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Types of attachment and their consequences in adult life

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Developmental Psychology It is the branch of Psychology that is in charge of understanding the maturational development processes of people from the first stage of life to old age, including both.

Using this knowledge, mental health experts can establish what behaviors and behaviors are situations that promote good psychological development, and what are those elements that are capable of "unraveling" these processes.

Childhood is, of all the phases of life, the one that deserves special attention, since in these first years we are especially sensitive to what happens around us and the consequences of our Actions. In fact, exposing ourselves to experiences that negatively affect us can cause us problems that last for years or even decades if we do not have professional psychological help.

In this article we are going to focus on one of the main ways in which, for better and for worse, what happens in the context in which we are created influences our development and even what we tend to do, think and feel once we are Adults. It's about the types of

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attachment that we establish with our fathers and mothers.

  • Related article: "The 6 stages of childhood (physical and mental development)"

What is attachment?

Technically, attachment is the set of psychological phenomena that lead us to adopt specific and stable patterns of behavior when we are related to other individuals or groups. But in practice, in the case of Developmental Psychology, the most interesting concept of attachment is the one that makes reference to the patterns of behavior, thought and management of emotions that we develop as a result of the way in which in our childhood we interact with our reference persons: fathers and mothers, or in their absence, people who adopt these roles.

And it is that human beings do not mature psychologically in a self-sufficient way, interacting by ourselves with the world. We are a species characterized by our marked dependence on adults during our first years of life, and this is not by chance. If we are able to think in a sophisticated way and have great intelligence, it is precisely because in most cases we have of a support network made up of society, and at the center of this network are the most important figures: our fathers and mothers.

Generally, this allows us to have many guaranteed needs, so that our body can allow to focus on the maintenance and development of a large brain that rapidly fills with information. And since this predisposes us to learn a lot from a very young age, we are constantly internalizing knowledge, even if we do not realize it. And in this sense, interaction with parents is one of the main channels of information entry.

However, what we learn through relationships with our caregivers is not simply intellectual: involves our emotions, because the emotional is one of the fastest ways of learning and capable of leaving things recorded in the memory. For this reason, practically from the beginning of our existence we develop a certain type of attachment with these people. This type of attachment will generate a “domino effect” in our predisposition to behave.Since at this stage of life almost everything is to be explored and at the same time our main references, the caregivers, are only one or two.

Thus, the mother or father is the area that is familiar to us and from which we explore the unknown. But unfortunately, not in all cases "familiar" means "safe" or "pleasant", and this can lead to long-term problems derived from a dysfunctional type of attachment.

The elements in which psychologists specialized in Developmental Psychology look to know what type of attachment a minor has developed or is developing are, mainly, the appearance of these behavior patterns by the boy or girl, directed towards the mother or father:

  • The search for direct and physical contact
  • The degree to which that direct contact is maintained without interruption
  • Resistance to contact or attempts to help and / or protect
  • The tendency to avoid contact

From these criteria it is possible to establish the presence of different attachment styles, which we will explain below.

Types of attachment in childhood, and their influence in adulthood

Now that we have seen what the attachment patterns developed during childhood consist of, it is time to go into detail and understand the details and distinctive characteristics of each of them, as well as the way in which they affect the development of the adult personality.

In the same way that the way in which the foundations of a building are laid will limit the forms that the constructions that go on them, the types of attachment that we have developed in our childhood, mainly before parents and moms, too They have a great influence on the paths that our personality development and behavior patterns will take. that we express in adulthood.

Therefore, having a good understanding of the way in which the upbringing of a child is taking place is useful for prevent the appearance of future psychological complications and patterns of social interaction dysfunctional.

Of course, it would be a mistake to believe that the types of attachment developed in the first years of life affect only the way in which we tend to relate to others once we are adults.

Of course, this area of ​​life is one of those that most clearly shows how we come to bond with our primary caregivers during childhood, but we must not forget that the way we learned to interact with others as children shapes our way of thinking and feeling in general; after all, if we think through abstract concepts it is thanks to socialization and the use of language that we “inherit” from others.

For this reason, attachment types also participate in all internalizing psychological processes: the maintenance of one form or another of self-esteem, our way of seeing reality and, in general, the philosophy of life that we adopt without realizing it and that leads us to be like are.

That said, these are the different ways in which attachment types influence behavior dynamics once you have reached adulthood.

1. Secure attachment

Secure attachment occurs when parents they manage to adjust to the balance of the need for protection and freedom of the little ones: they let them explore at their own pace but safely, and at the same time they are there for everything they need, both materially and emotionally. Therefore, it is the most desirable type of attachment.

In terms of its implications for adulthood, people who developed this form of attachment tend to feel supported by people with whom they are attached. who have confidence and in general they see themselves with the spirit to undertake their projects if the material and intellectual conditions are given to achieve that goal. In addition, they have it easier to develop good self-esteem.

  • You may be interested in: "Child therapy: what is it and what are its benefits"

2. Avoidant attachment

In avoidant attachment, little ones learn that they cannot expect much from their caregivers, and therefore show a tendency to avoid social experiences and they seem engrossed in stimuli that they can focus on as individuals.

Once they have reached adulthood, those who developed this type of attachment may need psychological help to learn to manage their social relationships and make long-term commitments, since they find it difficult to trust others and by default they tend to focus on themselves.

3. Ambivalent attachment

In ambivalent attachment, children fear the unpredictability of interactions with their caregivers, since sometimes they flow well and sometimes bring unpleasant experiences. Not knowing what to expect leads them to develop anxiety-related disorders.

In adulthood, ambivalent attachment can give way to anxiety problems whose consequences accumulate in the time, and it is also common to develop dependence in partner relationships, feeling concern for the abandonment.

4. Disorganized attachment

Disorganized attachment is the most damaging type of attachment, and it is directly pathological. It occurs in clearly dysfunctional families in which there is violence, drug use, poor living conditions, etc. Due to the hostility of this context, disorganized attachment is associated with psychiatric disorders.

In adulthood, disorganized attachment is associated with a greater predisposition to develop practically any type of psychological or psychiatric disorder, and in a large portion of cases there is trauma damage that must be treaty.

Are you looking for psychotherapy services?


If you are interested in having psychological assistance either because you are looking for psychotherapy services or to have supervision of parents, get in touch with our team. On Cribecca Psychology We work with patients of all ages, and we have a lot of experience doing child-adolescent therapy and family therapy, among other forms of intervention.

You can count on us either by attending our psychology center located in Seville or by using our online therapy modality. To see our contact details and more information about the way we work, go to this page.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 130 (3): pp. 201 - 210.
  • Bretherton, I. (1992). The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology. 28 (5): pp. 759 - 775.
  • Cassidy, J.; Shaver, P.R. (1999). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Feeney, J. & Noller P. (2001). Adult attachment. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer.
  • Sanz, L.J. (2012). Evolutionary and educational psychology. CEDE PIR Preparation Manuals, 10. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Takahashi, K. (1990). Are the key assumptions of the "strange situation" procedure universal? A view from Japanese research. Human Development, 33: pp. 23 - 30.
  • Wallin, D. (2012). Attachment in psychotherapy. Bilbao: Desclée De Brouwer.
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