We often hear about “secure attachment” and “insecure attachment”, especially in our adult lives as it relates to intimate relationships. But what exactly is attachment and how does it affect our ability to give and receive love?
Back in the 1960s, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth explored this concept and developed what came to be known as “Attachment Theory” based heavily on the research conducted by Harry Harlow (check out the “Wire Mother Experiment”). Based on this theory, researchers posit that during our early childhood, we primarily attach to one caregiver, and this bond we form is a model for all future relationships. If this attachment does not exist, ends abruptly, or is unhealthy, this may lead to the development of insecure attachments in future relationships.
There are three types of insecure attachments that may develop including, Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment type, Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment type, and the Disorganized Attachment type.
The Anxious-Preoccupied type may arise in situations where an early childhood caregiver was inconsistent in providing care, safety, and nurturing. Inner feelings of safety and security may not have been fully present, which may leave a sense of anxiety in the child and as the child grows into adulthood. These individuals may crave love, attention, and affection, but may feel limited due to deep feelings of low self-worth. If you struggle with this attachment type you may: -Need constant reassurance from important people in your life. -Have an unrequited yearning for emotional connection. -Busy yourself with romantic relationships, sometimes hopping from one relationship to the next. -Be viewed as “clingy” by your partner(s). -Tend to emotionally overreact when faced with any sense of abandonment.
The Dismissive-Avoidant type may arise in situations where an early childhood caregiver was emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to the child’s needs. Crying or expressing any sort of emotion may have been discouraged; therefore, the child learns to suppress or even repress these emotions. As the child grows into adulthood, they may have difficulties accepting love from others. If you struggle with this attachment type you may: -Be uncomfortable with intimacy. -Push away bids for connection from others. -Have difficulties with commitment. -Avoid displaying emotion. -Value independence, often times to the detriment of an intimate relationship.
The Disorganized type may arise in situations where an early childhood caregiver was not able to provide safety for the child and instead became a source of fear, such as in abusive situations. Due to the intense nature of this form of attachment, the child may never learn to self-soothe and they may view the world as unsafe. If you struggle with this attachment type you may:
-Have difficulties trusting other people. -Have unprocessed trauma. -Struggle with communicating your needs. -Be involved in a push-pull relationship. -Lack self-soothing skills.
When working with clients who struggle with an insecure attachment, our main goal is to help clients foster a secure attachment. Therapists may serve as a “secure base”, a safe place for clients to process difficult thoughts and emotions. Overtime, it is our goal for clients to learn to develop trust, receive unconditional positive regard, and experience empathy and compassion. Therapists being a positive model in this experience may help clients develop skills to form a healthy attachment with other relationships outside of therapy.
If you feel like you can relate to any of the insecure attachment styles and/or are struggling with intimate relationships, reach out to us at 253 Therapy and Consult and schedule a free consultation so we can discuss how we can help you on your journey towards developing a healthier relationship with yourself and others.