Attachment Theory In Practice: Avoidant, Anxious & Beyond
Attachment theory in practice helps us understand and respond better to the needs of humans in the context of their life and relationships. It is focused on connections between people, especially in long-term relationships, including romantic partners and bonds between a parent and a child.
Before going deeper into learning about attachment theory in practice and naming the benefits it provides for clients, it is essential to understand what attachment is first. Once we know this, we can understand how attachment theory in practice has an impact on different types of relationships.
What is Attachment?
Attachment can best be described as an emotional bond one person has with another. The first bonds we form as children are with our caregivers, and it has an enormous impact on how we connect with other people throughout our lives. Attachment is also valuable when keeping the infant close to its mother, which improves its chances of survival.
Behavioral theories of attachment suggest that we learn to attach, while other theories challenge that idea by proposing that children are born with a natural drive to dorm attachment with their caregivers.
It is more likely that the children who maintain close to their attachment figure and receive comfort and protection from them will survive to adulthood more easily than those who don’t. Yet, defining successful attachment is not as simple as it seems. Behaviorists will suggest it is the food that leads to forming an attachment behavior, while others propose nurturance and responsiveness instead of food.
In attachment theory, the central theme is that primary caregivers, available and responsive to the needs of an infant, will allow it to develop a sense of security. The child knows that its caregiver is dependable and that forms a secure base for the infant to later explore the world.
Stages of Attachment
Many researchers have analyzed the number of attachment relationships children form from an early age. This led to the attachment theory accepting four different phases of attachment which help therapists and mental health professionals to provide adequate care and treatment.
Pre-Attachment Stage – Up to three months, infants will not demonstrate any particular attachment to their caregivers. The common signals of an infant, crying and fussing, will attract the attention of their caregivers and the infant’s positive response will motivate the caregiver to stay close.
Indiscriminate Attachment – Between 6 weeks to 7 months, the infant will start showing preferences for its primary and secondary caregivers. During this period, children develop trust that their caregivers will respond to their needs. They accept care from others, yet they are beginning to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces, providing a more positive response to the primary caregiver.
Discriminate Attachment – From 7 to 11 months, an infant will show a strong attachment and preference for one specific person. When separated from that person, a child will protest and show symptoms of separation anxiety, while also displaying anxiety around unfamiliar people, known as stranger anxiety.
Multiple Attachments – When 9 months old, a child will start forming strong emotional bonds with their secondary caregivers as well, so their attachment will extend beyond the primary attachment figure. This might include the father, older siblings, or grandparents.
As much as developing attachment towards someone seems like a pretty straightforward process, two main factors can influence how these attachments develop. One of them is an opportunity for attachment, in which children who don’t have a primary care figure may fail to develop the trust needed to create an attachment.
The other factor is quality caregiving, which refers to caregivers responding quickly and consistently, so a child will learn they can depend on those responsible for their care. To me, this is the essential basis for any attachment.
When looking closer into it, there are four main patterns of attachment:
- Ambivalent attachment: This child will be very distressed when their parent leaves. It is also one of the most uncommon patterns in the United States. As a result of parents being absent in a certain way, a child cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be around when they need them.
- Avoidant attachment: A child with an avoidant attachment tends to avoid its parents or caregivers, displaying no preference between its caregiver and an unfamiliar person. This attachment pattern is often a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers and makes children avoid seeking help later in life because they were punished for doing it with their caregivers.
- Disorganized attachment: A child with a disorganized attachment will show a confusing combination of behavior, seeming confused, disoriented, or dazed. They might even seem to avoid or resist the parent and their lack of attachment is typically connected to inconsistent caregiver behavior. Here, caregivers may even serve as both a source of comfort and fear, resulting in disorganized behavior later in life as well.
- Secure attachment: A child depending on their caregivers show distress each time they are separated and joy when reunited with them. Even if the child seems upset, they feel safe because they know their caregiver will return. When feeling scared, a securely attached child will comfortably look for reassurance from caregivers.
Attachment Theory in Practice
Understanding attachment theory in practice can be challenging. That’s why whether you or someone you love is experiencing attachment issues, the suggestion is to consider a mental health professional. Because we start forming bonds from an early age, it is often difficult to understand why our current behavior. And beliefs are affected by something that happened decades ago.
That said, regardless of the attachment pattern mentioned above, therapy can help every individual to learn a set of techniques that will facilitate their life, especially the aspect of relationships. Even if a person suffered trauma in their childhood and has attachment issues from it in adulthood. There are types of therapy that specifically help patients looking to improve their romantic lives, yet also bonds they form with everyone else in their life.
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