resilient and socially adept in preschool. They also have a better sense of self-worth.
Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style
An avoidantly connected infant avoids or ignores the mother when reunited with her mother during the two reunion episodes. They reply with aloofness.
Ainsworth discovered that the infant’s avoidant behavior during this technique was significantly linked with the infant’s behavior at home over the first 12 months. During the first three months of life, mothers of avoidant newborns are frequently oblivious to baby cues. They are typically opposed to physical touch with the infant.
At home, avoidant children exhibit erratic bursts of hostility against their moms. Even in response to violent behavior, moms’ emotional expressiveness is often minimal.
Parents with avoidant children have a history of being rejected as children. They are emotionally inaccessible. Children who are unfriendly or distant should be avoided. When faced with challenging activities, these newborns did not request assistance, even when they were unable to finish them, and their parents provided only limited assistance.
Avoidant children are more prone to experience behavioral issues in preschool.
An avoidant kid, according to Bowlby, has an internal working model of a self that is unworthy of care. They have cause to fear rejection from their carers and, as a result, change their behavior by avoiding them, effectively lowering expected rejection after the separation.
Ambivalent Attachment Style
In the Strange experiment, an ambivalently attached infant displayed angry, resistive behavior mixed with attachment-seeking behavior.
When the moms returned, the ambivalent infants screamed and sought contact but refused to snuggle or “sink in” when carried up by the returning mother. They displayed a mix of contact-seeking and tantrum-like behavior toward their mothers, such as kicking and swiping at them.
Resistant infants were fussier at home. Children that have ambivalent attachment tend to be less cooperative and more quickly irritated in interactions. They also experienced more wailing and sobbing.
Organizational attachment is defined as security, avoidance, and ambivalence. When presented with fear, infants in structured attachment relationships act to elicit protective parental reactions. These infants believe the source of the alert is in the surrounding environment. They retain order in their behavior and attention while they work through their discomfort.
Children, on the other hand, become disorganizedly connected when they grow emotionally and physically dependent on someone who is also a source of dread. There is a breakdown of behavioral and attentional coping skills, resulting in a disordered/confused connection.
When the parent is there, a disorganizedly attached kid exhibits a variety of weird, unusual, contradicting, conflicted, or disordered behavior. They may exhibit contradictory behavior, such as strong comfort-seeking activity followed by a brief period of frozen or disoriented movement. They may avoid the caregiver while also becoming concerned or angry when the caretaker departs. They may suddenly come to a halt or look afraid of the parent.
Having a disordered personality type is a major predictor of emotional dysregulation and related mental health problems later in life, such as attachment-related anxiety. These children typically grow up with inadequate emotion management and negative emotion control. They are more prone to exhibit antagonistic, confrontational, and aggressive behavior.
Parents of disorganised newborns are frequently more disturbed, unpredictable, and abusive, possibly as a result of their own unresolved attachment-related traumas and losses. They frequently suffer from melancholy and marital strife.
Four Phases of Attachment Development
Bowlby identified four stages in the formation of attachment.
Pre-attachment Phase: 0-2 months
Infants are innately interested in and sensitive to social interaction with almost anyone throughout the first few months of life. A newborn exhibits a broad attachment rather than an individual bond. They may know their mother or the primary caregiver, but they are unconcerned if another responsive, caring caregiver takes over. While the soothing acts of a caring adult constitute the infant’s foundation, the newborn does not demand a specific individual.
Attachment-in-the-making Phase: 2-6 months
The infant begins to express preferences by smiling, vocalising, and settling more readily with some caregivers than others. They begin to experience “stranger anxiety.” To the newborn, an unknown face is neither enjoyable nor intriguing. Instead, it denotes peril.
However, attachment to the primary caregiver is not the only type of connection that the infant might establish. Babies can form secondary ties to other adults as well.
This is also the stage at which the infant becomes mobile and less reliant. They keep the mother in view as the infant moves away from the mother. The mother has become an inner safe haven for the kid, from which he or she can journey out.
Clear-cut Attachment Phase: 6 months-2 years
The kid feels an intense urge to be physically close to their primary caregiver. They can only handle separation anxiety (see strange situation) for a brief time, ideally with another familiar person around.
