How Early Attachments Make A Difference To Our Relationships

We can look very closely at the past for a clue as to why things often go wrong in adult relationships. The early attachments (or not) that we make with our primary caregivers set the tone for behavior and conditioning in adulthood. These attachments, whether secure or insecure go way back to our very early days. How children and parents react in “strange situations” and through separation are the determining factors.

When a child is separated from its parent, the infant goes through a series of three stages of emotional reaction. First is protest, in which the infant cries and refuses to be consoled by others. Second is despair, in which the infant is sad and passive. Third is detachment, in which the infant actively disregards and avoids the parent if the parent returns (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The way a parent handles this is crucial to how attachment with the infant develops and subsequently how the child feels about itself.

The fundamental assumption in attachment research on human infants is that sensitive responding by the parent to the infant’s needs results in an infant who demonstrates secure attachment, while lack of such sensitive responding results in insecure attachment (Lamb, Thompson, Gardner, Charnov, & Estes, 1984).

Theorists have postulated several varieties of insecure attachment. Ainsworth originally proposed two: avoidant, and resistant (also called ambivalent; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). This triarchic taxonomy of secure, avoidant, and resistant attachment was developed as a way of classifying infant behavior in a “strange situation.” It states:

– Secure infants either seek proximity or contact or else greet the parent at a distance with a smile or wave.
– Avoidant infants avoid the parent.
– Resistant or ambivalent infants either passively or actively show hostility towards the parent.

Attachment theory provides not only a framework for understanding emotional reactions in infants, but also a framework for understanding love, loneliness, and grief in adults. Attachment styles in adults are thought to stem directly from the working models (or mental models) of oneself and others that were developed during infancy and childhood. Ainsworth’s three-fold taxonomy of attachment styles has been translated into terms of adult romantic relationships as follows (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

Secure adults find it relatively easy to get close to others and are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them. Secure adults do not often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them.

Avoidant adults are somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; they find it difficult to trust others completely, difficult to allow themselves to depend on others. Avoidant adults are nervous when anyone gets too close, and especially love partners who want them to be more intimate than they feel comfortable being.

Anxious/ambivalent adults find that others are reluctant to get as close as they would like. Anxious/ambivalent adults often worry that their partner does not really love them or will not want to stay with them. Anxious/ambivalent adults want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.

As a therapist doing frequent couples therapy, one can see that attachment theory holds many clues to the solutions that couples can find. Understanding how we bonded to our primary caregivers can help us see where relationships are going wrong. Couples create a special dynamic when they come together. Attachment theory will tell us a lot about this and each couple creates a couple “type” which could change over time and with different partners. Just another factor that goes into the success or failure of a relationship.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals,couples,  groups and companies globally. Online therapy is, in my experience, effective for treating a number of major conditions. Are you having issues that you need to talk through? I have a range of plans that can help you get the help you need.  Online Therapy details : Here ……






  3 comments for “How Early Attachments Make A Difference To Our Relationships

  1. October 16, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I’d say, it’s not just separation, but also the kind of support a child gets from the parent that matters greatly. There are times when the parent is present and yet not supportive, or passively aggressive. The child develops a lot of despair in these cases.


    • October 16, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      I would fully agree and I deal with this kind of situation a lot in my practice. For this article, I centered on the thinking behind the research on attachment theory. However, much of my writing on codependency bears out precisely what you are saying. Thank you for commenting.


  2. October 16, 2017 at 12:29 pm

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