Why you need to know about Attachment Theory


Do you know about or have you heard about attachment theory? If you don’t or haven’t, trust me, you need to know about it as it may be affecting your life. Whether you realize it or not, the underlying concepts that comprise attachment theory can significantly influence virtually every area of your life. By understanding this, parts of your life will likely make a lot more sense.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory refers to the relationship between a parent and child. Today, in the world of “parenting,” attachment theory is one of the most studied concepts. 

There is growing evidence that our early attachment experiences with our primary caregivers can affect our whole lives. In fact, we will likely repeat many of the experiences from our early years in our relationships at a later date.

Attachment theory has focused on the relationship between a child and their primary caregiver, usually the mother. It has been identified that how a child is treated will influence virtually all future relationships, especially those with a romantic partner.

Parenting in the Spotlight

As you likely know, being a parent means you have many roles to fulfill. Your influence starts with just being present. You also teach them what you already know, discipline them, feed them, take care of their health and well-being, etc. Your presence can give a child comfort just by your proximity. The reverse, of course, is also true. A child that a parent neglects can have lifelong effects, evidenced by the large percentage of insecurely attached individuals. 

There used to be a belief when raising children not to be demonstrative. Going back 100 years, many hospitals wouldn’t allow parents to visit their sick children. Only after it was observed that children were becoming sicker or even dying due to the lack of parental contact that the medical community started to awaken.

A parent’s presence makes the child feel loved, acknowledged, protected, safe and secure. Attachment theory has started to show that the stronger these connections are, the more “secure” a child will feel. This sense of self will continue throughout their whole life.

Purpose of the post

In this post, I would like to share how your whole life has been shaped based on your interaction with your primary caregiver and the beliefs you took on before you were even five. Some of the interpretations you took on as a wee child will likely affect your life today. 

History of Attachment

The attachment theory was initially developed in the 1960s and 1970s by British psychologist John Bowlby and American /Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth.

It presents evidence that how the primary caregiver, usually the mother, interacts with the child will have significant long-term effects on the child. The primary caregivers who are emotionally responsive to a baby’s needs provide their child with a solid sense of security. From this base, the child can head out into the world complete with self-confidence — and in the early years to return to the primary caregiver to refill any subsequent internal void.

Attachment Categories

Initially, Bowlby and Ainsworth identified three main types of behaviors they could categorize. Subsequently, additional research added the fourth category. 

Attachment Categories are Secure and Insecure attachments. 

Secure are:

  • Secure attachment

Insecure Categories

  • Anxious-Insecure attachment
  • Avoidant-Insecure attachment
  • Disorganized-Insecure attachment

Secure Attachment

in an ideal world, everyone has a perfect parent(s)., They know how to nurture their child and make them feel safe and secure. As a result, their children end up with a “secure” sense of attachment. 

Being able to adopt a secure attachment means that your primary caregivers share qualities of being: available, responsive, accepting, openly loving, and sensitive. 

The parent of a secure child interacts with their child in emotional and physically healthy ways that support their child’s overall well-being. Instead of being controlling, the child can explore their world knowing that there is someone there for them. The parent of a secure child has safe ways of interacting with their children. This includes physical contact, safe interactions that respect boundaries, and reassuring children that they are fully loved, especially when they need reassurance. 

Unconsciously, the child learns that it is safe to express both positive and negative emotions and do so in healthy ways, knowing that someone will help them process their response.

Children who develop a secure attachment learn how to trust themselves and others and have a healthy sense of self-esteem. The great news is that when they become adults, these children will retain these traits. They will be in touch with their feelings, be competent, and generally have successful relationships in all areas of their life.

Insecure Categories

Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 40% of humanity will have some form of insecure attachment. Researchers have identified three different sets of traits that children who have negligent parenting develop due to this parenting. 

The following categories list the child’s predominant traits and eventual adult resulting from various negligent parenting skills.

Insecure Categories:

  • Anxious Insecure
  • Avoidant Insecure
  • Disorganized-Insecure attachment

Anxious-Insecure Attachment

Causes: A person with an anxious-insecure attachment evolves when the parents meet the needs of their children inconsistently. As an example, this would be common in people with addictions such as alcoholism. The parent could meet the needs of the child when they were sober but provide inconsistent responses when intoxicated. Sometimes the parent is available, and sometimes they’re not!

