What is Attachment?
Humans are social creatures. It is near impossible for us to make it through life in complete isolation, unless under extreme conditions. If you consider the relationships in your own life, you can likely identify the role and importance of attachment. Attachment refers to the close emotional bond between people (Santrock, 2019). We may draw from our social supports in a plethora of different ways, especially in infancy when we are vulnerable and reliant on others for even the most basic necessities and comforts.
There are a variety of lifespan development theories regarding how attachment first develops between an infant and their caregiver(s). One of the most prominent theories to describe individual differences regarding attachment is that of Mary Ainsworth’s attachment styles. Ainsworth created an observational measure for infants called the Strange Situation (Santrock, 2019). The Strange Situation involves observing an infant’s reactions to a series of experiences, as follows: introducing them to an adult stranger, having the primary caregiver leave the child alone in the room with the stranger, and later reintroducing the primary caregiver (Santrock, 2019).
What Are Ainsworth’s Different Attachment Styles?
Depending on the infant’s reactions to the Strange Situation, they may be categorized as one of the following attachment styles: secure, avoidant, resistant, or disorganized. It should be noted that there is current research to suggest that attachment styles may be better operationalized as on a continuum rather than discrete categories (Fraley, Hudson, Heffernan, & Segal, 2015). Furthermore, cultural values may also influence an infant’s behavior in the Strange Situation. For example, German babies are found to exhibit an avoidant attachment pattern more often than American babies. However, it is theorized that this may be a result of the value that their caregivers place on them being independent (Santrock, 2019).
Secure: Infants with a secure attachment use their caregiver as a safe base from which to explore. When separated from the caregiver, they may exhibit mild distress. However, they again show positive interactions toward the caregiver and comfort with their surroundings upon being reunited.
Insecure - Avoidant: The avoidant attachment style is characterized by the infant avoiding the caregiver while the caregiver is initially present in the room and upon being reunited. They are also not distressed by the caregivers absence. They do not attempt to re-establish contact with the caregiver upon their return.
Insecure - Resistant: Resistant infants may resist the caregiver leaving and then also resist the closeness of the caregiver. They may anxiously cling to the caregiver and avoid exploring their surroundings. They may continue to show distress and push away any attempts from the caregiver to comfort them upon return.
Insecure - Disorganized: Infants with a disorganized attachment style may behave as if they are dazed, confused or fearful. They may exhibit both strong avoidant and resistant patterns.
What Is Your Attachment Style?
The above descriptions of attachment style relate to infants. However, adult attachment styles can also be categorized and explained somewhat similarly. If you are curious about your relationship attachment style, there are many resources available for self-assessment. Click here for an adult relationship attachment assessment offered from Psychology Today. Please note: This test is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or for the treatment of any health condition. If you would like to seek the advice of a mental health professional you can search Psychology Today's directory here.
How Can Understanding Attachment Help You?
Ample research has been done regarding the effects of attachment style on different aspects of an individual’s life. A person’s attachment style may vary according to differing relationship contexts: romantic, family, workplace, etc. (Fraley, Hudson, Heffernan, & Segal, 2015).
The following are just some areas that may be influenced by your attachment style:
Mental health and well-being
Romantic relationships and relational satisfaction
Familial relationships and parenting
Healing from trauma
If you find that you or your children struggle with having a secure attachment, you may want to consider further reading or examining the role of attachment within the safe space of counseling.
Click here for further resources on attachment theory from the Zurin Institute.
Fraley, R. C., Hudson, N. W., Heffernan, M. E., & Segal, N. (2015). Are adult attachment styles categorical or dimensional? A taxometric analysis of general and relationship-specific attachment orientations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(2), 354–368. https://doiorg.proxy.consortiumlibrary.org/10.1037/pspp0000027
Psychology Today (2019). Relationship attachment style test. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests/relationships/relationship-attachment-style-test.
Santrock, J. W. (2019). Lifespan development (17th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw Hill Education.
Zur, O. (n.d.). Attachment theory and the therapeutic alliance: Resources and references. Retrieved from https://www.zurinstitute.com/resources/attachment-theory/