So what is attachment theory?

People often joke that if you go to a therapist, you will be ‘questioned’ about your childhood. While that is certainly not always the case, therapists who work within the attachment framework are absolutely interested in childhood.

Why? The answer was given to us by John Bowlby — one of the pioneers in attachment research — when he made the bold claim that attachment “styles” are well in place in toddlers by the time they are two years old. According to Bowlby, our early relationships with our parents (or caregivers) shape the way we perceive and act in relationships throughout our lives.  And not only within the relational domain, but in your career, hobbies, and interests as well.

So, how does this work? As infants/children, we are dependent on our parents or primary caregivers. We need them for survival, just like we need food and water. This dependence on the caregiver for survival forms the foundation upon which Attachment Theory was built.

In most cases, parents will do their best to satisfy all our needs and provide us with a warm and nurturing environment.

If they are well attuned and responsive to our needs, we are able to build a secure and stable relationship with them, which translates into secure relationships with peers, and consequently, a secure attachment style.

Yet, if, for some reason, our needs are not met in a way that felt safe and reliable, we develop an “internal working model,” that restricts our attention, stifles the imagination, and adds many stressors to the natural and easy development of attachment related behaviors and ideas in a child. This would likely lead to the development of one of the insecure attachment styles.

The three insecure attachment styles are
Anxious (or preoccupied; referred to as anxious ambivalent in children)
Dismissing (or dismissive; referred to as anxious avoidant in children)
Cannot Classify (referred to as fearful-avoidant or disorganized in children)

What causes insecure attachment?
Insecure attachment styles are often caused by misattuned parenting, childhood trauma, or abuse.

They could have a strong negative impact on the individual’s mental health, social behavior, and ability to build stable and long-lasting intimate relationships in adulthood.

It is essential to note that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.

Our caregivers most probably made mistakes raising us, and we ourselves (will) sometimes screw up as parents. That does not necessarily mean that we have attachment issues, or that we will raise a child with such.