Last week we introduced the Top 4 reasons why Attachment matters. In short, it shapes our relationships, which shape our lives! Read on and take the Adult Attachment Questionnaire to find out more about your attachment style!
Attachment styles are patterns of behaviour intended to ensure our needs are met. It is ultimately designed to protect us, but it is not always ideal.
The quality of attachment depends on differences in the caregiver’s availability and responsiveness us as infants and the degree of reciprocity between us and our caregiver (how attuned our caregivers are with us). Attachment styles develop within our first year of life and are usually stable through life unless there is some sort of active intervention.
In fact, attachment styles are so stable that we can accurately predict the attachment style of a person’s romantic relationship based on their parental attachment style. We can also accurately predict the attachment style their child will have…before the child is even born!
Best case scenario is a SECURE ATTACHMENT:
- Our caregiver is consistently responsive to our physical needs (food, shelter safety) and emotional needs, like distress (hurt, scared, ill)
- This has immediate and long-term positive effects on our ability to regulate stress and in forming our filter of how the world works and who we are in it (survival map)
- Early nurturing & attention actually changes how the brain develops and our ability to self soothe and regulate our own emotions as we age (also see New brain, Old brain and Mindfulness part 1, 2, 3)
Those of us with INSECURE ATTACHMENTS (Avoidant, Resistant or Disorganized) become upset easily, and once upset, have a hard time settling down. This is because we have learned that our caregivers are not consistently available (emotionally, physically or both), so we are always on the lookout for danger.
As a result, we are chronically activated (in fight or flight= SNS arousal, means we are always closer to flipping our lid), with our bodies acting as if there is a lion in the room! Then because we are looking for danger, we tend to see it more often and misinterpret situations as dangerous, even when they are not. This throws us into old brain, (see link for details) which makes it near-impossible to talk our selves back down (see Dan Seigal’s 2 min hand model of the brain for a great visual of this). So when our belief that the world is a dangerous place seems validated, of course it will take us a while longer to come down from that. It is hard to feel safe and settle down when the message we are getting is DANGER! Also not surprisingly, people with insecure attachments tend to have more physical and mental health problems (particularly anxiety disorders).
So you can see how this would be a problem for those of us who either have an insecure attachment or have someone in our lives who does! Many of us will have both.
Insecure Attachments Styles:
1. AVOIDANT- Those of us with this style, minimize and detach, acting like we don’t care or are not super invested in relationships. We don’t fuss when important people like mom or dad leave, or when they come back. This tends to happen when we learned that we are more likely to be rejected or hurt when we express our needs. So we bottle them up instead. Physiologically, we are ever bit as distressed as the other attachment styles when people leave us, but we don’t show it.
It is important to recognize that an avoidant attachment style is not necessarily a result of abuse, it happens in millions of ways, unintentionally. An avoidant attachment can develop if our parents would avoid or withdraw from physical contact when we were upset, or if they were frequently rejecting when we looked to them for comfort or reassurance. This can happen with just about any type of stressor, and if we were a temperamentally sensitive kid, we wouldn’t want to do that again, so we start to do our best to bottle it all up and figure it out on our own.
2. RESISTANT/ AMBIVALENT– This is when we are super clingy, and we can’t be comforted and settle. We are very fussy and whinny. As adults we are often called “needy” by our partners or told we are “suffocating” them. We are very upset by separation from important people in our lives, but angry and hostile when they return.
Those of us with this attachment style have parents who were inconsistently available. They were often not very competent in comforting us and/ or would directly interfere with our attempts at independence or exploration. The upset and fussy behavior maintains the caregiver close to us, but we become hostile at our caregiver’s inability to effectively console us, and being unsure what the safe behavior is (to explore or not).
Notice how both Avoidant & Resistant attachment strategies aim to increase or maintain the availability of the attachment figure, but one does it by minimizing (avoidant) and the other does it by maximizing (resistant) the expression of attachment signals.These have long term implications.
3. DISORGANIZED – This approach is actually the ABSENCE of an identifiable behavior strategy, they may approach and avoid, freeze, engage in non-sensical movements. 15% of the usual population, but can be as high as 80% of kids who have been in Foster Care. This attachment style has the greatest association with poor mental and physical health outcomes. They tend to be less able to regulate their emotions and behaviours and often have externalizing behaviour problems (acting out). This attachment style is usually associated with parental abuse of the child or parental significant mental health issues.
So what’s your attachment style? Follow this link to find out
Wonder what these attachments look like in real life? Watch this 4 min video of different attachment styles
As always, we would love to hear from you @DrAdrianaWilson, leave a comment or send an email. See you next week!