We are born with a need to form strong emotional connections with a caregiver (Beckes & Simpson, 2017). As a pre-schooler, you may have noticed that some children are more likely to yearn for their parents after being dropped off in school, while some remain ambivalent about the same situation. This is a manifestation of the different attachment styles that children possess. Such attachment styles can influence our attachment as adults (Robinson, 2021).
Before we attribute the attachment in our current relationships to our attachment styles as kids, it is important to know that our attachment styles as adults may be different from the one in our childhood. Afterall, a long time has passed between our infancy and the adulthood. Many experiences in our lives may have affected our adult attachment styles (Cherry, 2020). For instance, those with a secure attachment in childhood may have an insecure attachment as an adult (Cherry, 2020).
In this blog post, we will explore the different types of attachment styles that we may have as children. Importantly, we will also learn that these attachment styles we have had as children may not be the same as our those displayed in our adult romantic attachments.
Types of attachment styles
Children with secure attachments styles depends on their caregivers and show signs of distress when they are separated from their parents but are assured that their caregivers will return. They also show joy when they are reunified with their parents (Cherry, 2019).
These children become very distressed when separated from their parents, but they do not appear to be comforted by their return. They tend to be highly suspicious of strangers (Cherry, 2019).
Children with anxious-insecure attachments have a tendency to avoid their caregivers and displays no preference for their parents or strangers. This form of attachment style may be caused by neglect or abuse from their caregivers (Cherry, 2020).
They do not have clear attachment behaviours and their actions towards caregivers are usually a mix of behaviours, including avoidance and resistance. They may appear to be dazed or confused in the presence of a caregiver (Cherry, 2020).
How attachment styles impact adult relationships
For some the attachment styles are still prevalent in their adult lives. You may resonate with one of these attachment styles as adults.
People with secure attachment styles tend to feel more in control, safe and fulfilled in their close relationships (Robinson et al., 2021). They are likely to be empathetic and capable of setting suitable boundaries and usually thrive in close relationships.
Those with ambivalent-insecure attachment styles may appear to be “overly needy”. People with such attachment styles are frequently anxious, hesitant and may lack in self-confidence (Robinson et al., 2021). They desire for close emotional connection but are fearful that others would like not to be with them.
Adults with such attachment styles are cautious of connections with others that they try to avoid emotional connections with others (Robinson et al., 2021). People with avoidant-insecure attachment style value independence and freedom, so much so they can feel uncomfortable with closeness in relationships (Robinson et al., 2021).
Those with disorganized-insecure attachment styles tend to feel that they are undeserving of love and connection with others (Robinson et al., 2021). They are likely to not have the chance to learn self-soothing of emotions and thus perceive the world around them as unsafe and scary. Such attachment style may have stemmed from intense fear as a result of trauma, abuse and neglect in childhood (Robinson et al., 2021). Some may replicate the same abusive behaviours as an adult (Robinson et al., 2021).
You may find that some of these descriptions are what you experience in your own relationships with your partner or friends. Identifying these patterns can help you to clarify your needs in a relationship and the most effective way to overcome issues.
Factors that affect changes in attachment styles
Your susceptibility to change
While some may retain the same attachment styles from their childhood, attachment styles can change over time as they can be influenced by life experiences. A study found that the probability that your attachment style will change is dependent on your susceptibility to change (Brogaard, 2015). This depends on how you perceive relationships, as being stable or weak (Brogaard, 2015).
For instance, if you repeatedly learn that your loved one will eventually abandon or be unavailable in your life, your insecure attachment style is less likely to change, compared to if you have experience your loved one being very emotionally available (Brogaard, 2015). Therefore, the more unclear your attachment-related beliefs, the more likely that you will experience a change in attachment styles.
Major life-altering events
Major life-changing events in life, such as losing a significant other or loved one, breakups, difficult transitioning events as you progress to the next stage of life can also change the way we perceive relationships. Such changes can be so impactful that it alters our attachment styles. One may feel that relationships are not longer a safety net but one that causes painful emotions (Brogaard, 2015).
In a study, those who had a change from secure to insecure attachment style were more likely to have experienced breakups than those who became secure (Cozzarelli et al., 2003). Those who have changed to insecure attachment styles are marginally more likelihood to be victims of rape or assault, compared to those who are stable in their attachment style (Cozzarelli et al., 2003). This suggests that emotionally powerful events can be related to changes in attachment styles (Cozzarelli et al., 2003).
Having an understanding of our attachment styles and how it may have changed over the years can help us to understand our own behaviours better. Importantly, while the attachment styles we formed in our childhood can impact how we perceive and behave in our relationships as adults, our experiences can still change our adult attachment styles.
Camellia Wong, M.A., Tan Khai Teng
Cozzarelli, C., Karafa, J. A., Collins, N. L., & Tagler, M. J. (2003). Stability and change in adult attachment styles: Associations with personal vulnerabilities, life events, and global construals of self and others. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 22(3), 315–346. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.22.3.315.22888
Brogaard B. (2015, February 12). Attachment Styles Can’t Change, Can They? Psychology Today.https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/the-mysteries-love/201502/attachment-styles-cant-change-can-they
Beckes, L. and Simpson, . Jeffry A. (2017, April 12). Attachment theory. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/attachment-theory
Cherry, K. (2019, July 17). What is Attachment Theory? Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-attachment-theory-2795337
Cherry, K. (2020, June 4). The Different Types of Attachment Styles. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/attachment-styles-2795344
Robinson L., Segal J. and Jaffe J. (2021, February). How Attachment Styles Affect Adult Relationships. Help Guide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/attachment-and-adult-relationships.htm