Attachment theories stem from the research carried out by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby posited that a child has an innate drive to attach to their caregivers for survival reasons. He suggested that healthy psychological development occurs when there exists a secure attachment between a child and their caregiver.
Mary Ainsworth, inspired on Bowlby’s theories, conducted research that proved Bowlby’s theories to be true. Following her research, 4 attachment styles were identified:
- Secure attachment: A secure child has an inner image of themselves as a lovable self and responsive other, with enjoyable interactions alternating with exciting explorations in an interesting world. As adults, their description and evaluation of attachment experiences is consistent, with positive and negative aspects.
- Insecure–ambivalent: An insecure-ambivalent child has an image of themselves as unlovable and an unpredictable other who has to be manipulated or coerced into caring. As adults, they are preoccupied with past attachment experiences. Their narrative tends to be long. They can appear passive, angry or fearful.
- Insecure-avoidant: An insecure-avoidant child has an internal model of self as not being worthy of care and an other who does not care, forcing the child to repress their longing and their anger. This could result into numbness of feeling. As adults, they may talk about a “normal, excellent mother” while their description of facts does not show coherence and is plagued with contradictions. They tend to be brief in their narrative.
- Unresolved–disorganized: An unresolved-disorganized child has a disorganized response to their caregivers’ presence. As adults, during discussions of loss or abuse, they may show lapses in their narrative. For example, speaking of a dead person as if they were alive.
Knowing your attachment style and your loved ones can help you better understand how you relate to others and how they relate to you. In counselling, attachment styles can be changed.
In his insightful book about attachment and psychotherapy, David Wallin describes how an attachment-based therapy can produce change. “The role of the therapist is to help the patient both to deconstruct the attachment patterns of the past and to construct new ones in the present.” The patterns created in our first relationships (as babies with our main caregiver) are present in how we relate to and also to our habits of feeling and thinking. An attachment-based therapist will look at your attachment style and will aim at providing an experience that will change it into a more secure attachment.