Attachment theory posits that people’s earliest bonding or relationship with their parents can significantly impact how they view their adolescent and adult relationships in the context of love and romance. Still, as time went on, it also became a way for researchers to understand many people’s psychological processes. These processes include but are not limited to emotional regulation, interpersonal functioning, coping mechanisms, and mental health.
Some research also finds that attachment styles can also impact people receiving treatment for addiction. These people find in their early relationships with their parents that they used substances as a way to cope with their fear of intimacy or inability to maintain healthy relationships.
Attachment theory is a viable way of understanding people’s psychological processes. Here are the four attachment styles and how they affect people’s mental health.
What Is Attachment?
In psychology, attachment is when an individual’s ability to create emotional links or bonds with others. It’s a phenomenon that starts at birth (some research even believes it can happen during the prenatal period) and proceeds into early and later life. It is simply the way one relates to another person, and psychologists believe the type of attachment we build with our parents or primary caregivers can significantly affect the kind of attachment we will have later in life.
The anxious attachment style develops when a person’s primary caregiver is inconsistent, unavailable, and unresponsive, which can then cause a child never to know what to expect from their parent or main guardian.
Consequently, kids who have inconsistent parents grow up to be incredibly needy and clingy, with the tendency to have trust issues and difficulty believing that people in their lives will stay. They are always on the edge of their seats, always expecting that people will leave them.
On the other hand, avoidant attachment is usually developed when a kid’s primary caregiver is neglectful. They might be physically present, but they are absent in mind and spirit. They may be able to provide for a child’s needs, but they are often not willing to do so.
What happens to kids with neglectful or emotionally absent parents is that they tend to grow up thinking that no one will ever be there to meet their needs and that there is no one in the world they can depend on. They then become extremely independent, never knowing when they need help and how to ask for it.
A disorganized attachment style happens when a child experiences various kinds of trauma, abuse, and chaos in their formative years. This is when a person grows up thinking that they have no firm foundation or secure base for their lives, resulting in them indulging in toxicity in their own relationships. They might become controlling and selfish, much like their primary caregivers, and may exhibit a propensity for abusing drugs or alcohol.
And last but not least, secure attachment is the one we need to aspire for—it develops when a child grows up with loving and caring parents or primary caregivers. This doesn’t mean parents have to be perfect, but it does mean that parents can make their kids feel secure, calm, and understood as they grow into their development. The formative years are crucial for this because it’s when the foundation for the child’s entire life is built. It creates a sense of safety that lets children feel secure enough to learn, grow a kind of self-awareness and confidence that will help them in their future relationships, and have trust and empathy in their lives.
The Bottom Line
If parents want their kids to grow up as healthy adults with a secure attachment style, they must do the following:
- Hold their infants and do skin-to-skin contact.
- Create a safe home environment that doesn’t snap at the kids when they make common mistakes.
- Increase their self-esteem by supporting them in their endeavors, as long as it’s good and healthy for them.
- Avoid potentially abusive or neglectful behaviors that can traumatize them.
- Be present in every way—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially.
Being a parent is a huge responsibility and one that changes our lives for the good. Whether we planned for a baby or not, the point is that they’re here, and it is up to us as parents or primary caregivers to set them up for health, joy, and success. It’s not about being perfect parents—it’s about doing the best we can to love and guide them into becoming whole and healthy adults.