Self-Parenting Strategies: Know Your Attachment Style
Episode #5 of the course Reparenting yourself by Sonia Chauhan
Without a doubt, the single most important factor that determines the quality of your life and relationships is your attachment style.
What Is Attachment Style?
The Attachment Style Theory was first coined by British psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, and his student, psychologist Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby, after his unique interaction with two orphans—an affectionless teenager, and an anxious, clinging boy—went on the path of dedicated research of children. He crystallized the Attachment Theory in 1970, with Ainsworth’s contribution.
Basically, it states that the way we form our present relationships with other people is based on our attachment style, i.e. the way we attach to our parents as infants. Various studies have found that this particularly holds true for romantic and intimate relationships.
Types of Attachment Style
A child’s attachment style is naturally determined by the kind of parenting they receive, i.e. the kind of behavior their parents take with them. This was observed during Ainsworth’s famous experiment: the Strange Situation. Toddlers were placed in odd situations and their reactions were observed by psychologists.
The experiment goes like this:
At first, the child plays with their mother in an unfamiliar setting.
Once the child is settled, a stranger appears in the room and sits down.
Soon, the stranger tries to interact with the child.
Upon this, the mother leaves the room, leaving the child alone with the stranger.
The stranger tries to comfort / interact with the child.
First reunion: The mother returns to the room and meets the child.
Now, the stranger leaves the room and the child is alone with the mother.
Soon after, the mother leaves the room again, and the child is now left completely alone.
Then, the stranger returns to the room and tries to meet/console the child.
Second reunion: Finally, the mother returns and stays with the child. The observation comes to an end.
Based on the reactions of the children in the Strange Situation, psychologists developed definitive categories of attachment styles in children.
#1: Secure Attachment
These children showed distress at the mother leaving and refused to be consoled by the stranger. However, with the mother, they showed some interest in the stranger. When the mother returned, the child immediately went to her and easily became stable with her. Secure parents are more attuned to the needs of children and offer consistent support.
Secure Style Adults are comfortable with intimacy and are warm in relationships. They usually find themselves relating to the statement, “It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.” Studies have found that people with secure style attachment are successful at work and happier in relationships.
#2: Anxious-Avoidant Attachment
Children were not distressed at their mother’s departure. They played normally with the stranger and showed no emotion at the mother’s return. This happens when the parents take care of the child’s basic needs but cannot fulfill emotional needs.
Anxious-Avoidant Adults need a higher level of independence. They’re scared of intimacy and cannot express their emotions. They relate to statements like “I am uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me.” These adults cannot deal with rejection and use emotional distance as a defense strategy.
#3: Anxious-Resistant (Preoccupied) Attachment
Children suffered intense anxiety when the mother left. They were afraid of the stranger. Upon their mother’s return, the children were inconsolable and pushed them away, as if “punishing” her. This happens with moody parents, who might reward sometimes but are shut down on other occasions.
Anxious-Resistant Adults struggle with self-worth issues and place others’ needs above their own. They are people-pleasing and overly dependent on those close to them. They usually relate to statements like, “I want to be extremely emotionally close (merge) with others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love me and will abandon me.”
#4: Disorganized Style
This category was added later. Children were disoriented like confused expressions, contradictory involvement with mother and stranger, wandering, etc. This happens with children whose parents scare them with unpredictable and explosive behavior.
Disorganized Adults both crave intimacy and are afraid of being hurt by others. They find it hard to trust others and are unsure about their own personalities. So, they tend to behave unpredictably in emotional situations. They relate to statements like, “I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to completely trust others, or to depend on them.”
Inner Child Work Exercise
Find out your Attachment Style.
Perhaps the best Attachment Style Quiz is made by the Attachment Program, headed by Harvard psychologist, Dr. Daniel P Brown.
Here’s a simpler variant, if you like.
Benefits of Knowing Your Attachment Style
Knowing your attachment style is the first step of taking accountability for your emotional make-up. You can then generate:
• Awareness of your own tendencies.
• Own your emotional baggage.
• Understanding and empathy in relationships.
• More aware parenting.
In the next lesson, I will detail the next self-parenting strategy: creating an Ideal Inner Parent.
The Attachment Theory Workbook: Powerful Tools to Promote Understanding, Increase Stability, and Build Lasting Relationships by Annie Chen
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