Understanding Insecure Attachment

My last two blogs have been about attachment theory. This next blog will wrap up the basics about the other attachment styles. As I mentioned previously, there are four main attachment styles. Secure attachment style is the most adaptive. Below is information on the remaining three styles.

Anxious-resistant or anxious-ambivalent insecure attachment

In this attachment style, children generally explore their environments in a limited capacity and are wary of strangers, even if the caregiver is present. They will also be highly distressed when the caregiver departs and are ambivalent when they return. This is because they view the caregiver as being unpredictable in their responses, which leads the child to engage with the caregiver with either anger or helplessness. This is the child’s conditioned strategy for maintaining the availability of the caregiver. It is also the child’s attempt to take control of the interaction, because they do not trust that the caregiver is in control or will keep them safe. Individuals with this attachment style often grow up to be ambivalent about being in intimate relationships with others. They also often struggle to communicate their needs effectively to their partners because they haven’t learned how to do so. When they feel that their partner hasn’t met their needs, they often become angry or feel a sense of helplessness. This is a learned response. The good news is that, with insight into these patterns and with practice, an individual can learn skills to improve their adaptability in relationships. 

Anxious-avoidant insecure attachment

Children with this attachment style will either avoid or ignore the caregiver and will show little to no emotion when the caregiver departs or returns. These children do not explore their environment very much, even if the caregiver is present. Children generally develop this type of attachment style when their caregivers are unresponsive to their needs the majority of the time. It is theorized that the reason children develop this attachment style is that it allows them to be close enough to the caregiver to maintain protection, but with enough distance to avoid rejection. The other theorized reason is that this behavior may help the child manage the unfulfilled desire for closeness with the caregiver. This enables them to avoid a situation where they become emotionally distressed and are unable to either maintain control of their own emotional distress or be comforted by their caregiver. Individuals with this attachment style often avoid intimate relationships. They also struggle with emotion regulation as they never learned this skill from their caregiver. They often feel unsafe in their environment and have difficulty reading the cues of others. Like anxious-resistant attachment style, this is a learned response. Similarly, there is good news that with insight into these patterns and with practice, an individual can learn more adaptive skills.

Disorganized or disoriented insecure attachment

These children tend to have physical distress such as hunching the shoulders, putting hands behind their neck, and tensely cocking their head back. Studies indicate that these children engage in this behavior in an attempt to control their crying. These symptoms are present whether the caregiver is in the room or not. It indicates that the child is disorganized and flooded by fear and leads to contradictory behaviors or emotional dysregulation. These behaviors occur simultaneously or sequentially and may include movements that are jerky. These children also tend to freeze and have apparent dissociation. Over half of these children will continue to approach their caregiver to seek comfort and ease their distress, however, their caregiver will not be able to soothe them and meet their needs. Research into this style of attachment has shown that these children generally have parents who experienced trauma that was unresolved so their parents are inconsistent in how they engage with the child. This leads the child to become confused as to what the response from the caregiver will be. Since they never know how their caregiver will respond they become hyper-aroused and fearful. As adults, these individuals continue to struggle with muscle tension, hypervigilance, fear response, and often dissociation in its various forms. They often struggle with understanding and perceiving the cues of others. Like the two previous attachment styles, this is a learned response and with insight and practice, an individual can learn more adaptive skills.

As you can see, attachment styles are complex and you may have noticed that you fit one or more than one category. Studies have shown that individuals who have awareness of their attachment style and an understanding of why they attached this way can heal those wounds. In healing the wounds of the past, many individuals can develop new coping skills and resiliency that lead to a healthier attachment style. If you are intrigued by this concept and would like to explore your own attachment style, please contact me to schedule a free 20 minute consultation at allison@blossomingheartcounseling.com or 503-880-7190.