Attachment theory suggests that young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for normal social and emotional development.
As a child the experience is out a parent or caregiver who is available and able to respond to the child and meet their needs in an appropriate manner. Children with caring and attentive parents are more likely to have a secure attachment style. The child feels safe, seen, known, valued, and free to explore.
As an adult those with a secure attachment style are likely to have high self esteem and seek out social support. They are able to share their feelings and they tend to have trusting relationships that last.
As a child the experience is of inconsistent parenting. Sometimes the parents are responsive to the child’s needs and other times they are not. The child might also be seen as the emotional support person for a parent. They child may be used to satisfy the caregivers need for love. The parenting style may be overprotective. There may also be early separation from the parent.
As an adult, those with an anxious or preoccupied attachment style seek approval and responsiveness from their partner. They seek relationship intimacy. However, there is a strong fear of abandonment, and a worry that the partner is not that invested in the relationship. They have strong emotional needs and may come off as clingy, suspicious, or jealous.
Avoidant Attachment (Dismissive)
As a child the experience may be of emotionally distant parents who expect the child to be independent. There may be little tolerance for expressing emotions. The caregivers may be very present in the child’s life, but are unable to handle emotionally intense situations, in these cases they become unavailable. The emotions do not have to be negative – joy and excitement are also emotions that might not be tolerated. These children are expected to “toughen up”.
As adults these individuals are independent and do not rely on others for emotional support. They may be known as lone wolves, but they are not lonely. They may have a lot of friends or acquaintances, but social interactions remain on the surface. If a relationship starts to get serious, they become closed off. They may find a reason to end the relationship.
As a child the experience is of abuse, trauma, or a chaotic home. The child seeks safety from their caregivers, who they also fear due to contradictory behaviors. The child does not know what to expect from the parent. In some form of fashion, the child is shown that they cannot rely on the caregiver to meet their emotional or physical needs. The child wants to be close to the caregiver but at the same time they want to get away from them.
As adults, individuals with disorganized attachment style want to belong, yet they fear letting anyone in. They are similar to those with an avoidant attachment style except that they actually want close relationships. Yet they expect rejection and disappointment to come, and therefore there is a tendency to fall into patterns of self-sabotage. They may end relationships too quickly or choose partners who they fear.
To maximize our highest potential we have to acknowledge what we have experienced as children, and take responsibility for how we direct our energies going forward. This means we process our experiences and assess them with as much accuracy as possible; but we don’t cling to it as being who we really are. Our experiences are important, but our core self is not our experiences. How we were treated as children has nothing to do with who we really are.
Created on December 17, 2022 – Last Updated on March 24, 2023 by Jennifer Nelson