Attachment, Arousal, and Anxiety

The “house of psychopath” is constructed on a foundation of no attachment,

underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character.

Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. First conceptualized and investigated by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and his colleagues (Robertson and Bowlby, 1952), it is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles. The human infant first expresses his object-seeking through sucking and crying, behaviors which maintain his physiological balance by obtaining warmth, touch, and food. During the first few months of life, this proximity seeking becomes more object specific and emotionally refined as the infant attaches most readily to his mother, and cries when she deserts him while in a state of need, even if it is momentary. It is during this time when the rudiments of object permanence are first observed: the infant can anticipate the presence of an object that was just perceived, and squeals with delight when peek-a-boo is played; or when shown a photograph of mother in her absence, will react emotionally to an external image that is also found in the child’s mind.

As 3 psychoanalysts, we infer that this object representation can be held in the child’s mind as a memory for the first time, and is one manifestation of attachment.

Attachment is often defined as a strong affectional bond in both children and adults. It

was extensively researched during the last half century because it can be relatively easily measured: proximity seeking to an object, distress when the object leaves, and certain characteristic behaviors when the object returns. It is a stable characteristic in both children and adults, and most human beings with the requisite biology and loving, dependable parents will grow up to be able to form secure attachments throughout their lifespan (Cassidy and Shaver, 1999).

Pathologies of attachment, however, have been identified and measured: they are typically labeled fearful, preoccupied, disorganized, and dismissive (Meloy, 2002). Most salient to the psychopath’s mind is the latter pathology, characterized by behavior that indicates a chronic emotional detachment from others. Bowlby (1969) regarded the elements of detachment to be apathy, self-absorption, preoccupation with nonhuman objects, and no displays of emotion.

Attachment, parenting styles and bullying during pubertal years

Research that focuses on combining attachment, parenting styles, bullying and the reciprocal nature thereof in the parent-adolescent and peer relationships is limited. The bio-psychosocial changes that adolescents experience open up broader social realities and are perceived differently by parents and adolescents. Attachment processes and parenting styles may elicit dissimilar perceptions. These processes are also associated with the multifaceted dynamics of bullying. The aim of the article is to advocate for research on the possible link between the implications of attachment, parenting styles and bullying. Exploring the association between attachment, parenting styles and bullying can deepen the understanding of the developmental challenges within the parent-adolescent relationship, add insight to the different perceptions of adolescents and parents, and complement intervention programmes accordingly. Firstly, this article outlines bio-psychosocial changes in the pubertal years as related to the social realities of the adolescent. Secondly, a discussion on the concepts ‘attachment’, ‘parenting styles’, ‘bullying’, and the potential link between these concepts will follow. Thirdly, an outline of the clinical implications of the apparent association between these concepts is given. The article concludes with recommendations that researchers can consider while exploring the relationship between attachment, parenting styles, and bullying and the delineation thereof in the parent-adolescent relationship. 

van der Watt R. Attachment, parenting styles and bullying during pubertal years. J Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2014;26(3):251-61. doi: 10.2989/17280583.2014.947966. PMID: 25533411.

Parents’ self-reported attachment styles

For decades, attachment scholars have been investigating how parents’ adult attachment orientations relate to the ways in which they parent. Traditionally, this research has been conducted by developmental and clinical psychologists who typically employ the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) to measure adult attachment. However, dating back to the mid-1990s, social and personality psychologists have been investigating how self-reported adult attachment styles relate to various facets of parenting. The literature on self-reported attachment and parenting has received less attention than AAI research on the same topic and, to date, there is no comprehensive review of this literature. In this article, we review more than 60 studies of the links between self-reported attachment styles and parenting, integrate the findings to reach general conclusions, discuss unresolved questions, and suggest future directions. Finally, we discuss the potential benefits to the study of parenting of collaborations among researchers from the developmental and social attachment research traditions.

Jones JD, Cassidy J, Shaver PR. Parents’ self-reported attachment styles: a review of links with parenting behaviors, emotions, and cognitions. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2015 Feb;19(1):44-76. doi: 10.1177/1088868314541858. Epub 2014 Jul 14. PMID: 25024278; PMCID: PMC4281491.

