Attachment theory deals with the relationship between the primary caregiver and the baby/child. Research has shown that attachment styles can be observed by the time a child is one year old. Attachment is the emotional bond we have with another person. There are currently four recognised attachment styles. They are named ambivalent, avoidant, disorganised and secure. Secure attachments account for 60% of the general population. 40% of the general population have unhealthy styles of attachment.
The four attachment styles are as follows:
Ambivalent/insecure/preoccupied attachment: These children become very distressed when a parent leaves. Ambivalent attachment style is considered uncommon. At times the parent may have been warm and affectionate and at others, irritable and distant. This means that the primary caregiver could not be relied upon to be stable.
Avoidant/dismissive attachment: Children with an avoidant attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers, showing no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger. This attachment style might be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers. Children who are punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.
Disorganised attachment: These children display a confusing mix of behaviour and seem confused or disorientated. They may avoid or resist the parent. As adults they may exhibit symptoms of PTSD and dissociative symptoms. Caregivers will have been frightening to the child. This results in an internal struggle between wanting to attach to others and being in defence.
Secure attachment: Children who can depend on their caregivers show distress when separated and joy when reunited. They feel assured that the caregiver will always return. When frightened, securely attached children are comfortable seeking reassurance from caregivers.
Attachment Patterns in Adulthood
The attachment style a child develops will stay with the child into adulthood and become a set behavioural pattern. This will lead to the relationship style the child had with the primary caregiver being recreated in adulthood. The attachment patterns become internalised and shape how individuals see themselves and others. Insecure parental attachment may lead to increased levels of stress hormones, negative views of themselves and others and poor regulation of their emotions and behaviour. Failure to provide safety and protection can also lead to problems in cognition, attention, learning and relationships. Romantic relationships may also be affected if the attachment relationship with the caregiver was poor. Research shows that fearfully attached individuals are more likely to interpret events as stressful. Insecurely attached individuals show higher levels of depression, distress, and post traumatic stress symptoms than traumatised people who exhibit a secure based attachment. A disorganised attachment style is associated with later psychological difficulties and dissociative experiences.