In this article we will be looking at how attachment theory can help us understand more about our love life.
1. What is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is a psychological model that tries to describe how early relationships with parents create expectations for how love should be. It originated from John Bowlby seminal work in 1958. According to this theory parents who are the caregivers become attachment figures. The theory explains the strengths of short-term and long-term relationships in humans.
2. Types of Attachment Styles
There are four types of attachment styles namely; avoidant style, secure style, resistant style and disorganized. In 1970, Ainsworth identified the first three attachment styles and she linked them with early interactions that occur between an infant and mother.
In avoidant attachment style, children are not oriented to their attachment figures and most of the time they are not dependent of their attachment figure, both physically and emotionally. In most cases children who exhibit this attachment style have insensitive caregivers and in times of distress, they do not seek contact with their caregivers. In this attachment style, the caregiver is always unavailable in times of emotional stress.
In insecure resistant attachment style, children usually have a resistant behavioural style toward the attachment figure. Here children have dependent behaviour and at the same time rejects the attachment figure especially when they are engaging in interactions. Most times the child has no feelings of security from the attachment figure although he or she finds it hard to move away from the attachment figure. When in distress the child cannot be soothed nor comforted by the interaction they have with their attachment figure. This attachment style is due to the caregiver being inconsistent to respond to the needs of the child.
In secure attachment style, the child is highly dependent on the attachment figure for his or her needs to be met. Children use the attachment figure as a safe base through which they explore the environment and seek the attachment figure in times of distress. When upset children in this attachment style can easily be soothed by the attachment figure. This attachment style is due to caregivers being sensitive to the signals of the children and responding appropriately to their needs. An individual in a secure attachment style ‘is likely to possess a representational model of attachment figures as being available, responsive and helpful.
In disorganized attachment style, the child usually has a disorganization in the behaviour in a form of confused expressions and undirected movements. Children in this style usually have fear towards the caregiver and this may be due to histories of maltreatment.
3. How Attachment Styles function as predictors of romantic partner choice in adulthood?
There is a continuation of attachment styles from infancy to adulthood. It is evident that most individuals are likely to choose romantic partners who have their very same attachment styles. For example, anxious individuals are more likely to date anxious partners over those in other attachment styles. Also, ratings that individuals have towards their caregivers’ styles are associated with adult attachment dimensions and partner choices. For example, people who rate their mother as ambivalent are less attracted to secure partners.
A person who possesses the anxious attachment style feels that in order to be close to his or her partner and have his or her needs met, he or she needs to be with his or her partner all time and get reassurance. Most of the time he or she ends up choosing a person who is isolated and hard to connect with.
A person with the avoidant attachment style has a tendency to be distant since their model suggests that the way to get needs met is to act like there are no needs. Most of the time people in this style end up choosing romantic partners who are more possessive and demanding for attention.
Adults in secure attachment are more satisfied with their relationships and see their romantic partners as a secure base from which they can explore the world. They also feel secure and connected to their romantic partners. When their partners are under distress, secure adults also provide support and when they are troubled they usually seek their partner’s comfort. Adults in secure attachment style have relationships which are open and honest.
4. How does Attachment-based Therapy help people with Insecure Attachment Styles?
Attachment-based Therapy helps people with insecure attachment styles by learning what healthy relationships look like, exploring ways to form constructive bond with their caregivers and developing ways to cope with the symptoms that results from insecure attachment style. Attachment-based therapy helps adults with insecure attachment to be able to build strong bonds with friends, children and partners.
Play therapy can be used to help children with insecure attachment style. Here the child attends the therapy session with their caregiver. Play therapy helps develop healthy attachment.
5. How does Attachment-based Couples Therapy work?
Attachment-based Couples Therapy tries to explain to couples how their partner’s mind work and why they do what they do. Attachment-based Couples Therapy provides couples with a framework to understand who they are and increases compassion. It also guides what couples do depending on who their partner is. Attachment- based Couples therapy also provides a framework for interventions of conflict and isolation which brings about depression in couples.
6. What can help in changing Attachment Style and is it possible?
In a nutshell yes, it is very possible to change attachment styles.
Changing attachment style requires use of therapy where a therapist guides an individual’s ability to develop awareness necessary to know if they are reacting to past wounds. Therapy also helps an individual to know his or her attachment style as well as the choices they are making in a partner. Choosing a partner with a secure attachment style can help an individual to change an insecure attachment style. Also, facing fears that one has about love can help him or her change from one style to a new style of attachment for a sustaining relationship.