Attachment and Attachment Security Status


Attachmentand Attachment Security Status

Inprofessional circles, several meanings are associated with the term“attachment.” Some relate it to affection and others equate itwith a relationship or bonding. Attachment is different from bondingbecause bonding comes out of fulfillment of both emotional andnon-emotional parental duties and may happen much later after thechildhood. Various definitions have been put forward to explainattachment. Attachment is the enduring emotional connection betweenthat provide the desired emotional contact and with whose separationproduces a feeling of distress (Mooney,2010).Honig (2002) defined attachment as a tough emotional bond that iscreated between a child and a caring adult. Attachment is the tie, orthe bond created between a person and the attachment figure. Shaverand Cassidy (1999) emphasized that attachment is created from apattern of behavioral and emotional interface that builds up as thechild and the caregiver spend time together and interact, especiallyarising from the infant’s need for comfort and attention. Theattachment formed by the child in their infancy affects theirsocial-emotional life in adulthood. This paper examines the types ofattachments and their effects to the personality and adulthood lifeof the individual.

Typesof Attachments

Attachmentsare of four types, that is, ‘organized’ types which includesecure, resistant and avoidant and the disorganized type. Theattachment quality developed by the infant with a selected caregiveris majorly influenced by the response of the caregiver to the childwhen the child’s system of attachment is activated, for example,when the child’s feeling of security and safety are threatened suchas emotional upset or physically hurt or when the child is ill(Benoit, 2004). From about the age of six months, infants begin toanticipate the response of particular caregivers to their pain anddirect their behavior therefore. For example, the infant will developstrategies for responding to distress when the caregiver is present.The response strategy is based on the daily interactions between theinfant and the caregiver. The major response patterns of distress ininfants are identified as leading to specific ‘organized’patterns of attachment.


Thechildren who develop sensitive, affectionate and responsive parentingduring their early years build a secure attachment. Such a car givesthe child an opportunity to create positive anticipations concerningtheir relationships in the future, as well as the development oftrust in others. The self confidence the children develop at this agehelps them to explore the bigger world with a feeling of safety. Thechild develops trust with others and has a feeling that others willoffer help when needed. The securely attached children, in general,feels upset when the caregiver is out and feel happy when theyreturn.

Childrenwith secure attachment usually seek comfort from the caregiver or theparent whenever they are frightened. Securely attached childrenreadily accept the contact initiated by the caregiver or the parentand in return, they embrace the contact with a positive behavior.These children accept some comfort from other people when thecaregiver is absent, but usually on a limited level than they doaccept from the parents. The parents of the children who are securelyattached tend to spend a lot of time playing with their children.Also, they are usually present and respond quickly to provide thechildren with whatever they need.

Itis normal and is expected that children will form secure attachmentswith the caregivers, but it does not happen always (Shaver &ampCassidy, 1999) There are several factors that contribute to formationof secure attachment (or failure thereof). Among these factors is themother’s responsiveness to the needs of the infant during thechild’s first year of life. Mothers who are inconsistent inreacting to the requirements of the children and often interfere withthe activities of the child are likely to produce children who aremore anxious, cry more and explore less. Children whose mothers areinconsistent in responding to their needs tend to avoid contact. Whenthey grow into adults, children who were securely attached tend todevelop long-term and trusting relationships. Securely attachedindividuals exhibit high self-esteem and easily look for socialsupport. Also, they enjoy intimate relationships and are open insharing their feelings with others (Simpson&amp Rholes, 1998).


Insecureattachment is characterized by instability qualities, includingpreoccupation, ambivalent behavior and avoidance responses. Themother-to-child relationship lacks co-operative communication (Goldin2008). Insecure attachment is said to occur as a result of emotionalabsence of the attachment figure (mother) to the child on a recurringsignificant occasions. Children lack the confidence to explore thebigger world. The insecure children do not feel enough safety towardstheir attachment figures and do not feel the freedom to expressthemselves freely towards their primary caregivers. This fact hasinfluence over their future behavior and affects the child’sability to form other relationships. Insecure attachment is of twotypes, that is, ambivalent and avoidant attachment.