Prolonged separation during these years is a significant trauma that can be worsened if the kid is unable to form new attachments. So far, the children’s attachment and security patterns in relationships have become nearly embedded in the children’s internal picture of the relational world. As the kid grows older, changing this model becomes much more difficult.
Goal-corrected Partnership Phase: 3 year old-adolescence
At three years old, the kid can endure not seeing his or her mother as long as they know where she is and when she will return. They may now understand that other individuals are distinct from themselves, with their own ideas, perceptions, desires, and existence. The attachment connection has evolved into a more complicated relationship known as a partnership. The phrase “goal-corrected” emphasizes the relationship’s adaptability and planning-like character.
This is also the stage at which children begin to develop reciprocal bonds. They can begin to use words to convey their wants and to appreciate space and time. This is the age at which a kid can begin to benefit from being a part of a group on a regular basis, such as attending preschool.
By adolescence, the children’s peer group has surpassed parents in importance and influence. Although the kid may develop a dependence on their friends, home and family remain vitally important.
Factors That Determine Infant Attachment
Children establish attachments of variable intensity to different persons, known as subsidiary attachment figures, but they have one primary figure to whom they are most firmly connected.
Who becomes the children’s primary attachment figure is determined by the quality of the relationship rather than the amount of time spent together. As a result, if dads or other relatives are more receptive to them and form stronger bonds, newborns can grow devoted to them even if they do not have extended regular contact with them.
Critical Period / Sensitive Period
Early attachment is established in a kid during the crucial time, also known as the sensitive period when the brain is more flexible and susceptible to the effect of attachment events. After this key period, the attachment pattern has effectively “burned in,” making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to alter.
Development Of Attachment Theory In Adults
Long beyond childhood, early attachments continue to have an important influence on social functioning.
In the 1980s, researchers began extending child attachment theory to the study of adult attachments.
Adult Attachment View
An Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) is a one-hour interview in which you discuss your attachment history. Main et al discovered that reports of interactions between present parents and their own parents from years ago might predict their children’s attachment with an accuracy of 80%.
As parents’ mental states impact how they treat their infants. This, in turn, determines their children’s attachment style.
Adult Romantic Attachment
The second set of researchers, Hazan and Shaver, created an adult romantic attachment scale based on Ainsworth’s attachment model. Researchers found three types of attachment patterns based on self-reporting – secure, avoidant, and anxious-ambivalent – to predict human relationships.
In his research, Bartholomew utilised a combination of history interviews and self-reports to identify four attachment types. based on two dimensions: the model of oneself and the model of one’s surroundings
As the internal models 15, this four-category model is essentially constructed on two dimensions, a model of the self and a model of others.
The degree to which an individual has internalised the idea of self-worth and the possibility of feeling worried in the area of romantic relationships is referred to as the model of self.
The other model assesses how frequently people anticipate others to be available and supportive, as well as whether they prefer or avoid intimate connections.
The Four Adult Attachment Styles
Secure adults have a good self-image and one that is shared by others. They have a modest level of worry and avoidance. In general, they are loved and believe that people have good intentions.
Happy, trustworthy, and friendly connections are the hallmarks of safe partnerships.
Adults who are preoccupied have a poor image of themselves but a favourable perspective of others. Their levels of worry are high, but their levels of avoidance are low. They frequently experience self-doubt and misinterpretation by others.
Anxious people are uncomfortable with intimacy, are reasonably secure in the availability of a romantic partner, but are afraid about being abandoned and unloved. Highs and lows, emotional turbulence, jealously, and preoccupation with their love partners characterise their unstable relationships.
Others who are dismissive have a positive picture of themselves but a negative model of others. Despite their low anxiety, they have a high amount of avoidance.
Those who are dismissive-avoidant are uneasy around others and do not trust their availability. They, on the other hand, are unconcerned about being abandoned.
A higher proportion of elderly individuals report experiencing contemptuous relationship issues. In other words, people who are older in their life cycle tend to value independence and self-reliance over partnerships. They are more likely than younger people to resist strong effects and adopt defence mechanisms involving a positive perception of conflict circumstances.
Adults who avoid fear have a poor perception of themselves and others. They are tense and avoidant.
Fearful lovers are extremely reliant on the acceptance and affirmation of their loving relationships. Their negative attachment issues, on the other hand, cause attachment-related avoidance in order to escape rejection and loss.
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