These ways of emotionally bonding with others define part of our personality.
Affection, friendship, love … are concepts linked to the fact of manifesting an emotional bond with another person, which is relevant to us and to which we feel united.
It is a type of affective relationship of great importance for us and that arises from childhood with our parents, relatives or main caregivers (later this will mark our way of relating not only with them but also with other people).
But not all of us have the same ways of relating or bonding with others, depending on our experiences and perceptions regarding what the type of relationship we maintain implies (predictability, security, physical expression of affection …) or on factors such as temperament. That is why we can actually speak of various types of attachment. In this article we will see what they are.
What is attachment?
It is understood as attachment to the type of emotional and affective bond that arises between two individuals and that generates the will to remain close or in contact with the other, with a preference generally for physical closeness. This concept is fundamental in close relationships and the ability to feel it is present throughout life.
It is possible to feel attachment to all kinds of people and beings, including pets, or even inanimate objects. It is not something specifically human, and manifestations of attachment can be observed in a large number of animals.
This phenomenon has been studied by a large number of researchers. Among them is the figure of John Bowlby, creator of attachment theory. This author analyzed the attachment in babies to maternal figures, exploring how caregivers transform themselves into elements that convey security, well-being and affection for children.
His theory initially saw attachment as a relationship whose goal was the search for these elements by the baby, being a mechanism of evolutionary origin and marked in our genes (it is not something conscious) that allows us to protect the child and make it survive.
Another great figure in the study of attachment was Mary Ainsworth, who researched and conducted various experiments that actually led to the generation of a classification between different types of attachment in childhood.
To do this, he carried out the well-known experiment of the strange situation, in which the behavior of children is analyzed in the presence and in the absence of the mother figure in a series of situations that include leaving him alone, in the presence of a stranger and various combinations in which behavior is analyzed with respect to the environment and the search for security in the mother when she is present.
The great types of attachment in childhood
Four major types of attachment have been observed in infancy, drawn from observing the behavior of infants in experiments such as Ainsworth’s.
These types of attachment are divided mainly into a single type of secure attachment (this being the majority attachment type) and three forms of insecure attachment.
1. Secure attachment
The so-called secure attachment, which has been revealed as the most common type of attachment in childhood, refers to the existence of a type of bond in which the presence of the relevant figure allows a relatively calm exploration of the environment, using it as a mechanism or secure base to which to return in moments of discomfort or fear. Said search will become active as necessary.
The absence or departure of the attachment figure generates discomfort and anguish, decreasing its activity and expressing concern, and its return is always or almost always well received. This search stems from the knowledge that the attachment figure will respond to one’s own needs in case of need.
2. Ambivalent attachment
A different type of attachment from the previous one, which would fall within the insecure types of attachment, is ambivalent or resistant. This type of attachment starts from the existence of doubts as to whether the attachment figure will truly respond to their needs, not being sure of being able to count on their presence.
This may be due to an inconsistent contact in which the child’s needs are sometimes attended to correctly and at other times they are not attended to or are not well understood, the little one not knowing what to expect.
Children with this type of attachment tend to stay close to the mother or attachment figure at all times, in part due to insecurity, and their walking generates extreme suffering. Despite this, the return of this does not imply a quick and happy approach but a certain rejection and resentment in the face of what could be considered an abandonment, although they tend to approach and seek contact.
3. Avoidant attachment
In this type of attachment, also insecure, we can observe how the subject tends not to seek security and protection in the attachment figure. When she leaves they do not usually show great levels of suffering or fear and her return is not particularly celebrated, with a certain level of indifference or avoidance of contact with her.
The reason for this may be that the attachment figure may have been considered slow or not very sensitive to the child’s needs, especially with regard to affection and protection. They may feel unsupported or that their needs are being rejected, which can lead to avoidance as a way to defend against the discomfort associated with the feeling of abandonment.
4. Disorganized attachment
A type of attachment much less prevalent than any of the above, disorganized attachment would correspond to a mixture of the previous two types of insecure attachment. It is generally observed in settings where attachment figures are both positive and negative, a source of both satisfaction and harm. It is more common in situations of abuse and domestic violence.
The behaviors shown are inconsistent: on the one hand, the absence of the attachment figure is unsettling, but in turn it can relax due to it. Likewise, their return can be received with fear or with joy but without seeking closeness. They may seek active avoidance of contact, or manifest strange or changing patterns depending on the situation.
Attachment styles in adulthood
The previous types of attachment are mainly centered on those that arise throughout early childhood, in interaction with the mother. But these types of attachment do not stay the same, but as the child grows older and becomes an adult, the type of attachment generates a more or less habitual style of thought and interpersonal relationship.
In this sense, we can find up to three major types of attachment in adults, according to the research carried out by Hazan and Shaver in which they made adults define the type of feelings they had in their personal relationships.
1. Secure adult attachment
About half of the population has this type of attachment, in which there is usually no frequent concern about leaving the environment or excessive commitment.
In the interaction with others, comfort, tranquility and trust prevail, being able to have equivalent interactions with their peers and with other attachment figures. They are considered deserving of affection and tend towards warmth and stability. Self-esteem is good, they have independence, and they seek positive relationships.
2. Adult avoidant attachment
A person with avoidant attachment will tend as an adult to have difficulties trusting others and to feel uncomfortable in intimate relationships. Generally, the contacts tend to be more superficial, and there may be discomfort and difficulties when expressing profound aspects to others. They tend to be less sociable, although this does not mean that they cannot enjoy relationships. They can be self-repressive, elusive, and appear cold.
3. Ambivalent adult attachment
Ambivalent attachment is shown in adulthood as a way of relating in which it may be thought that one is less valued than deserved. Their own identity and self-concept may be damaged, with insecurity regarding wanting / not wanting or being / not being loved. A deep and intimate relationship is desired, but this can in turn generate a certain reluctance and fear. It is not uncommon for this attachment to generate situations of dependency or codependency, as well as fear of abandonment.
Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 130 (3): 201-210.
Bowlby, J. (1998). Attachment and loss 1: Attachment. Barcelona: Paidós.
Shaffer, D. (2000). Developmental psychology. Childhood and adolescence. Thomson Publishing: Madrid.