Thispatter emerges as a result of the parent’s incoherent andinsensitive response towards the needs of the infant. The childattempts to recompense for the parent’s randomness throughmaximization of the attachment behavior such as being over demanding,crying and clinging. When the primary caregiver is not present, thechild tends to be extremely distressed, but will react to the reunionin two ways, that is, through interaction or seeking contact.However, the child may reject them when presented. The child mayrapidly shift from resistance and anger to dependence and entireclinginess.

Ambivalentlyattached children tend to be excessively apprehensive with strangers.They display a high level of distress when they are separated fromthe caregiver or the parent, but hey do not express the assurance ofcomfort when the caregiver or the parent returns. Sometimes, thechild may reject the parent passively by refusing to be comforted. Inother cases, the child may demonstrate direct aggression against thecaregiver. Ambivalent attachments are comparatively uncommon. Studiescarried out in 1994 by Cassidy and Berlin in United States indicatedthat only 7 to 15 percent of the children display this kind ofattachment. In their review of the literature on ambivalentattachment, Cassidy and Berlin found a consistent research,observation linking ambivalent-insecure attachment to inadequatematernal availability.

Asambivalent attached children grow, they tend to be clingy andover-dependent. In their adulthood, individuals with ambivalentattachment style become reluctant from getting close to others. Intheir relationships, they feel apprehended that their partners do notreciprocate the feelings they express to them (Simpson&amp Rholes, 1998). As a result, they have frequent breakups because their relationshipsare cold and distant. In addition, in their adulthood, individualswho had an ambivalent attachment have a tendency of clinging tolittle children a basis of security (Cherry,2014).


Thispattern of attachment is characterized by the child’s expression ofemotional needs such as corporeal proximity. The parent mayexperience difficulties in reacting to this need and eventuallywithdraws (Doherty&amp Hughes, 2009).The mother appears to be neglectful and insensitive to the needs ofthe infant and ends up developing a ‘rejection syndrome.’ Onnoticing the mother’s withdrawal behavior, the child tries toprevent it fro re-occurring through passive withdrawal behavior andexpresses minimal emotional distress. During childhood, the childtends to become independent and self-reliant because of theexperience that parents are rejecting and resentful. The childdevelops the fear of rejection which in turn creates inner struggleamid the craving for and the terror of physical acceptance.

Childrenwho develop avoidant attachment patterns have a tendency to avoidcaregivers and parents (Cherry,2014).This avoidance behavior tends to deepen following a prolonged periodof absence. The children not only reject the parent’s attention,but also they do not seek their contact or comfort. Children who havedeveloped avoidant attachment portray no difference between theparent and a stranger and they tend to reject both.

Duringadulthood, children with avoidant attachment find difficulties withclose relationships and intimacy. Usually, they invest very littleemotions in their relationships and they display limited distresswhen the relationship breaks. They tend to avoid intimacy and giveexcuses such as being tied up with work. During sex, they fantasizeabout other people. In adulthood, individuals who have avoidantattachment give in easily and engage easily in casual sex. Anothercharacteristic common to individuals with an avoidant attachmentstyle include inability to support partners in times of distress andfailure to share thoughts, feelings, and emotions with partners(Cherry,2014).


Theconcerned infants demonstrate undirected movements and appearconfused and feel apprehended when they approach their parents. Thispattern is associated with a feeling of fear or neglect by the parent(Bell, 2010). Consequently, the child gets confused and is naturallywithdrawn because they seek comfort from the very source ofapprehension. Thus, the child may draw towards the mother, but keepan eye on the mother’s unexpected response and unrelated emotions.A study carried out by Burnnel and Archer in 2003 revealed that 80percent of the children with disorganized attachment have the abilityto turn to caregivers for soothing when they are mistreated (Cherry,2014).A smaller population of avoidance attached individuals suffers fromReactive Attachment Disorder.

