The attachment styles we adopt greatly determine how our personal and emotional life will be.
Attachment is a type of emotional bond that occurs between two human beings and is associated with intimate relationships, such as those between mothers and children. People show different types of attachment that develop during early childhood and tend to remain stable during adolescence and adult life.
In a very high proportion of cases, babies form secure attachments, but others fail to do so, but show insecure attachment; this in turn can be divided into ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In this article we will describe the main characteristics of avoidant attachment in children and adults.
A psychological aspect that affects us throughout life
John Bowlby, a psychologist and psychiatrist influenced by psychoanalysis but also by ethology and evolutionism, developed the attachment theory, according to which humans are phylogenetically predisposed to form emotional bonds with those who care for us and provide us with security. Addiction has been studied mostly in babies, but also in adults.
Different authors have made classifications of attachment patterns based on their observations and research. In the 1960s and 1970s Mary Dinsmore Ainsworth carried out pioneering studies in the field of attachment using the experimental paradigm of the “strange situation”, with which she evaluated the behavior of children when they were separated from their mother.
Thanks to his famous research, Ainsworth identified three attachment patterns: the secure, the avoidant or rejecting and the ambivalent or resistant. These last two can in turn be categorized as “insecure attachment”. While 65% of babies showed a secure attachment pattern, 20% of babies were classified as avoidant and 12% as ambivalent.
Research has shown that the type of attachment remains stable throughout life in most people, although it can sometimes change, for example due to the educational style adopted by the parents or significant life events, such as death of an attachment figure.
In 1987 Cindy Hazan and Phillip R. Shaver studied attachment in adults through multiple response questionnaires and found that the proportion in which they presented secure, avoidant and ambivalent attachment patterns was very similar to that found by Ainsworth in babies .
Avoidant attachment in children
In Ainsworth’s Strange Situation experiment, avoidant attachment children became easily angry, did not seek out their mothers when needed, appeared indifferent to their absence, and ignored or ambivalently behaved when they returned. However, they were sometimes very sociable with strangers.
In contrast, infants with a secure attachment pattern were confident in exploring the environment and returned to their mother from time to time, seeking safety. If the mother left the room the little ones would cry and complain, and when she came back they were happy. They also had a lesser tendency to anger.
Ainsworth hypothesized that the attitude of these children concealed states of emotional distress; Later studies showed that her heart rate was elevated, which supported the hypothesis. According to Ainsworth, babies with avoidant attachment had learned that communicating their emotional needs to the mother did not work and therefore did not.
This was because they had had experiences of rejection of their approaching and attachment-building behaviors by the main attachment figure. She also stated that her needs had often not been met by her parents.
The behavior of babies with this type of attachment is paradoxical in the sense that it allows them to maintain a certain closeness with those close to them that gives the baby a feeling of security while preventing them from responding with rejection to the approach, according to Ainsworth.
Various investigations have studied the characteristics of attachment in adults using self-report questionnaires. Avoidant attachment is divided into two different patterns during adulthood: the avoidant-contemptuous and the avoidant-fearful. The presence of one or the other pattern is probably due to specific life experiences.
The avoidant-contemptuous style manifests itself in an exaggerated need for independence and self-sufficiency, as well as to avoid other people depending on one. Many people with this attachment pattern think that interpersonal relationships are not relevant and deny that they need intimacy with others, so they try not to develop it excessively.
People with this type of attachment tend to hide and suppress their feelings, they distance themselves from others when they feel rejected by them and they behave in a way that prevents such rejection. Different authors consider that the avoidance-contemptuous pattern has an emotional protection function.
Similarly, those classified in the avoidant-fearful attachment category state that they want to have intimate interpersonal relationships but have difficulty trusting and depending on others for fear of being emotionally hurt. Consequently they feel uncomfortable in intimate situations.
This pattern has been identified more frequently in people who have been through significant grief or who have suffered trauma during childhood and adolescence. In many cases they feel dissatisfied with themselves and with the people with whom they have developed attachments.
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