In my last week’s blog I talked about how attachment established during the first 5 years determines not only how we feel about ourselves and others, but also how we will relate to other people throughout our life. Furthermore, it’s important to point out that our attachment style also influences the quality of relationship we will have as a parent with our own children. So let’s have a look at different types of attachment to understand this a little bit better.
No one expects parents to be perfect. However, when parents understand their children’s needs and they respond sensitively and appropriately to them, the children develop a secure attachment. By being good at reading their children’s signals and by responding appropriately to their difficult emotions, the parents communicate to their children that their feelings are understood. They help their children recognize their feelings and reflect on them, while at the same time they help them to handle their emotions.
Children who are securely attached tend to have a positive view of life and know how to manage and control their feelings. They have a high self-esteem, have a sense a worth and are able to empathize with others. They are more confident about exploring the world around them. They have good social skills and are able to build strong, long lasting relationships with others. They also experience less depression and anxiety.
When parents do not respond to their children’s needs, or respond after a significant delay, the children become frustrated as their needs are not being met appropriately. As a result, they fail to develop trust in adults and themselves. The children become insecure rather than secure.
Insecure attachment may also be caused by abuse (physical and emotional), neglect, isolation or loneliness, lack of parenting skills and parent’s responsiveness reduced by drugs or alcohol.
Insecurely attached people have difficulty understanding their own emotions and feelings of others. They struggle to form relationships with other people and often become physically and emotionally distant in relationships. They might also be insensitive to the needs of their partners.
Insecure attachment is further divided into two types:
This attachment style is defined by avoidance of the attachment figure. When the primary carer is unavailable or rejecting the child begins to avoid closeness or emotional connection. Children learn that their parents feel threatened or distressed by their emotions, especially the negative ones. Therefore, they start to act like they don’t have any negative emotions and needs to avoid their parents rejecting them. They learn that they are more likely to earn their parent’s approval and acceptance if they don’t make any demands on their parents. They become good at understanding what their parents expect of them and they act accordingly.
Adults classified as avoidant distance themselves from their partners as they don’t want to become emotionally dependent on them as being rejected would be too painful. They keep the lid on their emotions in order to protect themselves from getting hurt. Furthermore, when other people express their feelings or show distress, levels of anxiety and irritation of avoidant people increase.
This attachment style is defined by anxiety and ambivalent feelings towards the attachment figure. Parents of children classified as ambivalent might have been available some of the time, only to suddenly become neglectful and rejecting. Parents lack confidence and are often preoccupied with their own feelings and their need for love and approval.
People who grew up with this attachment style may grow up feeling insecure and clingy toward their romantic partner due to their parents attempting to get their own needs met by their children. They feel that they have to be with their partner all the time in order to have their needs met. They are demanding and possessive toward their partner and they constantly worry that their partner might leave them. This fear makes them stay in the relationship even when they are not happy.
The good news is that we can change our attachment style. By identifying our attachment style we can not only challenge it, but we can also uncover ways we use to defend ourselves from getting close to others.
It’s essential to make sense of our early experiences and explore our relationships with our parents in order to create healthier relationships in the present. Even people who had a difficult childhood can learn to form healthier relationships in the present, if they are able to make sense of what they experienced as children.