Caregiver Attachment and Adult Relationships

Father and son have a strong attachment
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What is Attachment?

Our caregiver attachment affects our adult relationships, which is why it is important to understand attachment.

The first part of attachment is how the relationship between an infant/child and caregiver forms and develops.

The second part of attachment is how that caregiver attachment affects our adult relationships.

Together, the caregiver attachment serves as a model for how children lean to anticipate being treated, and how they expect the world to work.

Our caregiver attachment forms the basis for our intimate relationship stability as adults.

In addition, attachment affects our ability to emotionally regulate, the ability to enjoy being alone and to find satisfaction in being with others. Attachment also affects our emotional intelligence, self-esteem, empathy, social skills, intellectual capabilities, and confidence.

What is Attachment Bonding?

Attachment bonding is formed in two ways.

The first part is the caregiver’s quality of care or love. But this is not all of how attachment bonds are formed.

Also important to attachment bonding is the nonverbal emotional communication a caregiver develops with the child in their care.

If a caregiver does not meet their child’s physical, emotional, mental, and cognitive needs, their child may develop attachment wounds.

These attachment wounds can lead to an insecure attachment.

Children who have an attachment wound and consequently develop an insecure attachment with their caregivers are more likely to re-experience insecurity in their adult relationships.

What are Attachment Wounds?

Attachment wounds can include but are not limited to a death in the family, divorce, moving away from friends/family, natural disasters, chronic illness, addiction in the family, or birth of a sibling. Abuse, neglect, or trauma in the home can also cause attachment wounds.

There are four core attachment styles. The attachment style we have as adults will reflect the quality of the attachment and any wounds with our caregiver. Three of the four types styles of attachment are insecure, and stem from attachment wounds.

  1. Secure
  2. Anxious-preoccupied
  3. Dismissive-avoidant
  4. Disorganized/fearful-avoidant

What are the Four Core Attachment Styles?

1. Secure attachment.

Someone who has secure attachment is comfortable in a warm and loving relationship, allows for interdependence, and is trusting and empathic.

They are also able to communicate their emotions honestly and openly, have insight about themselves and past relationship issues, and are attuned to the needs of others.

2. Anxious-preoccupied attachment.

Someone who has anxious-preoccupied attachment craves closeness and intimacy, is very insecure about their relationships, and needs lots of reassurance.

They are likely constantly worried about rejection or abandonment, and ruminate about unresolved past issues. This can lead them to be overly sensitive to their partner’s moods and behaviors, take their partner’s behaviors too personally, and they may come off as needy/clingy. 

3. Dismissive-avoidant attachment.

Someone who has dismissive-avoidant attachment equates intimacy with loss of independence, avoids opportunities for closeness, and avoids conflict.

Their communication is intellectual, which can make it difficult for them to talk about emotions. Their cool, controlled, and stoic presentation to the world may come off as cold and emotionally distant. 

4. Disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment.

Someone who has disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment vacillates from avoidant to anxious. They often have unresolved emotions from losses/trauma from the past have not been processed.

This leads them to be unable to tolerate emotional closeness in relationships, which appears as antisocial and argumentative behavior, a tendency to lash out, and an inability to regulate their emotions. Combined, this can make them come off as aggressive and unpredictable. 

What is Attachment Therapy?

The goal of attachment therapy is to identify the negative attachment patterns/cycles in your relationships in order to alter them.

By learning how your childhood attachments with your caregivers inform your attachment style, you will be able to help improve your relationships.

You can explore your attachment yourself by reflecting on the following questions.

  1. What do I wish my parents had done more of/less of/differently?
  2. What type of child did my parents need me to be? 

Keep in mind that addressing attachment in therapy looks like strengthening and repairing the attachment style of your current relationships. Developing secure attachment is not necessarily the goal.

That said, attachment therapy can be a profound way to explore yourself and your relationships.

By understanding how you make sense of your past through the narrative you are telling yourself about your life, you can change the course of your relationships and the attachment patterns you pass on.

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