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Renate Wassenberg
6 okt, 2021

(Engels artikel) Do you ever wonder why it is so hard for you to form emotional connections in intimate relationships? Or why you tend to to distrust people? Or why you find it difficult to reach out to friends for support? Or why you find social interactions so tiring sometimes?

If the answer to these questions is YES, you may have been “insecurely attached” as an infant.

The attachment styles – developed at infancy (0-1yo)

In the first year of their lives, infants develop an “attachment”, a strong emotional bond between the infant and one (or more) of the child’s regular caregivers (usually the mother), formed by their interactions. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth (1973) and Main and Solomon (1990) identified 4 main styles of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-ambivalent and insecure-disorganized.

  1. Securely attached children are children who feel confident that the attachment figure (the primary caregiver) will be there to meet their needs. They feel safe to explore the environment and know the attachment figure will be there for them in times of distress (their “safety net”). Infants develop a secure attachment when the caregiver is sensitive to their signals of needs and appears available, responsive and helpful.
  2. Insecure-avoidant children are children whose caregiver is consistently unresponsive to their needs and/or is emotionally unavailable. These children do not seek support or contact with the caregiver if needed and are physically and emotionally independent from the attachment figure. The child fails to develop any sense of security from the caregiver.
  3. Insecure-ambivalent (or anxious) children are children whose caregiver is inconsistent in her/his response to their needs. The child will commonly exhibit clingy and dependent behavior, but will be rejecting the attachment figure when they engage in interaction. The child does not develop any sense of security from the caregiver.
  4. Insecure-disorganized (or fearful-avoidant) children are children who typically experience childhood trauma or extreme inconsistency (chaos) growing up. As a result, they learn to fear their caregivers and have no secure base to turn to for consistent support, emotional safety, and comfort.

How do attachment styles affect relationships?

Early childhood attachments shape a child’s later attitudes and behaviors towards themselves and others.

Children who were securely attached, are more likely than others to develop a positive self-concept, to have high self-esteem, to be intellectually curious and to have good relationships. Adults who were insecurely attached did not grow up in a consistent, supportive, validating environment and therefore struggle to form meaningful relationships with others.

Adults with an insecure-avoidant attachment style are wary of closeness and tend to avoid emotional bonding with others. They often have a dismissive attitude, they shun intimacy, and have difficulties reaching for others in times of need. They have learned that people ‘reject’ their emotions and became self-sufficient and independent. They do not invest much emotion in relationships, often engage in “one night stands” and experience little distress when a relationship ends.

Adults with an insecure-ambivalent (or: anxious) attachment style crave intimacy, but they are reluctant to become close to another person and worry he/she does not reciprocate their feelings. They are often anxious and preoccupied. They can be viewed by others as “needy” because they require constant validation and reassurance. They fear abandonment.

Adults with an insecure-disorganized (or: fearful-avoidant) attachment style crave intimacy just like the ambivalent/anxious style, but they lack a coherent approach towards it: they want to love, but they are afraid of love. They are both anxious, avoidant AND lack a coping strategy for the adversities in their life. They continue to view the attachment figure (once, their caregiver, and now, their partner) as unpredictable and think it is inevitable for them to get hurt by them eventually.

What can we do to change our insecure attachment style in our current relationships?

  • First, awareness of your attachment style is key to generate change. Awareness of your avoidance, your anxiety or fear in relationships.
  • Secondly, understanding and accepting why you were attached insecurely (i.e. why was your mother emotionally unavailable?)
  • Thirdly, taking responsibility. We can continue to hold on to the past by focusing on who is to blame, but this will not improve how we feel and act (in relationships) today. Taking responsibility means making the decision to say; “From now on, I am going to work on myself and become the person I want to be. I will learn the tools I need to live the life I choose”.
  • Fourth, communicate. Talk to a professional for guidance and support through these phases. Talk to your partner and let him/her know that you are in the process of change and that you need your partner’s support and encouragement.

A mental health professional can also offer help in learning new ways to interact with others, new ways to find connections, new ways to trust. It may be a long journey, but you do not have to do it alone.


Ainsworth, M.D. (1973). The development of infant.mother attachment. In B.Caldwell & H.Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of achild development research (vol 3), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Main, M. & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth strange situation. In M.Greenberg, D.Cicchetti, & E.M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research and intervention (pp121-160). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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