Attachment Styles

For readers unfamiliar with the theory, attachment styles are patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that maximize our abilities to establish and maintain connections to our significant others. In childhood, they are adaptations that enable children to adjust to whatever parental conditions they are born into.

  1. Secure Attachment. If parents are consistent, available, and responsive, their children need to do little to maintain security in their parental relationships. Their secure attachment styles enable them to connect easily, to accurately perceive and react to other people, and to control their emotions and behaviors in healthy ways.
  2. Avoidant Attachment. When parents are rejecting of a child’s need for closeness and reassurance, the child will learn to deny their own negative emotions and needs for close relationships. They will maximize their feelings of security in their parental relationships by developing avoidant attachment styles (also called “dismissing” among adults) and getting parental approval by winning at things like academics and sports and acting self-assured and confident.
  3. Anxious Attachment. When parents are inconsistent in dealing with their children—sometimes warm and loving and at other times cold and rejecting—the children will cope by learning to carefully monitor the parents’ moods so that they can feel secure by heading off rejection before it happens. These children develop anxious attachment styles (also called “preoccupied” among adults) so that they can remain on guard for any signs of rejection. They try to stay as close as possible to their loved ones, don’t like to let go, and have a hard time dealing with loss, especially if they cannot make sense of why the loss happened.
  4. Disorganized Attachment. When parents are frightened (traumatized, victimized, terrorized) or frightening (bullying, abusive, rageful), children will not be able to develop organized ways of coping or adapting. The environment is too unpredictable, so they develop “disorganized” attachment styles (called “fearful” among adults). One system of measuring attachment styles, the Adult Attachment Interview, calls this style “unresolved” in relation to loss and trauma. These individuals have a hard time dealing with losses later in life because they were never able to effectively resolve losses earlier in their lives. This is similar to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), in which the greatest predictor of developing the disorder after a trauma in adulthood is having unresolved traumas earlier in life.

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