The truth is, I’ve spent most of my adulthood trying to detangle the mess from my childhood so that I can rebuild my life. I’ve asked myself time and time again, why am I this way? Why do I long for a deep connection yet simultaneously run from it? If one body of work has provided some answers, it would be Attachment Theory.
In this post, I will give a general overview of the four different attachment styles, as well as how it has helped me to become a more secure self and mother. Now, let’s nerd out for a quick minute on attachment!
4 Types of Attachment styles
There are four different attachment styles, secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganized, which originates from John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s life’s work in studying attachment during infancy. An excellent way to grasp the different attachment styles is by watching Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation” with infants. You can find the youtube video here.
For the sake of keeping things simple, I will write about the attachment styles during infancy, but obviously, attachment applies to all stages of life.
I will use the terms primary caregiver, parent, and mother, interchangeably.
Secure attachment: Secure attachment is a transactional relationship in which the child expresses their needs (food, play, or comfort), and the parent responds sensitively, timely, and emotionally attuned.
Infants who have secure attachments will likely demonstrate a strong sense of security in relationships as they continue to develop. These infants are less easily caught in hyperarousal, and they can make order of their emotions and maintain emotional balance.
It’s also worth noting that the attachment synchrony between primary caregiver and child does not always have to be present 100% of the time. Parents are human, and they are allowed to have off moments. The importance is for the parent to identify the mismatch and repair it to get back to equilibrium with their child.
Avoidant Attachment: Avoidant infants are frequently ignored or rejected by their primary caregiver. The caregiver shows a low tolerance for her baby’s distress and is often viewed as angry towards her child and in general.
Avoidant infants tend not to indicate when they’re upset in situations. Instead, they appear somber, expressionless, or self-contained. Avoidant children often withdraw, sulk and resist asking for help. They tend to distance themselves from others to reduce emotional stress.
They are generally less effective in managing stressful situations. These children are emotionally distant, appear self-reliant, and are untrusting of attachments.
With that said, avoidant attachment style shouldn’t be mistaken with nonattachment. Instead, “the infant tries to maximize her proximity to her mother and optimize her felt security by showing nothing.” (Davies, 2011, Page 14)
Anxious Attachment: Anxiously attached infants have a primary caregiver who is inconsistent in their responsiveness and insensitive to the baby’s cues. This mother-child dynamic creates uncertainty in the child. The infant demonstrates a heightened affect, distress, and anger and is not easily soothed by their mother.
The child longs to have close contact with the mother but is angry because the mother does not consistently pick them up or hold them long enough. The mother is overall insensitive to the child’s needs.
The baby lacks confidence in the responsiveness and availability of their caregiver. This anxious style behavior often predicts later issues with the child’s capacity to engage in autonomous behavior.
Disorganized Attachment: There are two categories of disorganized attached infants. The first group is infants who fear their primary caregiver due to abuse or maltreatment. The second group is infants who experience unsolved trauma (such as the death of the primary caregiver).
These children often appear motionless, dazed, overwhelmed, or display incongruent behavior (walks towards the parent with head turned, or smiles at parent while simultaneously looking fearful.)
The primary behavior exhibited by these children is confusion and disorganization due to an internal conflict. These children often lack the ability to develop an organized strategy to cope with separation distress.
PRACTICING SECURE ATTACHMENT
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to rebuild security in my life. But lemme tell you, Attachment Theory became waaaaay more vital once I became a mother.Now, whenever I look into my girl’s eyes, I know the stakes are higher. I know I have to get my ish together so that I can get this mom-job right. I’m no longer trying to mend myself for me, but now it’s for this tiny human and our family unit, and that’s a far bigger purpose than I had before. Thankfully, Naomi is kicking me into gear and reminding me every day that I need to be my best self for her.
Becoming our best selves for our children
I think all of us want to be our best selves when raising our tiny humans. But sometimes, things can go wrong when we come from an insecure upbringing. That’s why we have to break free from the unhealthy generational patterns so that our children can flourish and grow into their authentic, secure selves.
Work in progress
Although I feel entirely undeserving of being this sweet soul’s mother, I know God chose me for her and vise versa. So here I am, trying to get my ish together, break free from unhealthy generational patterns and show my girl a world full of security and self-worth!
Attachment Theory in Practice by Susan M. Johnson
Child Development, Third Edition A Practitioner’s Guide by Douglas Davies