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How Early Attachment Affects Adulthood

attachment Jul 25, 2023
mothers holding their babies


Three Different Types of Attachments


Years ago our counselor shared an illustration to help us understand our attachment patterns. Attachment is the way we relate to other people. There are three main categories:

  • Secure Attachment - when you're in a secure state, you feel that others are available and responsive to you
  • Anxious Attachment - when you're in a state of attachment anxiety, you feel that others may not be as attentive to or invested in you as you would like
  • Avoidant Attachment - when you're in a state of avoidance, you may feel uncomfortable opening up to and depending on others

Our counselor describes the illustration with a mother and her baby in a room playing together. When the mother leaves the room the baby initially cries but if securely attached the baby will start to entertain itself. If an anxious baby is left in the room alone they will cry until the mother comes back. An avoidant baby will cry like an anxious baby but will eventually stop crying when not attended to.

Unfortunately, Avoidance is my basic attachment. It shows up in how dismissive I am with my feelings even down to how avoidant I am with eating meals. Now you've seen me and I don't look like a skeleton because I make up for it by eating unhealthy snacks. ;)  The interesting part of working on the Avoidant Attachment is you have to move through the Anxious Attachment before you become Securely Attached. Understanding your attachment style will help you in your marriage and even how you parent your children.

PsychAlive states, "During the first two years, how the parents or caregivers respond to their infants, particularly during times of distress, establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form.  These patterns will go on to guide the child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as an adult in future relationships."

It took years in counseling for me to understand the impact of spending my first two years with my grandmother instead of my mom. I believe I was well taken care of by both my grandmother but the transition between leaving a 'mother' figure in Holland and switching to my mom, who moved us to St. Maarten, must have been confusing for a 2-year-old.

I also know my mom parented in a way that you were fed, changed, and put down to sleep. If you cried you cried yourself to sleep. It was a different way to parent and I want to emphasize she thought she was doing it the right way. Nurturing is not something I can recall growing up, which is why interestingly enough physical touch is one of my love languages as an adult.

PsychAlive states, "Avoidant Attachment: There are adults who are emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. They have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed. These parents discourage crying and encourage independence. Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves. These children pull away from needing anything from anyone else and are self-contained. They have formed an avoidant attachment with a misattuned parent."

This describes me perfectly and helps Russ understand why I don't necessarily lean on him or anyone else for that matter. Do you know anyone in your world that this describes?

Or perhaps you experience more of this kind of attachment to others? Read below. 

PsychAlive states: "Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment: Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent but at the same time, they act clingy and desperate. These children have an ambivalent/anxious attachment to their unpredictable parents.

Because of Russ' father's unstable presence in their family, Russ developed an Anxious Attachment style. This anxiety shows up more so when Russ is around his kids because of his desire to give them more stability than he grew up with.

There is good news's never too late to develop a secure attachment.

PsychAlive states: "Developing an Earned Secure Attachment" - Although your patterns of attachment were formed in infancy and can follow you throughout your life, it is possible to develop an “Earned Secure Attachment” at any age.

One essential way to do this is by making sense of your story. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, attachment research demonstrates that “the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.” The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. When you create a coherent narrative, you actually rewire your brain to cultivate more security within yourself and your relationships.

Because our attachment ability is broken in a relationship, it is often best to be fixed in a relationship. According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, “One of the proven ways to change our attachment style is by forming an attachment with someone who had a more secure attachment style than what we’ve experienced. We can also talk to a therapist, as the therapeutic relationship can help create a more secure attachment. We can continue to get to know ourselves through understanding our past experiences, allowing ourselves to make sense and feel the full pain of our stories, then moving forward as separate, differentiated adults. In doing this, we move through the world with an internal sense of security that helps us better withstand the natural hurts that life can bring.”



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