Attachment Styles in Adult Relationships


Reading about attachment styles and therapy today and pondering on a few things. There are 4 main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious/preoccupied/resistant, avoidant and disorganized. 

I find the Strange Situation experiment fascinating. Especially if you apply it to your adult relationships. It goes like this:

The infant is left alone with a stranger while the primary caregiver/attachment figure leaves the room. The the attachment figure returns. The infant’s behavior is observed. Three main patterns emerged from this experiment:

The securely attached infant becomes distressed by being with a stranger and being left, however when the parent returns they are able to soothe, re-establish the bond and move on exploring their environment without much fuss.

The anxious/resistant infant vacillates between being needy and angry towards the attachment figure for leaving. They have a hard time being soothed and moving on to exploring the environment independently.

The avoidant infant seems unfazed by the separation and appears equally indifferent to the parent returning. However, the emotional distress he/she is under is equal to the anxious infant except they don’t show it.

Got it?


Now think about your current or last relationship.

What is your attachment style to them?

Is it different with different people?


And most importantly, how do you reestablish the attachment bond after a separation, may that be minor or seemingly insignificant? How does it effect your communication?

Research shows that people who are securely attached benefit significantly more from therapy which is interesting since, in therapy, we see more people with insecure attachment styles. That’s WHY they are in therapy to begin with!

As I keep thinking about this topic, I revisit my own childhood and am painfully awakened to the realization of a significant break in attachment to my main parental figures which explains a lot of my issues I have encountered in relationships as an adult. We often think of abuse or trauma during significant attachment periods (0-3 years) in extreme terms (like sexual, physical abuse), however as it turns out, even being sent away to your grandparents for a while may have a significant effect.

The good news is, your attachment style changes over time through secure/safe attachment figures into adulthood.

The question is…

What kind of attachment(s) are YOU choosing for yourself? 

Attachment…and Hugs: How Your Mother Messed You Up.

“You mean to tell me doc that the source of all my suffering is not having been hugged enough as a baby?!”

Attachment (particularly with mothers) affects future self-esteem, independence, resilience when faced with stressful situations, emotional regulation, long term relationships with family and friends, trust, intimacy, affection, hope for the future, academic success and the ability to bond with their own children.

I’m telling you, this stuff is no joke!

Oh no…NOT more theory!

Before 1950, the main thinking on child rearing was based on this quote:

Never hug and kiss your kids, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.”(John Watson, 1928)

1937-1940: Combined efforts of psychiatrist David M. Levy and pediatrician Harry Bakwin told parents that their babies were actually starved for affection (“Primary Affect Hunger”) and if they lack human contact they may even die of “failure to thrive”.

What is one to do?? Simple. Hug your babies, but discipline you kids.

What age are your children too BIG to hug or sit on your lap? Answer carefully! My mom would say, never (although not sure that’s such a healthy thing).

In 1951 Bowlby introduced a novel way of thinking. He studied homeless children from many cultures and discovered that considerable early deprivation resulted with the following consequences in children:

– An absence of empathy,

– Inability to modulate emotion and thus were unable to give and receive affection

– Conduct disorders

– Attentional deficits.

Sounds like all the teenagers I know. Let’s blame the mothers!

Here’s why this is worth me writing about it and you reading it: When these children became parents, they passed on these traits to their children thereby creating intergenerational cycles of parents that would be unable to form close relationshipsand of children who would become abusive, neglectful parents.

1960’s: Mary Ainsworth studies the mother’s attachment style and found that mothers of secure children provided a positive, reliable source of attachment so their babies received affection, were fed on demand and were attended to quickly when they started to cry.

The mothers of the anxiously attached babies showed much less ability to be sensitive or attuned to their baby’s needs, thus leaving the child with inconsistent fulfillment. Mothers of ambivalent babies were inconsistent, unpredictable, often angry and rejecting.

Here’s my take on the three types of insecure attachment.

1. Insecurely/anxiously attached children, as adults, behave in ways that perpetuated the rejection and hostility.

“I hate you, don’t leave me” a.k.a the borderline type. He/she will most likely get addicted to opiates, and/or alcohol. They are more likely to develop process addictions like tumultuous relationships, sex and gambling. If no addiction is present, violent swings between depression and mania may be present with dramatic displays designed to get attention.

2. Ambivalent children yearn for a connection but alienate others by their clinging and neediness. They act helpless in order to elicit care, try desperately to get their mother’s attention and are chronically anxious about how mother will respond to them. –

“Don’t leave me” a.k.a the dependent type. He/she will love painkillers, tranquilizers, barbiturate, even maybe food and…is probably still living with mom or looking for a surrogate mother in their partner. If no addiction is present, then the main problem will be low-self esteem, poor boundaries, passivity in relationships, difficulty self-soothing and low tolerance for loneliness (which will lead to poor decisions).

3. Avoidant children are angry about the rejection but unable to be honest and direct because they fear this may lead to even more rejection. They’re “shut down” and avoid interactions that involve attachment needs resulting in a detached, “I don’t care” attitude. They typically act out their anger towards others in passive-aggressive ways. –

“I don’t care!” a.k.a the antisocial type. He/she doesn’t really care for drugs much (except for maybe trying anything at least once) but highly unlikely to get addicted. Crimes are a way better thrill. Also this is your typical narcissist, selfish, self-absorbed, ego-maniac.

Parents, listen up!!

Don’t tell your kids:

  • Don’t be (don’t exist)
  • Don’t be who you are
  • Don’t be a child
  • Don’t grow up
  • Don’t make it in your life
  • Don’t do anything!
  • Don’t be important
  • Don’t belong
  • Don’t be close
  • Don’t be well (don’t be sane!)
  • Don’t think
  • Don’t feel.
  • Don’t cry.