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Attachment Theory: Childhood to Adulthood

Did you know that research has been done on how different infants and young children are "attached" to their parents? Did you also know that this attachment style, rooted in childhood experiences and perhaps even temperament, shows up in your adult relationships?


As children, we go through the process of separation-individuation. Every child gets to experience the environment and acquire their own identity. During this process, there is a desire for both independence - rooted in exploration - and a sense of security and safety, which is usually provided by the parents or caregivers.


An experiment called The Strange Situation assessed the bond between different infants and their primary caregivers. In other words, they wanted to evaluate the emotional connection, also known as attachment, between children and their main 'person'.


In this experiment, the child's response to two different situations were examined:

  1. Primary caregiver's absence/departure

  2. Primary caregiver's return

From this, three main attachment styles were proposed.

  • Secure Attachment

- Distressed when primary caregiver leaves

- Comforted or at ease when primary caregiver returns

  • Avoidant Attachment

- Indifferent when primary caregiver leaves

- Ignores when primary caregiver returns

- This is an insecure attachment style

- May be divided into two types:

- Dismissing

- Fearful

  • Ambivalent (Anxious) Attachment

- Distressed when primary caregiver leaves

- Resentful, upset or angry when primary caregiver returns


In adulthood, these attachment styles may show up in a few different ways.

Secure

Dismissive-Avoidant

Fearful-Avoidant

Preoccupied/ Ambivalent (Anxious)

Enjoys closeness with others

May not enjoy closeness with others

May not enjoy closeness with others

Enjoys closeness with others

Has trust in others

Lacks trust in others

Lacks trust in others

May lack trust in others and exhibit jealousy

Positive self-view and view of others

Positive self-view; negative view of others

Negative self-view and view of others

Negative self-view and positive view of others



References

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. (2017). Perspectives on personality (Eighth Edition). Pearson.



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