Sadly, a child who grows up and adopts an anxious-insecure attachment style unconsciously realizes that they can’t rely on their parents to be there when needed. This manifests itself in later life as a person who fails to develop trust such as that which would come from a securely-attached person. 

The Irony of This Attachment Strategy

An irony with this attachment style is that the child is trained not to trust that their caregiver is reliable. Still, they won’t readily move away from their parent.

How does this manifest

The child can become demanding and even be perceived as clingy. All the while, they are hoping that they will eventually get their parents’ attention and the love they are missing by acting out. In anxious-insecure attachment, the lack of predictability means that the child eventually becomes needy, angry, and distrustful.

Avoidant Insecure Attachment

Sometimes, a parent has trouble accepting and responding sensitively to their child’s needs. Instead of loving and comforting their child, the caregiver will reject the child’s demands, minimize their feelings, and refrain from helping the child when they’re struggling. 

This negligent parenting results in a child with an “avoidant-insecure” attachment. The child learns that their best strategy is to shut down their feelings and become self-reliant. After all, you can’t rely on people anyway. 

Ainsworth’s research indicated that children with an avoidant-insecure attachment would refrain from going to a caregiver when they need support. Additionally, they will minimize showing negative emotions or expecting others to help.

Disorganized-Insecure Attachment

Recent research estimates that approximately 15 percent of children born into secure families will develop disorganized-insecure attachment. Roughly 82 percent of those are born into high-risk situations. 

They develop this style as their caregivers generally show inconsistent nurturing behaviors, including rejection and ridicule. In general, they frighten their children. This occurs due to open displays of anger, inconsistent parenting, neglectful parenting, etc. 

Often, these behaviors result from their caregiver’s own unresolved trauma. Instead of coming to a loving parent, the child unknowingly triggers these old wounds in the parent. Unfortunately, this causes the parent to withdraw instead of supporting the child.

Organized vs Disorganized Attachment

The first three attachment styles, including secure, are sometimes referred to as “organized” attachment styles. This is because the child learns a new manner of behaving and organizes their behavioral thinking and strategies. 

Unfortunately, the latter strategy is deemed to be “disorganized” because the child’s strategy for dealing with the world is disorganized, as is their behavior.

Eventually, the child develops behaviors that help them feel somewhat safe. For example, the child may:

  • become aggressive toward the parent
  • refuse care from the parent
  • become super self-reliant

Check out our post on “Changing Your Beliefs” found HERE

How Does Attachment Affect an Adult With an Insecure Attachment Style

Childhood attachment styles don’t suddenly appear when you reach puberty. Attachment styles result from how the child has perceived their world, based on how their caregivers treated them. 

They instill beliefs about the world they take on based on their childhood experiences. For them, this is how the world is! And they must adapt accordingly. Unfortunately, many of the things that a child takes on growing up that result in an insecure attachment, ARE inaccurate and do not apply to the general world. 

 Unfortunately, the child has taken on these beliefs and believes them to be real and true. Unchallenged, these beliefs will distort a person’s perspective of the world general and themselves. The long-term effects of these attachment styles going untreated are that a child, now an adult, will operate in a world where this distorted sense is reality.

Unfortunately, a large number of people come out of their childhood with an insecure attachment strategy. Yes, this could include you and your friends, business partners, teachers, and virtually anyone you come to interact with.

By having this knowledge about attachment strategies, you will better understand where other people are coming from. This is especially helpful in intimate relationships where you may have a partner who unknowingly has an insecure attachment strategy.

The more you can educate yourself, the better you will run across many people with a different attachment strategy than you do. Understanding what makes people tick or what motivates them gives you more flexibility in dealing with other people. 

Can you change your attachment style?

The great news – YES 

None of this has to be permanent. 

It has to start with awareness and then take action. 

The traits that a person takes on when they’re young can be undone and replaced. There are many ways to learn new skill sets, from insecure to secure. 

If you’re interested, there are many great videos on YouTube from various professionals that will help you on your way. 

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Have an amazing life!

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