By: Walker Wellness Team

Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure.  It is a universal, enduring affective tie between a child and a specific adult.  The caregivers functions as a secure base from which to explore the world and a safe haven to retreat to in times of distress.  Although the roots of research on attachment began with Freud’s theories of love, John Bowlby is credited with much knowledge about attachment.  He describes it as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.  There are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment:

  • Proximity maintenance:  the desire to be near the people we are attached to.
  • Safe haven:  returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of fear or threat.
  • Secure base:  the attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
  • Separation distress:  anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.

According to Bowlby, over time, children internalize experiences with caretakers and these internalized bits of data create what he calls internal working models of self and others.  The two key features of these internal working models of attachments are:

  • whether or not  the attachment figure is judged to be the sort of person who responds to calls for support and protection and
  • whether or not the self is judged to be the sort of person towards whom anyone, and the attachment figure in particular, is likely to respond in a helpful way.

The way these constructs are developed provide a ‘blueprint’ and guide our expectations and perceptions about how close relationship operate and how they are used in daily life and stressful situations.  When trying to make sense of our close relationships, it is helpful to understand how we form attachments to each other.  The way we form attachments in adulthood is based in part upon the kind of care we received as an infant.

Four Attachment Styles:

Secure:  Secure kids feel safe, comfortable and are able to explore and develop new skills with minimal anxiety or concern.  Secure adults have more satisfying and longer lasting relationships.  They like themselves and others.  They are comfortable being close to their partners.  They are more trusting, open and understanding; they approach problems and issues that may arise with their partners in a constructive manner.  They have a sense of positive self worth and believe the best of others.  They value attachment relationships.  In general their parents appear to have been supportive, warm, and accepting.  However, secure individuals may have worked through difficult early experiences.  Their positive self model is demonstrated by their confidence, warmth, and flexibility in coping.  While they use others as a source of support, they also see the importance of having time alone and standing on their own two feet.  Their positive other model is demonstrated by their strong liking for others, their comfort in crying in front of others, and their ability to self disclose.  Their friendships and romantic relationships are characterized by mutuality, closeness, and respect.  They are well liked and appraise others honestly.  Secure people are more balanced than people with any other style.

Fearful:  When caregivers are inconsistent or overly protective, the children attempt to stay by their caregiver’s side and respond more dramatically when in trouble.  They are more fearful and less confident than others.  Fearfully attached adults both long for and avoid intimacy because of fear of rejection.  In childhood they may have had rejecting, critical parents whose actual parenting behaviors could have ranged from abusive or extreme coolness to apparent unavailability.  Yet they have continued emotional involvement with their parents.  Fearful people come across as insecure, hesitant, vulnerable and self conscious.  Their negative self perception is reflected in their emotional dependence,  jealously, and intense separation anxiety.  They respond to distress with emotional reactivity but cannot express or take action to alleviate their distress.  While they would like to open up to others, they see themselves as unlikable and worry about never being wanted or found by a partner.  Consequently they avoid conflict and self disclosure.  Once in a relationship, they tend to take on a passive, dependent, and self blaming role and are more invested in the relationship than is their partner.

Preoccupied:  Preoccupied adults are constantly worried and anxious about their love life; they crave and desperately need intimacy and attention.  They are very concerned that their partners will leave them.  They are obsessed with their relationships.  They rarely feel completely loved and they experience extreme emotional highs and lows.  One minute their romantic partners can make their day by showing them the smallest level of interest and the next minute they are worried that their partner doesn’t care about them.  They are hard to satisfy and constantly monitor their relationship for problems.  They are also taken advantage of when it comes to love and romance, which in the long run can create even more suspicion and doubt.  They are more likely to experience jealously and are more likely to engage in too much self disclosure.  They are easy to commit.   They are likely to have experienced overprotective, inept or inconsistent parents within a complicated family history that may have included divorce.  They remain emotionally enmeshed with their family and shift between idealizing and devaluing their parents. Although they remember and elaborate on childhood relationships, their accounts are not coherent, suggesting that separation and other early issues are unresolved.  They are emotionally reactive and expressive, often crying.  Viewing others in a positive manner, they immediately seek them out when they are upset in apparently desperate bids for attention, affection and support.  Indeed they are dependent on others for their self esteem and score high on jealously and separation anxiety.  Because of their demands they often engender conflict and see others as unreliable, unavailable, or exploitative.  Best friends and romantic relationship are extremely important to them.  Constantly involved with others, they immediately start new relationships after the previous one ends.  Typically relationships are punctuated by emotional extremes.  While clingy and dependent, they also take the dominant role.  They often make major sacrifices to keep a relationship going.

Dismissing:  If caregivers are neglectful, infants are likely to develop a dismissing style of attachment.  They show few signs of needing their caregivers and they do not spend a lot of time trying to get their caregiver’s attention.  They do their best to cope with problems on their own.  They tend to have a very positive (sometimes unrealistically positive) self concept and believe they are worthwhile and independent.  Dismissing adults are uncomfortable with intimacy and they actually fear it.   They feel that they “deserve” a close relationship, but avoid actually getting close to someone because they expect the worst from others.  They do not like it when people get close and they don’t like being dependent on a partner or having someone be dependent on them.  They do not easily trust others; they are more self sufficient, cynical and independent in nature.  They are less likely to fall deeply in love and need a lot less affection and intimacy.   They are more apt to put their time into their careers, hobbies, and activities than their relationships.   They get easily annoyed with their relationship partners and often display negative feelings and hostility toward their loved ones.  They are less likely to experience jealousy and try not to reveal things about themselves.  They are uncomfortable with commitment.    These types of relationships are centered around emotional detachment.  They overemphasize independent and emotional control and/or achievement.  They have a poor memory for childhood.  Their parents are likely to have been rejecting, cool, unemotional and lacking in affection or focused on achievement and independence.  Unaware of the impact of their childhood on their current functioning, dismissing individuals tend to idealize their parents or justify early rejection.  They rarely express emotional upset or separation anxiety.  Claiming to be unaffected by rejection, they exhibit little jealously and separation anxiety.  They tend not to like others very much and are critical, distant, and unaffectionate, yet seek to avoid conflict.  Friendships are usually superficial and based on mutual interests or activities with little mutual support or disclosure involved.  Their romantic relationships lack intimacy and emotional expressiveness.  They are uncomfortable with commitment, dependency and conflict and are quick to feel bored or trapped by relationships.

Scenario: You are engaged and your fiancé is going out with his friends for the evening.  Your fiancé says that he will be home by midnight and that he will give you a call at that time.  It is now 1 a.m. and you notice the phone hasn’t rung.

If you are a secure style, you probably think that all is well, your fiancé is out having fun and he will call you in the morning. It is not a big deal.

If you are a preoccupied style, you are constantly caught up in your thoughts, you check the phone regularly to make sure it is working; you’ve thought about calling your fiancé, maybe you’ve even decided to go out and track him down.

If you are a dismissing individual, you probably wouldn’t even notice the phone hasn’t rung.

Now it is the next morning and your fiancé calls early in the morning.

A secure individual would respond by being pleased to hear from your fiancé and maybe ask ‘what happened last night?  You would then be satisfied with the explanation that is given.

A preoccupied person would likely be a complete wreck, having been up all night imagining the worst and most likely plotting some sort of way to get even.  By the time the phone rings, your anger and frustration can’t help but show.  You might sulk or put your fiancé on the defensive  by asking accusatory questions such was why didn’t you call, how could you do that, where were you, who were you with?

A dismissing individual would probably be wondering why your fiancé is bothering to call so early in the morning and might say ‘what do you want’.