Sunday, May 10, 2009

Attachment Theory and Relationship Patterns

Freudian psychology has received a lot of grief over the years for "blaming mothers" for all that goes wrong in a person's life. Certainly, this is not the case.

However, the way a child bonds with its primary caretaker DOES seem to have a lasting impact on relationships, among other areas of our lives. While it is not fair to "blame" mothers for this bit of truth, using what we know to better educate prospective parents would be a great service to our children.

This is a section on attachment patterns from the Wikipedia entry:

Attachment patterns

Mary Ainsworth's innovative methodology and comprehensive observational studies, particularly those undertaken in Scotland and the Ganda, informed much of the theory, expanded its concepts and enabled its tenets to be empirically tested.[29] She conducted research based on Bowlby's early formulation and identified different attachment styles or patterns which are not, strictly speaking, part of attachment theory but are very closely identified with it.

She devised a protocol known as the Strange Situation Protocol, still used today to assess attachment patterns in children, as the laboratory portion of a larger study that included extensive home visitations over the first year of the child's life. Her studies identified three attachment patterns that a child may have with its primary attachment figure: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure) and anxious-ambivalent (insecure).[30][31] Her work in the USA attracted many scholars into the field, inspiring research and challenging the dominance of behaviouralism.[32]

Further research by Dr. Mary Main and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley identified a fourth attachment pattern, called disorganised/disoriented attachment, which reflects these children's lack of a coherent coping strategy.[33]

Other methods have been developed for the assessment of patterns in children beyond the age of 18 months. Research from the Minnesota longitudinal study assessed children at 12 and 18 months, four years, middle childhood, 13 years and 15 years and followed children into the school environment. Securely attached children were the least isolated and most popular, the most likely to respond empathically and the least likely to bully or be bullied. Bullies were most likely to be classified as anxious–avoidant and victims as anxious–ambivalent.[34][35]

More recent research sought to ascertain the extent to which a parent's attachment classification is predictive of their children's classification; it found that parents' perceptions of their own childhood attachments predicted their children's attachment classifications 75% of the time.[36][37][38] Each of the attachment patterns is associated with certain characteristic patterns of behaviour, as described in the following table:

Child and caregiver behaviour patterns
Child Caregiver
Secure Protests caregiver's departure and is comforted on return, returning to exploration. Responds appropriately, promptly and consistently to needs.
Avoidant Little or no distress on departure, little or no visible response to return. Quality of play often low. Little or no response to distressed child. Discourages crying and encourages independence.
Ambivalent Sadness on departure but warms to stranger. On return, ambivalence, anger, reluctance to warm to caregiver and return to play. Preoccupied with caregiver's availability. Inconsistent between appropriate and neglectful responses.
Disorganised Stereotypies on return such as freezing or rocking. Lack of coherent coping strategy (such as approaching but with the back turned). Frightened or frightening behaviour, intrusiveness, withdrawal, negativity, role confusion, affective communication errors and maltreatment.

Some authors have suggested continuous rather than categorical gradations between attachment patterns, and have discussed dimensions of underlying security rather than the classifications derived from Ainsworth's work.[7]

Here is a bit from my textbook on attachment and relationship patterns.
According to psychologist Phillip Shaver and his colleagues, attachment styles continue into adulthood and affect the nature of romantic relationships (Tracy, Shaver, & Albino, 2003; Davis et al., 2006;Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007). For instance, consider the following statements:
(1) I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.

(2) I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often love partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.

(3) I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away. (Shaver, Hazan, & Bradshaw, 1988)
According to Shaver’s research, agreement with the first statement reflects a secure attachment style.Adults who agree with this statement readily enter into relationships and feel happy and confident about the future success of their relationships. Most young adults—just over half—display the secure style of attachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

In contrast, adults who agree with the second statement typically display the avoidant attachment style. These individuals, who make up about a quarter of the population, tend to be less invested in relationships, have higher break-up rates, and often feel lonely.

Finally, agreement with the third category is reflective of an ambivalent style. Adults with an ambivalent style have a tendency to become overly invested in relationships, have repeated break-ups with the same partner, and have relatively low self-esteem. Around 20% of adults, gay and straight, fall into this category (Simpson, 1990).

Attachment style is also related to the nature of care that adults give to their romantic partners when they need assistance. For instance, secure adults tend to provide more sensitive and supportive care, being responsive to their partner’s psychological needs. In comparison, anxious adults are more likely to provide compulsive, intrusive (and ultimately less helpful) aid to partners (Shaver, 1994; Feeney & Collins, 2001, 2003; Gleason, Iida, & Bolger, 2003).

It seems clear that there are continuities between infants’ attachment styles and their behavior as adults. People who are having difficulty in relationships might well look back to their infancy to identify the root of their problem (Brennan & Shaver, 1995; Rholes et al., 2007). Insight into the roots of our current behavior can sometimes help us learn more adaptive skills as adults. (Development Across the Life Span, 489-490)
This is a rich area of psychology that fascinates me, so I will post more information from time to time as I come across good stuff.

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