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Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist | Specializing in Better Relationships and Better Living
Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional
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What is attachment theory?
"The father of attachment theory is John Bowlby who was a British
psychologist and psychiatrist. As a young child Bowlby was only allowed
to see his mother for short periods during the day, as was the custom at
that time. The belief was that having too much contact would spoil children. As was also the custom for young children during that time, Bowlby was sent to boarding school, which he described as a horrible experience of further separation and anxiety. It was these experiences and Bowlby’s studies with orphaned children of World War II that led him to develop attachment theory."
"At its core, attachment theory proposes that for healthy development babies need consistent contact with their mother, father, or another caregiver. The development of a strong and consistent bond where there is a sense of safety and security in the relationship are the two core characteristics of attachment. The safe haven provides the child with a person to go to for comfort during a time of distress. The secure base allows the child to explore his or her world around him with a sense of confidence and mastery. Without the safety, security, and emotional bond a human being runs the risk of developing unhealthy attachment styles and at it's very worse, dying."
"What we have learned is that attachment theory not only provides us with a clear and concise understanding of how infants develop, but it also helps us to understand the complexities of human relationships across the lifespan. Bowlby described a safe, secure, and emotionally bonded relationship as being a need from “the cradle to the grave.” As adults we do not stop needing secure connection to one another, which is contrary to society’s message that emphasizes independence as being able to stand-alone. Attachment theory has been applied to adult love relationships to provide us with a map that helps to explain how we love and connect in marriage and other intimate relationships. What I want to focus on in this interview article are adult attachment styles and how having a better understanding of them can help us to have the safety and security every human heart longs for."
What are the different attachment styles?
"Think of attachment styles as occurring along a continuum. At one end of the spectrum there is what is called an anxious attachment style. At the opposite end is an avoidant attachment style. In the middle there is what is known as a secure attachment style. There are some variations in between but to keep this simple we will focus on these three."
"Within the context of marriage or other romantic relationships a person with an anxious attachment style tends to show intense emotions surrounding real or perceived abandonment. They will often look for cues or signs of their partner’s availability. If the partner is not available then the anxiously attached person will behave in such a way that feels demanding or clingy. They might express anger and frustration at the other person during these times of not being able to reach them for reassurance and security. Overall, their intense need for support is born out experiencing others as being mostly unavailable."
"A person with an avoidant attachment style tends to show restricted emotions especially softer emotions like sadness or loneliness. They will rationalize, stay cognitive, express anger, and may focus on tasks and activities that distract from attachment needs. They mostly minimize their attachment needs as well as the attachment needs of others. Instead of being demanding on their partner for time and affection they will not seek support and will often disengage from others when they are needed."
"Those who are securely attached are able to both give and receive comfort, support, and emotional closeness to one another. They have a stronger sense of security knowing that they are loved and, in turn, love another. In times of distress they are able to reach out for comfort without resorting to negative or hostile emotions and behaviors. A securely attached person is better able to tolerate ambiguity in relationships knowing that reassurance will be there when it is needed. Finally, they are able to work through difficult emotions without fear of losing connection with their partner."
What type of impact can attachment an attachment style have on relationships with others?
"Perhaps one can see from the attachment styles discussed in this article that attachment is the single biggest contributing factor to intimate human relationships. Our attachment style helps us to understand how we relate to our spouse, partner, family members, and close friends. It provides us with a very clear and concise understanding of love and how it works."
"For those of you who have read some of my articles you may also notice that the anxious and avoidant attachment styles are what make up the negative cycle of interaction in marriages and relationships. It is when you have an anxiously attached mate pursuing an avoidantly attached partner or vice versa that the cycle is created. One demands while the other dismisses."
"You may have also noticed that there is a strong gender component to the two contrasting styles. Men generally tend to have an avoidant attachment style while women are more likely to have an anxious style. Of course, this is not always the case but is the general rule."
How can someone cope with his or her attachment style?
"When it is all boiled down attachment style is essentially how a person has come to answer the question: “Do others care enough about me to be there when I call?” If your answer to this question has mostly been no then chances are you developed an anxious or avoidant attachment style. The good news is that even if you have experienced others as being mostly unavailable you can change to being more securely attached. This is accomplished by being in a safe, secure, and emotionally bonded relationship with your spouse, partner, friend, and even God for those who believe."
"Finally, having someone love you even in your worst and darkest moment is transforming. It is this kind of love that changes us to be secure, reach our full potential as individuals, and to ultimately love others in return.