Attachment is controlling. Love is freeing.

When you are attached to someone, because you desire to spend so much time around them in order to feel good, you might realize that you are using controlling behavior in order to do so. For example, this shows up a lot in unhealthy attachments as one person in the relationship convincing the person they are attached to not to hang out with their friends, or their family, and instead to hang out with them, and this is where we often see a lot of manipulation. I don’t even think this manipulation is something most are aware of, but it’s there, because an attached person wants the focus on you and you only. This is really unhealthy behavior, and it shows that you are definitely not in love with them. You are trying to control someone, and you wouldn’t do this if you really cared about them and their feelings.

The Trauma Bond

Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist.

Within a trauma bond, the narcissist’s partner—who often has codependency issues—first feels loved and cared for. However, this begins to erode over time, and the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse takes over the relationship. 

The codependent understands the change, but not why it is occurring. They believe they just need to understand what they are doing wrong in order to bring back the loving part of the relationship.

If they do manage to break free, all the narcissist has to do is go back to that courtship phase to win them back. The more the codependent reaches out to the narcissist for love, recognition, and approval, the more the trauma bond is strengthened. This also means the codependent will stay in the relationship when the abuse escalates, creating a destructive cycle.

Attachment Styles in Adulthood

Studies of persons with borderline personality disorder, characterized by a longing for intimacy and a hypersensitivity to rejection, have shown a high prevalence and severity of insecure attachment.

Attachment styles in adulthood have labels similar to those used to describe attachment patterns in children:

  • Secure
  • Anxious-preoccupied (high anxiety, low avoidance)
  • Dismissing-avoidant (low anxiety, high avoidance)
  • Fearful-avoidant (high anxiety, high avoidance)

However, attachment styles may be better thought of as dimensional, where a person rates as relatively high, low, or somewhere in the middle in their levels of attachment-related anxiety and attachment-related avoidance. Also, a person may not exhibit the same kind of attachment pattern in every close relationship.



Attachment is the emotional bond that forms between infant and caregiver, and it is the means by which the helpless infant gets primary needs met. It then becomes an engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development. The early social experience of the infant stimulates growth of the brain and can have an enduring influence on the ability to form stable relationships with others.

Attachment provides the infant’s first coping system; it sets up a mental representation of the caregiver in an infant’s mind, one that can be summoned up as a comforting mental presence in difficult moments. Attachment allows an infant to separate from the caregiver without distress and to begin to explore the world around her.

Neuroscientists believe that attachment is such a primal need that there are networks of neurons in the brain dedicated to setting it in motion in the first place and a hormoneoxytocin—that fosters the process.

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.


In this role-reversal dynamic, the following roles are identified:
  • Pathogenic parent: The parent who psychologically manipulates the child to devalue and discard the targeted parent.
  • Targeted child: The child within a family system who has been singled out for the attention of the pathogenic parent.
  • Targeted parent: The normal-range and affectionately available parent; the “victim” in the story. This is the parent who is scapegoated.

This type of parental alienation incorporates elements of Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, which is based on the dynamics between people in systems.

Bowen believed the family unit was the basic starting point for explaining human behavior.

Bowen believed the family unit was the basic starting point for explaining human behavior. His premise was that “individual behavior seemed determined less by individual choice and more by the individual’s relationship context.” He believed each family member derives their identity from their involvement within the family’s relationship system.

Attachment-based parental alienation

Attachment-based parental alienation is a complex and potentially harmful dynamic whereby a parent manipulates their children to avoid, reject, and disdain their other parent. It can be viewed as a symptom of the narcissistic paradigm and is often of clinical concern regarding the child’s healthy development.


Parental alienation may involve the following symptoms and manifestations:

  • The suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system.
  • A role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used to meet the emotional and psychological needs of a parent (the allied and favored parent).
  • Symptoms of narcissistic and/or borderline personality may also be present in the child and can also of extreme clinical concern for their healthy development.
  • Symptoms in the child can only be the product of “pathogenic parenting” practices and cannot emerge spontaneously or for unrelated mental health reasons.