What is Attachment?

Attachment theory focuses on how people form relationships with others.  Attachment is the emotional bond you feel for someone, so the reason you miss them if you haven’t seen them for a while.  It starts during infancy – being close to others is a basic need – you become attached to the person who cares for you because they give you comfort and protection.  In fact, consistently responding to the baby’s needs is one of the main reasons they attach to you.  The child learns that their caregiver will be there for them and look after them if anything happens so they become confident that they can go out and explore the world.

Attachment forms our ‘map’ of how relationships work and gives us our expectations of what happens in close relationships throughout our life

This initial bond with our caregivers is incredibly important.  It forms our ‘map’ of how relationships work and gives us our expectations of what happens in close relationships throughout our life, essentially the way in which we attach to others.  Our attachment style also affects the ability to understand our own and others minds and regulate our emotions under stress.

Attachment theory explains how a person’s own early life adversity or trauma at the hands of people who had responsibility for them can affect their attachment style.  If a child doesn’t know how their caregiver will react to their needs (for instance, sometimes helping them and other times ignoring them) it is hard for them to develop the idea that people close to them are dependable. This can cause them to find it hard to trust people – they have learn that others can’t be relied upon to respond to their needs – and leads to barriers to closeness such as mistrust, fear of rejection or abandonment and anger.

Failure to form secure attachments early in life can affect you throughout your life. Individuals with an insecure attachment style (where they believe others will not reliably meet their needs) are more likely to have problems like depression and more vulnerable to the impact of severe life events because they find it hard to talk about their problems openly with others. Individuals with a secure attachment style (where they believe others will consistently meet their needs) tend to have better self-esteem and self-reliance and more successful relationships.

There are four main types of attachment style: secure attachment, anxious-insecure attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment and disorganised attachment.

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