My two previous blogs looked at theories and research into attachment between children and their care-givers over the past 80 years or so. This blog looks at adults and attachment.
It was not until the mid-1980’s that researchers began to take seriously the possibility that attachment processes may still be important in adulthood. Hazan and Shaver explored Bowlby’s ideas in the context of romantic relationships. They wanted to discover whether the emotional bond that develops between adult romantic partners is partly a function of the same motivational system that gives rise to the emotional bond between infants and their caregivers. It should be noted that their conclusions are not shared universally but it can be a useful way for people to look at their own relationships and perhaps get some insight on their and their partner’s attachment styles.
Clients have often described to me how they feel their own attachment style differs from their partner’s and it can therefore be a useful starting point to explore the dynamics of their relationship.
In infancy, secure infants tend to be the most well adjusted, in the sense that they are relatively resilient, they get along with their peers, and are well liked. Similarly, say Hazan and Shaver and others, secure adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships than insecure adults. Their relationships are characterised by greater longevity, trust, commitment, and interdependence and they are more likely to use romantic partners as a secure base from which to explore the world. Secure adults are more likely than insecure adults to seek support from their partners when distressed. Furthermore, they are more likely to provide support to their distressed partners
Adults with an avoidant attachment style may prefer not to be too dependent on other people and prefer that others are not too dependent on them. They may tend to avoid close romantic relationships, have difficulties trusting others and are unable to share their feelings with friends or partners. When avoidant individuals do enter relationships, they may avoid closeness. If the relationship is becoming too intimate, or the other person shows signs of clinginess, they shut down and distance themselves.
Anxiously attached individuals are said to over-invest themselves emotionally. They need declarations of affection and praise and are preoccupied with and depend on the relationship or friendship. The relationship or friendship is the primary means by which they can experience a sense of security and a sense of self. They tend to idealise others and idealise relationships and friendships. They also respond with fear to anger in others.
The psychologist Mario Mikulincer of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel is one of the pioneers of modern attachment theory. He found that, as adults, anxiously attached people have low self-esteem and are easily overwhelmed by negative emotions. They also tend to exaggerate threats and doubt their ability to deal with them. Driven by a desperate need for safety, such people seek to “merge” with their partners and they can become suspicious, jealous or angry towards them, often without objective cause.
If the anxious among us crave connection, avoidant people strive for distance and control. They detach from strong emotions (both positive and negative), withdraw from conflicts and avoid intimacy. Their self-reliance means that they see themselves as strong and independent, but this positive image comes at the expense of maintaining a negative view of others. As a result, their close relationships remain superficial, cool and unsatisfying. And while being emotionally numb can help avoidant people weather ordinary challenges, research shows that, in the midst of a crisis, their defences can crumble and leave them extremely vulnerable.
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!
See also: Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships, Relationships and Stress: How women and men deal with stress differently, Stress and Relationships