Attachment – does it matter?

In a word, yes, our attachment style is important! How we are taken care of in our early years shapes how we learn to be in, and what we learn to expect from, relationships. So of course, once we’re in adulthood that can show up in all kinds of ways. Some are helpful, some not so helpful.

This blog will explain a little bit more about what the different attachment styles are. I’ll explore how they are formed and the impact they can have on us.

The theory

Psychologist John Bowlby, in the 1950’s and then Mary Ainsworth subsequently, researched and studied how children related to and formed bonds with their caregivers. From this developed what we now call ‘attachment theory‘. They concluded that as humans, we have an innate need to feel a sense of belonging with our caregivers.

As infants we have limited ways of communicating our needs. Generally we cry or reach out to our caregivers for both love, and practical things like warmth, physical proximity and food. If our caregivers, for whatever reason, aren’t able to consistently or reliably meet those needs, then we adapt accordingly.

Through these experiences we develop what is termed our ‘attachment style’.

What are the different attachment styles?

  • Secure attachment: These are children who could reliably access, have their needs met and be comforted by their parents. As adults they find it relatively easy to be in loving relationships. They have good self-esteem and feel safe to share their feelings with trusted others.
  • Anxious attachment: These children may have had caregivers who were inconsistent in meeting their needs. In order to deal with this, the child may cling on when the parent is present and become highly distressed when they are absent. As adults they may struggle to trust in relationships. Additionally they can become jealous or insecure and find it very difficult to recover when a relationship ends.
  • Avoidant attachment: As children of either physically or emotionally absent parents, these children may appear to have ‘switched off’ emotionally. They can also seem to be very independent of their caregivers. When adults, they may find it hard to be vulnerable with others and may outwardly appear as though they ‘have it all sorted’. Sharing their feelings or emotions with others can be very difficult for them.
“We’re only as needy as our unmet needs”

John Bowlby

Why does this matter?

As you can probably imagine, navigating adult relationships is much easier when combined with self-awareness. Understanding how we communicate, why we react the ways we do and what we need from a partner improves relationships.

Your attachment style is simply part of this picture; but an important part, and is something that can be helpful to explore with a therapist.

When we know our own attachment styles we can work on the aspects of it that might cause difficulties in relationships.

And when we can recognise others’, we can make better decisions about whether they’re going to be a good match with our own.

Fernbank Counselling:

Attachment – does it matter?

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