The Importance of Childhood Attachment in our Adult Relationships
Where Does Attachment Come From?
We begin instinctively searching for attachment as soon as we are born from our Mother and continue seeking attachment from her for the first 12 month of life until we begin quite literally walking away towards others who have their arms out welcoming us. We walk towards others when their arms are out welcoming others and away if their arms are not out welcoming us and continue on his lifelong process in our relationships for the rest our lives.
The primary caretaker of a child has an important responsibility of forming and maintaining this healthy attachment with their child. Children’s brains are continuously developing and their brains are developing new neural connections to build frameworks that will assist them in evaluating events in the future. This is also especially why attachment trauma can be significant for children because if they are neglected than they are lacking that stimulation and if they are abused than they are feeling overstimulated both of which can be very confusing in their current relationships and relationships later in adulthood.
Kinds of Attachment
Secure Attachment is in a sense the ideal attachment. Secure attachment occurs when a child has a caregiver that has consistently responded to their needs and as a result trust has been built. We can typically determine if a secure attachment is being built with a child by the child’s reaction when their caregiver leaves them, if a secure attachment is being built than the child will initially feel distressed when the caregiver leaves and will soon begin to calm and begin to explore the new environment. These children become characterized by confidence and do not feel the need to constantly seek reassurance and direction.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment occurs when caregivers are inconsistent. Sometimes the caregivers meet the needs of the child and other times they are preoccupied and dismissive. We can typically determine if anxious attachment is being built with a child by the child’s reaction when their caregiver leaves them, if an anxious attachment is being built than the child will initially feel distressed and will continue to feel distressed as long as the caregiver is gone. This child will not be interested in their new environment and will be more hyper-focused on their caregiver leaving them. The child will fear that the caregiver might not come back or will not be consistent in meeting their needs when they do come back. These children become characterized by anxiety, insecurity and lack of confidence. They will appear clingy, often fear something happening to their caregivers and fear leaving their caregivers. This child will struggle with boundaries such as personal space, will seek to attach to others regardless of if the effort is reciprocated and will have difficulty being adventurous and trying new things.
Avoidant Attachment typically occurs as a result of inattentive caregivers as well as neglect. We can typically determine if an avoidant attachment is being built with a child by the child’s reaction when their caregiver leaves them, if an avoidant attachment is being built than the child will not express any distress when their caregiver leaves them, will immediately be consumed with their new environment will not illustrate any reaction when their caregiver returns. This child is usually modeling the kind of relationships that have been modeled for them and has become comfortable with their needs not being met or by learning how to self soothe themselves. These children become characterized by independence as they do not seek their caregivers for support and comfort. Their personality usually consists of a lack of empathy due to not seeing much value in substantial relationships, risk-taking and a sense of overconfidence in themselves.
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment typically occurs as a result of abusive and neglectful caregivers. This child does not respond well to individuals attempting to meet their needs because their caregivers have created harm by doing so in the past. This child’s personality can often be characterized by anger and aggression. These children will have difficulty identifying adults as safe people and will often come off defensive.
Attachment Styles in Adult Relationships
When a child grows up with secure attachments with their caregivers, they will seek secure relationships in their adulthood knowing that these type of relationships are trustworthy. A secure child will seek relationships in adulthood with partners that will consistently meet their needs and will be compassionate towards meeting the needs of their partners as well. They may experience frustration if a partner does not consistently meet their needs and may be likely to walk away from that partner if that partner refuses to change. However, if a secure adult stays in a relationship with a partner that has unhealthy attachment styles that secure adult could take on the unhealthy characteristics in their relationships.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
When a child grows up with anxious attachments with their caregivers, they usually become preoccupied in their relationships in adulthood as a result of experiencing anxiety and insecurity in their relationships. They can often worry about the relationship as a whole and often seek constant reassurance. They can appear needy in their relationships with their partners and have difficulty accepting any criticism and/or rejection.
When a child grows up with avoidant attachments with their caregivers, they usually become dismissive in their relationships in adulthood as a result of lacking empathy and seeing value in intimacy and vulnerability within their relationships. An avoidant child typically will become an overly independent who seeks to meet their own needs and will have difficulty trusting others in their relationships.
When a child grows up with fearful-avoidant attachments with their caregivers, they usually become explosive in their relationships in adulthood as result of feeling anger and aggression. They might become frustrated as a result of not being able to experience the closeness that they desire due to the feelings of anger and aggression, however the feelings of anger and aggression have served to protect this individual from harm for a majority of their life.
Relationships in Adulthood
Primary attachment figures to children are responsible for teaching their children emotion regulation. Children learn about expressing emotions from their primary caregivers, will learn how to soothe themselves from their primary caregivers and will mirror the emotions of their primary caregivers. For example, if we are a primary caregiver and have difficulty regulating our emotions ourselves (maybe we have difficulty with experiencing anxiety, panic, catastrophizing or minimizing things) than we are at risk of passing on those traits to our children if we are not working on ourselves and practicing self awareness.
Attachment is something that is fluid and continuously throughout our lifetimes. That means that simply because we built a secure attachment with our child during infancy does not mean that it will stay secure throughout their childhood. Attachment needs to be continuously worked on and strived for. As caregivers, we can feel confident in knowing that we are maintaining a strong, secure attachment with our children by consistently meeting their physical and emotional needs and by modeling healthy behaviors in our own relationships for them.
The most important take away from this topic is that people can change at any time of their lives. Our brains are wired for connection, we seek to be close and to feel connected with other humans. Regardless of how we were raised or what relationships might have influenced our attachment styles, we can change them at any time to be able to engage in healthy relationships.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm a licensed anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals,
adolescents and couples in the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are struggling with relationships and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!