Accordingto Benoit (2004), disorganized attachment pattern results from thechildren’s introduction to some types of indistinct parenting andstrange behaviors by caregivers which are ‘atypical.’ Atypicalparental behaviors, also referred to as sexualized, dissociated orfrightening, are aberrant behaviors that the caregivers demonstrateduring their interaction with children, which are not restricted tothe distressful moments of the child. The caregivers who demonstrateatypical behaviors have been found to have unresolved sexual,physical or emotional trauma or unresolved mourning. Their behavioris also related to domestic violence or post trauma stress disorder.

Accordingto Cherry (2014), children who develop disorganized-insecureattachment pattern demonstrates the unclear attachment behavior.Their responses towards parents and caregivers have mixed behaviors,including resistance and avoidance. Such children are depicted asdemonstrating dazed behavior and sometimes they feel apprehensive orconfused in the presence of the caregiver. A research conducted in1986 revealed that the disorganized style of attachment was caused bythe parents’ inconsistent behavior. Later research revealed thatthe parents’ behavior that combined both fear and reassurance isthe major contributor to the disorganized style of attachment. Thechild experiences confusion because s/he feels both frightened andcomforted by the parent (Cherry,2014).

Theoriesof Attachment

TheLearning Theory

Thistheory was proposed by Dollard and Miller in 1949. According to thesetheorists, attachment is a learned behavior, in that it is a productof environmental experiences and not an innate process. Learningtheory takes two aspects, that is, classical conditioning(association) and operant conditioning (consequences). Classicalconditioning mainly focuses on food. It concerns learning byassociation. Infants learn to associate comfort and feeding with thecaregiver or the mother. When the baby is fed, it feels comfortableand satisfied (unconditioned response). The baby then associatesthese feelings with the primary caregiver (conditioned response). Theprimary caregiver or the mother acquires the comfortingcharacteristics through association (Chow,2006).

Operantconditioning concerns learning through the consequences. The infantlearns that behaviors such as crying and smiling elicit positiveresponses, such as food, from the caregivers (reinforcement). Thefood becomes the primary reinforce because of the caregiver’sassociation with food (classical conditioning), the caregiver becomesthe secondary reinforce. On the other hand, adults learn to respondto the child’s behavior such as cry in order to get relief from thenoise (negative reinforcement). Learning theory predicts that theattachments formed by the child are based on the provision of primarycare such as feeding. It also proposes an increase in attachmentbehavior as the child continues to grow. It also proposes that thoseadults who offer the most primary care of the child will developstronger attachments. However, this theory is short of face validitybecause it holds that attachment may not occur when the parent isabusive or absent. This is not true in many cases because there arechildren who get attached to their parents even when they turnabusive or when they are absent (Chow,2006).

Bowlby’sTheory of Attachment

Bowlby(1980) defined attachment as the dimension of the infant-caregiverrelationship that involves security and protection regulation. In histheoretical framework, attachment is a concept where the infantdevelops affectionate and enduring bond with the mother figure. Thebond created is biological and is rooted on the function ofprotection from danger. Bowlby (1980) alludes that the bondattachment is defined by four characteristics. These features includeimmediacy maintenance, disconnection distress, and safety haven andsecure base. There is a need for being close to the attachmentfigure. The child is distressed and upset whenever there isseparation from the attachment figure.

Thechild finds the safety haven in the caregiver and whenever the childfaces danger, it retreats to the attachment figure. The caregiverprovides a stable foundation for the child to discover and experiencethe world (Brodie, 2012). From this safety base, the child developsthe assurance to explore the bigger surroundings slowly and graduallywith the knowledge the mother figure is close to offer the neededsecurity and protection. Thus, to offer this protection and safetycalls for what he referred to as “contingent responsiveness”,that is, a mother figure, which is strong and attentive enough torealize when the infant is experiencing trouble and then respondsquickly to provide assurance through responsiveness (Mooney,2010).


