Attachment theory is one of the most important theories regarding parenting styles. Your child get his primary needs meet by you, and the way in which these needs are met creates the foundation of your child’s future emotional, social, and cognitive development. In other words, your interaction with your children will define how they interact with the world and in their future relationships. The attachment experience has a direct impact on the personality of the child, particularly in the areas of feeling emotionally safe and being able to form stable relationships throughout life.
The quality of the attachment an infant develops with a specific caregiver is largely determined by the caregiver’s response to the infant. From approximately six months of age, infants come to anticipate specific caregivers’ responses to their distress. They are then capable of shaping their own behaviours accordingly. Three major patterns of response to distress have been identified in infants, and these lead to three specific attachment patterns.
- Infants whose caregivers consistently respond to distress in sensitive or ‘loving’ ways: Behaviours like picking the infant up promptly and reassuring him make him feel secure in the knowledge that he can freely express negative emotion, knowing it will elicit comforting behavior from the caregiver. Children seek proximity to and want to maintain contact with the caregiver until they feel safe. The strategy is said to be ‘organized’ because the child ‘knows’ exactly what to do with a sensitively responsive caregiver, such as approaching the caregiver when distressed.
- Infants whose caregivers consistently respond to distress in insensitive or ‘rejecting’ ways: Behaviours like ignoring, ridiculing, or becoming annoyed with the infant develop a strategy in the child for dealing with distress that is also ‘organized’. The infant will avoid her caregiver when distressed and will minimize displays of negative emotion in the caregiver’s presence. The strategy will also be ‘organized’ because the child ‘knows’ exactly what to do with a rejecting caregiver, such as avoiding the caregiver in times of need. This avoidant strategy is also ‘insecure’ because it increases the risk for developing adjustment problems.
- Infants whose caregivers respond in inconsistent and unpredictable ways: Examples of this type of caregiver response include expecting the infant to worry about the caregiver’s own needs or amplifying the infant’s distress by being overwhelmed in their presence. Infants in these situations also use an ‘organized’ strategy for dealing with distress; they display extreme negative emotion in order to draw the attention of their inconsistently responsive caregiver. The child ‘knows’ exactly what to do with an inconsistently responsive caregiver, such as exaggerate displays of distress, anger, and resistant responses, hoping that the marked distress won’t be missed by the caregiver. However, this resistant strategy is also ‘insecure’ because it is associated with an increase in the risk for developing social and emotional maladjustment.
These responses create different attachment styles that stay with individuals into their adult life.
- Secure Attachment: Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. Children with a secure attachment see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently explore the world. A secure adult has a similar relationship with his or her romantic partner, feeling secure and connected while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely.
- Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: Unlike securely attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to be desperate to form a fantasy bond. Instead of feeling real love or trust toward their partner, they often feel emotional dependency. They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, their actions generally push their partner away.
- Dismissive Avoidant Attachment: People with a dismissive avoidant attachment style have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel ‘pseudo-independent’, taking on the role of parenting themselves. They often come off as focused on themselves and may overly attend to their creature comforts.
- Fearful Avoidant Attachment: A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style lives in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to do so. They can’t just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings. Instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms. They tend to have mixed up or unpredictable moods. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for safety is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organized strategy for getting their needs met by others.
As we have explained, these attachment styles are created in the early years of our lives, having strong consequences on how we relate to others (particularly our intimate partners) in the future. However, through self awareness and therapy, changes can occur later on in life.