Guide to Attachment Styles in Adults

The modern theory of adult attachment has its roots in the attachment theory formulated by John Bowlby. Bowlby is regarded as the father of the Attachment Theory, and many other scientist and psychologists have built upon and expanded on it.

Bowlby based his original attachment theory from the grand theory of Sigmund Freud that states, “an infant’s tie to his mother is the cornerstone of adult personality.”

Bowlby expanded on Freud’s premise and developed the theory of infants and caregiver response, believing that these systems of behavior were necessary for survival and procreation.

He came up with two basic tenets: “the first was that a strong attachment between infant and care giver is necessary. Secondly, that infants naturally explore their world but when danger is present or they become frightened, the care giver is their secure protection base.” Mary Ainsworth was instrumental in augmenting Bowlby’s work.

Care giver/child relationship characteristics:

Secure child receives consistent care; mother is loving and affectionate.
Avoidant child tends to pull away from mother; mother is rejecting.
Resistant infant tends to stay close; mother provides inconsistent care.

Later, Fraly and Shaver came along and posed the argument that adult romantic relationships are “attachments” of a similar nature to the kind we form in the parent/caregiver child relationship. They believe it is the “behavioral system” that is the motivation for care giving and sexuality.

Using John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s model, they came up with the following shared behavior for caregiver/child and romantic attachments.

– both feel safe when the other is nearby
– both engage in close intimate bodily contact
– both feel insecure when the other is inaccessible
– both share discoveries
– both play with one another’s facial features, exhibit mutual satisfaction and preoccupation with each other

If the theory is true, then it follows that adult relationships should follow the same patterns as those we see in the caregiver child relationship.

Romantic attachment behavioral characteristics according to Hazan and Shaver:

Secure: Trusting, without concerns for abandonment, and feeling self-worth.
Insecure: Resistant, angry when needs are not met.
Avoidant: No desire for dependence from others; no desire for others to depend on him.

Studies found that people who were secure had better relationships and often recalled their childhood as being supportive and loving. However, marriage relationships were only moderately related to the model and did not provide a close correlation to the theories.

What happens to adults with Attachment Disorders when they become adults? These studies are more conclusive.

Adults, who suffered from Attachment Disorders as children, often bring these qualities with them into adulthood. These attributes, by their very nature have an enormous impact on romantic attachment and marriage.

-Have intense control issues, bossy, argumentative and defiant.
-Resists affection on parental terms
-Manipulative, superficially charming and engaging
-Poor peer relationships
-Destructive of property and self
-Inappropriately demanding or clingy
-Lack of impulse control
-Hypervigilant or hyperactive
-Lie and steal

What does it all mean? Maybe it means that more studies need to be conducted, or a larger sample group is needed for more conclusive results. Maybe it means that we don’t know all the answers yet. However, care giver/child relationships, give us more insight into the development of human beings and helps us understand our behavioral world on a deeper level.