John Donne, a historical English poet, once stated: “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Ol’ John Donne was certainly right- at least when considering the concept of Attachment. Since the dawn of time, people have always needed (and in varying degrees) wanted to be around other people. This ‘need’ and ‘want’ for people (or more aptly, for connection and special, close relationships) is a process called Attachment. We begin this process as infants, continually developing our own personal attachment style as we age and experience various types of relationships. Something that the pioneers of Attachment Theory, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, were able to conclude is that people typically fall somewhere within 4 types of Attachment Styles: (1) Secure, (2) Dismissive-Avoidant, (3) Anxious-Preoccupied, and (4) Disorganized. When considering Attachment Styles, there are a few things to note:
For each relationship a person has in their life, they will develop a type of attachment Style for that specific relationship. Therefore, people are often a mix of 2 attachment styles, but can favour or identify more with one Attachment Style (more often) over the other Attachment Style- this process acts more like a continuum for people, than being totally isolated Attachment styles.
A person’s Attachment Style(s) can evolve and change based upon experiences and the gathering of related knowledge- basically, a child’s Attachment Style can evolve and change as they grow into adulthood.
Here is a brief description of the 4 Attachment Styles:
*Secure Attachment:These people are more likely to view others as helpful and supportive, while viewing themselves as competent and worthy of respect. They will be overall satisfied with their relationships, able to relate positively with others, and are able to feel securely connected to their friends and family without needing to be physically around them all the time. These people will also display resilience during difficult times and are able to take the perspective of others and develop trust more easily.
*Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment:These people generally prefer to withdraw or may ‘shut-down’ during stressful situations. They are also likely to resist seeking help from others due to believing they do not need human connection and can handle stressful situations on their own. They will insist on maintaining independence and may even look down on others who do ask for help. This avoidance of human connection inhibits them from forming satisfying relationships with others. Mainly people with this attachment will participate in various forms of behaviours like lying, bullying, or general distancing to protect themselves by reducing the possibility of feeling emotional stress.
*Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment:These people typically behave in an opposite manner to people with Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment. They typically lack self-confidence and will continually seek constant reassurance from their family and friends regarding their relationship. This person will generally display exaggerated emotional reactions to minor issues and may present with behaviours that appear needy, clingy, jealous, or demanding. Mainly people with this attachment will participate in these behaviours due to fear of not being loved, accepted, or for fear of abandonment.
*Disorganized Attachment:These people generally attempt to avoid feeling emotions, as they become easily overwhelmed by them. People with this attachment tend to display abrupt unpredictable mood swings, aggression, disruptive behaviours, and social isolation. They may also see others as potential threats than as sources of support. These people yearn for close intimate connection with others, but also fear becoming hurt by getting ‘too close’ to someone. Therefore, they may rapidly switch between displaying warm behaviours to isolating themselves or becoming aggressive in order to push people away for protection. (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004; Firestone, 2013).
So, why does any of this information on Attachment matter?
Well, consider the people and relationships in your life- Do you know people who could fit into certain Attachment Styles? What is your relationship like with them? How about yourself- Do you identify with one or two Attachment Styles?
Being aware and gaining knowledge about your own Attachment Style(s) can highlight areas of your behaviours and your relationships that maybe you would like to better understand or possibly even work on in the future.
Understanding Attachment Styles can also be greatly beneficial to parenting approaches, as a parent can have a completely different Attachment Style than their child- this can sometimes lead to bumpy communication between parent and child and mutual feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, and lack of empathy. Therefore, if a parent is able to identify their own Attachment Style and the Attachment Style of their child or children, this can act as a solid base for the development and evolution of better suited parenting skills and approaches.
Ultimately, Attachment Theory and its accompanying Attachment Styles may not be able to explain every detail of someone’s personality or behaviours. However, Attachment Theory can lay a solid foundation for enhancing the development of empathy and better understanding yourself and the people in your life.
Kennedy, J. J., & Kennedy, C. E. (2004). Attachment theory: Implications for school psychology. Psychology in the Schools, 41, 247-259. doi: 10.1002/pits.10153
Firestone, L. (2013). How your attachment style impacts your relationship. Psychology Today. htttps://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship