What is Attachment Theory and How it Can Help You Heal

What is Attachment Theory and How it Can Help You Heal

Attachment theory is a framework that describes the dynamics of relationships between individuals, especially children and their primary caregivers. John Bowlby began studying attachment in the 1950’s and was further studied by Mary Ainsworth.

According to Attachment Theory, children develop a specific attachment style based on their experiences with their caregiver. The research suggests attachment may begin as early as the third trimester in pregnancy. According to this theory, humans have an innate need for security, comfort, and community. People seek to form strong emotional bonds with others to fulfill this need. The theory proposes the quality of early relationships, particularly those with primary caregivers during infancy and childhood, have a significant impact on a person’s emotional and social development that carries well into adulthood.

There are typically four attachment styles:

Secure Attachment
Parents who create a secure attachment make their children feel emotionally/physically safe, seen and known, comforted, soothed, and reassured, valued, and supported. Parents of securely attached children provide this level of safety and security with as much consistency and predictability as possible. Children seek proximity to their caregiver when they need support or reassurance and are easily soothed by their presence. Children are able to move on from a stressful event quicker and easier when they are comforted and soothed by their caregiver.

Anxious Attachment
People who develop this type of attachment style usually had parents who were very inconsistent in providing safety and security for their children. The child does not have predictability in knowing what type of parent they will get in a given situation. At times the parent will be supportive and loving, and other times the parent may be harsh and unkind. Children may be overly dependent on their caregiver and display clingy behavior.
Children may worry about being abandoned and seek constant reassurance, often exhibiting anxiety even when the caregiver is nearby.

Avoidant Attachment
People who develop this type of attachment style, usually had parents who encouraged a premature sense of independence in their children. Parents were usually unable or unwilling to offer physical or emotional comfort. Parents usually ignore their child’s cries of distress or discomfort. When the child does display emotion, the parent would usually shame the child but trying to get them to “stop it” or “suck it up.” Children may tend to avoid or disregard their caregiver. They may appear independent and distance and not require much support or comfort. They have created this emotional distance due to the unresponsiveness from their caregivers based on very early experiences.

Disorganized Attachment
People who have this type of attachment have a severe case of preoccupied and a severe case of avoidant. Parents are usually very frightening and could have been abusive. Parents more than likely had unresolved trauma or loss. Parents are scary to their children because they have provided inconsistent caregiving. Children usually display confusion or fear in the presence of their caregivers due to a lack of emotional support and comfort.

Research demonstrates attachment experiences that were established in childhood can influence later relationships and interactions throughout life. These patterns can impact romantic partners, friends, and how you are as a parent. The good news is that attachment styles are not fixed and can be healed with positive experiences and relationships and therapeutic interventions.

At Peace Family Counseling, LLC, in Greenwood, IN, our counselors are trained in trauma and attachment. We’d love to help you get to the root of your trauma symptoms so you can feel better and restore peace to your life and relationship. Contact us today: 317-881-0409 or


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