Relational skills start developing earlier than one may think. From infancy, and potentially earlier, we learn how to communicate with others based on how they communicate with us. Similarly, attachment styles play a large role in how we understand and navigate relationships in adulthood. Thus, discussing attachment styles and how they influence relationships can be valuable for healing and recovery.
In the article titled “Attachment: What is it and Why is it Important?” Miriam Crouch explains, “Attachment is a reciprocal process by which an emotional connection develops between an infant and his/her primary caregiver. It influences the child’s physical, neurological, cognitive and psychological development.”
Meanwhile, this emotional connection can shape the child’s worldview, relationships, and outlook for the rest of their lives. A publication titled Children’s Attachment by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) confirms, “From birth, the interactions of an infant with their primary carers will establish a base for personality development and will [mold] subsequent close relationships, expectations of social acceptance, and attitudes to rejection.”
Attachment theory suggests that there are four different variations of attachment styles. Each one has different characteristics, tendencies, and behavioral outcomes.
First, secure attachment begins in infancy when the infant knows that their needs will be met. If a caregiver fills the baby’s need every time it cries, the infant learns they are safe and “secure.” One publication by Pediatrics and Child Health explains that this is a result of the baby knowing that their distressed emotions will be met with comfort. It states, “The strategy is said to be ‘organized’ because the child ‘knows’ exactly what to do with a sensitively responsive caregiver, ie, approach the caregiver when distressed.”
In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains, “Strong emotional bonds help children learn how to manage their own feelings and behaviors and develop self-confidence. They help create a safe base from which they can explore, learn, and relate to others.” This is known as a “secure attachment.” Children know that they will be accepted when they return and that they can do so without feeling distressed.
NIH goes on to explain, “Securely attached children are more likely to be able to cope with challenges like poverty, family instability, parental stress, and depression.”
Furthermore, a publication by Current Opinion in Psychology details that, as adults, those with a secure attachment style tend to feel comfortable with intimacy and depending on others, as well as having others depend on them.
Adults with a secure attachment style also tend to exhibit:
An insecure-avoidant attachment style can be developed when a caregiver responds to the child’s needs negatively. The aforementioned publication by Pediatrics and Child Health reiterates that parents who consistently respond to their child’s distress by:
Moreover, these responses cause the child to “develop a strategy for dealing with distress that is also ‘organized’, in that they avoid their caregiver when distressed and minimize displays of negative emotion in the presence of the caregiver.”
As NICE explains, “Children who develop an ‘avoidant’ attachment pattern are thought to maintain proximity to their caregiver by ‘down-regulating’ their attachment [behavior]: they appear to manage their own distress and do not strongly signal a need for comfort.”
Meanwhile, the publication by Current Opinion in Psychology mentioned previously explains that adults with an insecure-avoidant attachment style tend to struggle with relational intimacy, as they are often striving to seek:
In summary, individuals with this attachment style are used to depending on themselves for everything, so they often have a difficult time depending on anyone else.
As infants, resistant attachment happens when caretakers respond to the child’s distress in unpredictable ways. Revisiting Pediatrics and Child Health, this publication describes these unpredictable behaviors as “expecting the infant to worry about the caregiver’s own needs or by amplifying the infant’s distress and being overwhelmed.” This often causes the child to “display extreme negative emotion to draw the attention of their inconsistently responsive caregiver.”
Children with resistant attachment styles tend to be distressed by separation from their caregiver, yet are also not comforted by their presence.
As adults, this type of attachment may display itself through:
Finally, Pediatrics and Child Health addresses that disorganized attachment styles are formed when a caregiver displays “atypical” behaviors that are:
The publication specifies, “There is evidence to suggest that caregivers who display atypical [behaviors] often have a history of unresolved mourning or unresolved emotional, physical or sexual trauma, or are otherwise traumatized.”
As adults, those with this type of attachment style are more likely to experience substance use, mental disorders, and personality disorders.
Together we’ve learned that how a child is responded to during infancy can impact how they form future relationships. While that could seem intimidating to some, especially those who didn’t have positive role models growing up, the good news is that attachment styles are not set in stone. They are merely an inclination or a tendency of how one relates to others, based on what has been modeled. Healthy relational skills can be learned at any time, at any age. That’s where Sage Recovery comes in.
Our master’s level counselors are extensively trained in teaching individuals, families, and couples how to communicate healthily. Additionally, every staff member is trained to provide trauma-informed care, so individuals can expect that they will always be treated with dignity and respect.
Healing from the hard things you’ve been through can feel intimidating but the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone! Here at Sage Recovery, we believe there are multiple pathways to healing and, as a result, we offer a variety of treatment options. With our customizable treatment plans, you can benefit from our innovative approaches or our evidence-based treatments. Maybe equine therapy, art therapy, or nature immersion will bring you healing, or maybe it’ll be CBT, DBT, or EMDR that will relieve your symptoms. Whether you’re an adolescent or adult, it’s never too late or too early to begin your healing journey. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 to find out how we can help.