What can attachment theory teach us about our love relationships?

Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby, an English psychologist who, in the 1950s, suggested a psychological explanation for the bonds and relationships between people. According to Bowlby people are born with the need to develop a secure attachment with their caregivers - he stated that these connections established early in life can significantly influence the relationships we establish in adulthood. 

He also suggested that attachment is the lasting psychological connection between human beings, which has ensured our survival as a species, as offspring who remain close to their mothers are more likely to survive and children who seek greater proximity to their attachment figures are more likely to be welcomed and protected. 

In the 1970s, a psychologist called Mary beautifully expanded on John's original studies. She proved the effects of attachment on human behavior and described three types of attachment: secure, ambivalent-insecure, avoidant-insecure. After her, other researchers suggested a fourth type of attachment: disorganized-insecure.

Below is a brief summary of each of them:

  • Secure attachment: children with secure attachment feel safe, loved and supported by their primary caregivers. They feel comfortable exploring their environments and seek welcome and support when needed.

Individuals with secure attachment tend to have good self-esteem and establish healthy relationships in adulthood. In addition, they find it easy to trust and express their needs and emotions, as well as striking a balance between autonomy and closeness.

  • Anxious/ambivalent-insecure: in this attachment style, children tend to be excessively dependent on their primary caregivers and are generally anxious and insecure about their availability. 

In adulthood, they may have a hard time recognizing their own value and become highly sensitive to signs of potential rejection, so they become very attached and demanding in love relationships. They are very afraid of being abandoned and suffer excessively from insecurity.

  • Avoidant-insecure: caregivers are distant and unavailable, which means that the child learns from an early age to deny their own attachment needs and develop early independence.

In adults, there are difficulties in expressing emotions and/or establishing relationships of trust and closeness. They place too much value on independence and self-sufficiency to the detriment of emotional intimacy. In addition, they have difficulty making a real commitment and focus too much on securing their own space and freedom.

  • Disorganized-insecure: the main characteristic of this attachment style is the absence of consistent patterns in the child's behavior. Children with a disorganized attachment style often seek shelter from their caregivers, avoiding eye contact when they interact.

This style is closely related to traumas in past relationships or inconsistent care in childhood. People with this attachment style are very keen to experience emotional intimacy with another person, but at the same time have an often paralyzing fear of being rejected or hurt - a very common behavior in these cases is that they seek closeness with someone and then, for no apparent reason, withdraw from their partner.

As mentioned in the previous text on Parenting Styles (see here), in Attachment Styles we also observed that they are not fixed but multifactorials. Attachment theory can be useful in helping us to better understand our own history and this text is an invitation to reflect on it.

I really hope it makes sense to you - reflect on the impact of the early experiences that generated your attachment system on your current well-being, but not only that, but also on the patterns of behavior you display to this day. 

Note that each relationship can activate different attachment styles, depending on the behaviors and emotional history of those we are relating to. Therefore, attachment styles can be influenced or even changed through self-knowledge, personal growth and the development of healthier relationships. 

So please let me know if you can identify your attachment style. Do you realize that it influences/impacts your life in any way? 

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