I recently came across attachment theory while working through Dr. Todd Hall’s Lead with Connection E-course.
While the concept dates back to the 1960’s, this was the first I’ve heard of it, and I think it’s a superb framework.
Before we dive in, here’s what you need to know:
- You will find yourself in this.
- You will find your parents in this.
- You will find your boss in this.
- You will find your partner and kids in this.
Basically, everyone has a dominant attachment style, and it has a huge impact on the quality of our lives and relationships.
What follows is a lot of quoted information, but don’t let that intimidate you. Instead, try to find yourself inside each quote, visualizing how it relates to your past, present, and future. Think about the people you know and how they fit into this. The more specific you can be, the more relevant this will be.
Ready? Let’s go.
Attachment Theory in Early Development
“The most important tenet of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development, and in particular for learning how to effectively regulate their feelings. Fathers or any other individuals, are equally likely to become principal attachment figures if they provide most of the child care and related social interaction. In the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver, the infant will use the caregiver as a ‘safe base’ from which to explore. It should be recognized that ‘even sensitive caregivers get it right only about 50 percent of the time. Their communications are either out of sync, or mismatched. There are times when parents feel tired or distracted. The telephone rings or there is breakfast to prepare. In other words, attuned interactions rupture quite frequently. But the hallmark of a sensitive caregiver is that the ruptures are managed and repaired.'” source
Attachment Theory in Adulthood
“The desire for intimacy has biological roots and, in the great majority of people, persists from birth until death. The desire for intimacy also has important implications for attachment. Relationships that frequently satisfy the desire for intimacy lead to more secure attachments. Relationships that rarely satisfy the desire for intimacy lead to less secure attachments.” source
The Four Attachment Styles
(via Dr. Todd Hall and Wikipedia)
1. Secure Attachment (Feeling and Dealing).
“Secure attachment creates an internal secure base and haven of safety. This enables people to feel connection, and to feel emotional pain in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them.”
2. Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment (Feeling but Not Dealing).
“People with preoccupied or anxious attachment tendencies have difficulty regulating their emotions. They find it challenging to reliably handle their own and others’ distress, and may even call on children or employees to help manage their own distress in a reversal of roles.”
3. Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment (Dealing but Not Feeling).
“People with dismissing, or distant attachment tendencies maintain composure by defensively minimizing the importance of relationships, remembering little of their past, and being emotionally flat, or guarded. They are emotionally disengaged with themselves and others and tend to be emotionally unresponsive. In a leadership context, a team member’s emotional arousal causes the dismissing leader to increase distance resulting in team member’s feeling not heard or valued.”
4. Disorganized/Fearful Attachment (Not Feeling, Not Dealing).
“The disorganized parent loses both contact with his or her child, and the ability to cope. Dissociated, they become unable to parent, and in that moment the child undergoes the trauma of loss. This is what Allan Schore and others call relational trauma, or trauma with a small t. The child then dissociates these experiences, and over time, develops a disorganized attachment.”
Attachment Theory Summary
Identifying Your Attachment Style
- Secure – It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
- Preoccupied – I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
- Dismissive – I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.
- Fearful – I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others. source
You Can Change
” Around 70–80% of people experience no significant changes in attachment styles over time. The fact that attachment styles do not change for a majority of people indicates working models are relatively stable. Yet, around 20–30% of people do experience changes in attachment styles. These changes can occur over periods of weeks or months. The number of people who experience changes in attachment styles, and the short periods over which the changes occur, suggest working models are not rigid personality traits.” source
If you did the work, I’m guessing some lightbulbs just went on.
- “Oh, maybe that’s why they act that way.”
- “Oh, maybe that’s why I act that way!”
For me, this all feels especially relevant as a husband, father, and Christian. As a husband, I want to have a securely attached marriage. As a father, I want to have securely attached children. And as a Christian, I want to be securely attached to God.
Which attachment style best describes you?