Thistheory was proposed by John Bowlby. According to Bowlby (1953),attachment is biologically pre-programmed into the child duringbirth. Attachment is prearranged in the human genes, and because ofits adaptive nature, it persists and evolves. Thus, attachment isevolutionarily useful. Infants emit social releases such as smiling,crying and physical appearance, to which adults become attuned. Thesereleases motivate care-giving from adults. Infants are programmed insuch a way that they get attached to anyone who responds to theirstimuli. The infants, then choose a single special attachment figure(monotropy), who acts as the safety base for exploring the world(Bhattacharya et al., 2014).

Bowlbyobserved that the first three years of child’s life were a criticalperiod of attachment. The attachment develops in four periods. Phase1 is the pre-attachment phase, which includes the child’s birth tothe age of six weeks. During this phase, the caregiver gets attractedto the infant’s innate signals such as smiling, crying, graspingand gazing into adult’s eyes. The child’s positive response makesthe caregiver to stay close by. The baby persuades the caregiver tostay close to them because they feel comforted by their closeness.The child recognizes the face, smell, and the voice of the mother. Atthis stage, the infant has not yet attached to the mother and theinfant has no problem being left in the hands of unfamiliar adults.The infant does not fear strangers (Holmes, 1993).

Phasetwo is referred to as “Attachment in Making.” It is the periodfrom 6 weeks to 18 months. The infants start to respond in differentways to the primary caregiver than they respond to strangers. Thechild smiles more to the mother and when crying, the child will keepquite quickly when picked by the mother. Children begin to learn thattheir actions affect the adults around them.

Whenthe caregivers respond to their signals, the children begin todevelop some sense of trust. The child does not protest when left bythe mother (Holmes, 1993). Phase three is referred to as the “clearcut” attachment which covers from the age of 6-8 weeks up to 18 to24 moths. At this stage, the child’s attachment to familiarcaregiver deepens. Children develop ‘separation anxiety,’ thatis, they get upset when an adult who they have trusted leave.Separation anxiety may deepen between 6 to 15 months, but itsmagnitude is determined by the context, adult behavior and the childtemperaments. The child may express distress at the departure of themother but the anxiety is short-lived if the caregiver is sensitiveand supportive.

Hereferred the final phase as the Formation of Reciprocal Relationship,which happens between 18 moths and two years onwards. At this stage,the child is grown in language and representation and, therefore, isable to interpret the actions of the parent. The toddler canunderstand when the mother leaves and can tell when she comes back.Thus, the separation anxiety reduces. The child develops negotiationmechanisms and tries to request and persuade the mother to adjust hergoals. The child becomes less dependent on the caregiver as the ageprogresses, but develops more confidence and assurance that thecaregiver respond to offer support at the time of need (Bhattacharyaet al., 2012). These four phases of the Internal Working Model, whichis crucial for guiding the child’s personality and futurerelationships (Johnsonet al., 2007).

MaryAinsworth (The Strange Situation)

Ainsworthdeveloped a method for observation and assessment of the relationshipand the eminence of attachment involving the child and the caregiver.This was referred to as the strange situation (Brodie, 2012). Theprocedure involved the observation of the child playing for 20minutes in a room where the caregiver and strangers are coming in andleaving. The study categorized children into three groups. The firstgroup is ‘successful, which she related to secure attachment. Thesecond group is Unsuccessful, which she divided intoanxious-ambivalent insecure attachment and anxious-avoidant insecureattachment. Those with secure attachment will explore freely andengages with strangers in the presence of the caregiver. They getupset when the caregiver leaves, but feel happy when the caregiverreturns (Inge, 1992).

Childrenwho develop anxious-ambivalent insecure attachment are anxious of thestrangers and exploration even in the presence of the caregiver. Thechild gets extremely distressed to the departure of the caregiver. Onthe return of the caregiver, the child is ambivalent and wants toremain near the caregiver, but will be resentful to caregiver’sattention. The anxious-avoidant insecure attached child does notexplore much even in the presence of the caregiver or the stranger.There is no much difference in the treatment of the caregiver and thestranger. The child does not feel anxious when the caregiver leavesand does not feel excited after the return of the caregiver. However,her procedure is criticized for lack of validity and insteademphasizing of suggested procedure. The critics feel that the 20minute period is too short and several factors can come into playwithin that time (Inge, 1992).

