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  • Fiona Owen

Your Attachment Style Affects All of Your Relationships

Your attachment style could be influencing your life and relationships in dissatisfactory ways without you even realising...


Attachment is one part of the relationship between a child and their caregiver that is involved with making the child safe, secure and protected. Attachment is where the child uses the primary caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a place of safety and a source of comfort. The purpose of attachment is not to play with or entertain the child, feed the child, set limits for the child or teach the child new skills. All of these are also very important for a healthy developing child on top of a healthy attachment.

The quality of the infant-parent attachment is a powerful predictor of an individual’s later social and emotional outcome.


By definition, a normally developing child will develop an attachment relationship with any caregiver who provides regular physical and/or emotional care, regardless of the quality of that care. In fact, children develop attachment relationships even with the most neglectful and abusive caregiver. Therefore, the question is never, ‘is there an attachment between this parent and this child?’ Instead, the question is, ‘what is the quality of the attachment between this parent and this child?’


The birth of a child initiates a life-long process of mutual adaptation between the child and his or her caregivers and the broader social environment. Relationships and patterns of interactions formed during the early stages of life serve as a prototype for many interactions later in life and might have life-long effects. Young children do not have the language ability to express to their caregivers what they need, so children often communicate through their behaviour. Parents are often unaware of their child's feelings or the mental representations of their emotions. Thus, attention to all aspects of a child is a very demanding task. Most parents want their infants to grow up healthy and to develop behaviours that allow them to take charge of their own lives. Parents want to know how to provide the best parenting possible, especially when they do not want a mere repetition of their own individual family histories.


According to John Bowlby's theory of attachment development, a child is "attached" to someone when he or she is "strongly disposed to seek proximity to and contact with a specific figure and to do so in certain situations, notably when he is frightened, tired or ill." He noted the close attachment relationship between responsive caregivers (typically the mother, but not always) and infants from about 6 months to 2 years of age.


The emotionally charged connection between caregiver and child ensures that the two will remain in physical proximity, especially when the child is between 8 and 18 months of age. When the infant becomes more mobile, he will rely on the caregiver less often for proximity maintenance, although he does not abandon it altogether. Once the child experiences the security of this physical closeness, he will develop the courage to explore away from the caregiver. This fascinating paradox, the conversion from pursuing closeness to moving away from dependence, is the core of attachment theory. In other words, when a child is securely attached to his mother and the feeling of closeness is restored, the seeking of proximity and closeness recedes and the child turns to other interests, comfortably using the caregiver as a base of operations from which to explore.



Parents are children's first and foremost nurturers, teachers, guides, counsellors, and protectors. Hopefully, parents will wonder what their children will be like when they grow up and want them to become the most capable adults they can be. However, parents differ on how they raise and interact with their children. Growing up with great parents is a gift in life, and the way a child is raised influences the kind of person he or she will become. As attachment styles seem to transfer over generations, so do parenting styles. From this context, it is a real success in life and realization of human potential if an individual who grew up in a disadvantaged or ill-treated family breaks the vicious cycle and practices positive parenting.


Children who misbehave often do so not out of malice, but out of ignorance, boredom, or frustration, and simply need to be taught, listened to, or redirected. A child who is ignored by his parents often misbehaves as a way to seek attention. When parents respond immediately to attention-seeking misbehaviours, such as temper tantrums or screaming, it inadvertently reinforces that behaviour. Instead, rewarding the child's appropriate behaviours with praise and hugs can be more effective. It is important to catch them being good and to avoid expressing negative judgments or using incorrect labels that demean the child. What we believe about others or ourselves can become true due to a self-fulfilling prophecy because we tend to act in accordance with what we believe. Children develop their opinions about themselves by observing the way significant others respond to and communicate with them. A parent's feedback or opinions about them are social mirrors and are used to form self-images and self-judgments.


The types of parenting styles are;


authoritative (demanding and responsive to child with respectful attitude),

authoritarian (demanding but not responsive, "do-as-I-say" style),

permissive or indulgent (more responsive than demanding),

indifferent or neglecting (neither demanding nor responsive).



Authoritative parenting is, by far, the most effective parenting styles because it promotes a child's ability to withstand potentially negative influences, including life stress and exposure to antisocial peers. Authoritarian parents are likely to produce anxious youth with low self-esteem, lack of spontaneity, and lack of intellectual curiosity.


Parenting is a reciprocal process in which the parent influences the child's development, and in return, the child influences the parent. The influence of temperament and other attributes of children may be mitigated or negligible as long as caregivers modify their behaviour to fit the needs of the children. However, when a mother's capacity to do so is limited by her own personality or stressful conditions, then infants with a difficult temperament or problem behaviours are at risk for developing attachment insecurity. Studies have shown that most securely attached infants develop distinctly different attachment bonds with each parent and their various caregiver. This suggests that parents can modulate their child's temperament by influencing their children's environment. Behaviours that lead to a child being classified as "easy" or "difficult" can vary depending on parental and cultural values, attitudes, and practices. Any temperament trait may not be inherently problematic; rather, it is the interaction that determines the "acceptability" of that trait.


Caregivers in a high-stress environment, or who are deprived of employment security, would be more likely to have securely attached infants if they respond to the children's motivations rather than their actions.


Sensitive and responsive care from parents is vital for the optimal growth and development of each child. Children who are rarely spoken to, who are left to cry themselves out, who have little opportunity to explore their environment, or who experience frequent anger or boredom cannot fully develop their potential and stable personalities, despite their normal genetic endowment.


An insecure attachment style developed in childhood carries on into adulthood unless the individual develops insights into this. With a developed awareness of their original insecure attachment style, an individual can begin the process of repairing the injury created by the faulty attachment. This will lead to a richer and fuller life. Psychotherapy provides an opportunity for clients to explore faulty schemas that have developed due to insecure attachment and then realise more choice over how to respond and support themselves in any given situation.

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