FactorsInfluencing the Style of Attachment and Consequences

Beforea child is born, the parent develops an image of the likeness of thechild. The mother and the child develop a relationship where themother feels the foetus as “part of herself.” Not every image ispositive. Factors such as dysfunctional relationships, wrongpregnancy timing, pre-natal complications or conditions affect theparent’s attachment to the foetus (Messinger &amp Isabella, 1995).If the mother has a psychiatric disorder, it may negatively affectthe relationship and consequently, the foetus perceives the mother asunavailable. Other factors influencing the attachment outcome includeinadequate nutrition during pregnancy, disability, trauma or accidentand Downs Syndrome. These factors hamper the child’s capacity tosmile and sense distress. As a result, the attachment figure losesthe attachment signals and distinguishes the baby as unresponsive(Messinger &amp Isabella, 1995).

Securelyattached children remain stable in their relationship with themothers all the days of their life. In adulthood, such childrendevelop secure and stable relationships. They have high self-esteemand are always free to ask for help when in need. Insecure childrenhave problems with their relationships in adulthood. They feelinsecure, and some tend to be overdependent. Their relationships donot last for long because they invest very little emotions in theirrelationships. They may not offer support to their partners when theyneed them. Children with disorganized attachment form more stablerelationships at adulthood than those with insecure attachment. Thisfact is because they get exposed to ambiguity od outcomes and tend tobecome self-perpetuating in response to responses elicited by thesignificant other (Thompson et al., 2005).

Implicationsfor Intervention/Treatment

Thereare several attachment-based treatment options available in line withthe developmental framework, which focus on symptom prevention andalleviation and enhancing secure attachment among the children. Theseprocedures involve other family members, especially the primarycaregivers. Among these procedures include parental treatment,child-parent psychotherapy, high-risk pregnant women therapy and babycarrier intervention.

Othertreatment procedures include postnatal and prenatal home visits andstructural treatments such as circle of security, Watch, Wait andWonder program. Apart from the child-related interventions, there areparental interventions that are consistent with the principles ofattachment theories. The widely applied is the InterpersonalPsychotherapy (IPT), which is used to treat depression and otherrelated disorders.

IPTis developed from the work of Bowlby. Its focus is to address thedisruptions and interpersonal issues that arise in interpersonalrelationships, which are beyond and above clinical focus. Thisprocedure is in focus with the Bowlby’s point that attachment isprearranged in the human genes, and because of its adaptive nature,it persists and evolves. This procedure focuses on the root of thedevelopment of pathology.

Anothereffective procedure is the Couple’s Injury Resolution Model. Thistreatment procedure is emotion-focused and is meant for couples whohave encountered an attachment injury. The injury may be due toabandonment especially at a time of need that makes the mother feelinsecure and a threat to the whole relationship. This procedure helpsthe couples heal the “attachment injury” and restores a feelingof trust and security that is based on forgiveness, trust and dynamicadjustment. The third procedure is the MBT. MBT focuses on behavioraland emotional regulation and the building of mental processes for theparents. It helps deal with the parasuicidal and suicidal tendenciesand reduces the symptoms of depression (Levy et al., 2012).


Theattachment formed by the children in their infancy for an importantbasis for determining their future relationships and personalityqualities. Children who experience secure attachment are likely tomore free with the world around them, develop high self-esteem anddemonstrate sobriety in dealing with issues that affect them inadulthood. They form more stable and enduring relationships. On theother hand, a child who experiences insecure and disorganizedattachment has several personality and relationship problems inadulthood. The contribution of John Bowlby and Ainsworth are stillrelevant despite the criticism levied on their work. The learningtheory is unreliable because it lacks face validity because there arechildren who develop insecure attachments but still stick to theircaregivers.


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